C.J. Spiller Is Real Key to Buffalo Bills' Success This Season

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2013

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 29: C.J. Spiller #28 of the Buffalo Bills is tackled during NFL game action by Matt Elam  #26 of the Baltimore Ravens as he carries the ball at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 29, 2013 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills have been one of the bigger surprise stories thus far in the 2013 NFL season.

Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel has garnered the majority of the attention, thanks to his surprisingly efficient play and his status as a first-year signal-caller.

However, running back C.J. Spiller, who has somehow been overshadowed, still remains the most important offensive player on the Bills' roster.

Consider that Spiller, who has battled numerous injuries already this season, managed to amass 259 combined rushing and passing yards through the first month of the season.

Yes, Spiller averaged just 3.5 yards per carry during that span. However his ability to break the big play at a moment's notice cannot be understated.

Neither can the heart and drive with which he plays each and every down.

Spiller participated in Buffalo's Week 4 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, despite coming into the game with a quad injury. He put up 77 yards on the ground in that contest and helped the Bills put away the Ravens.

Of course, he suffered an ankle injury in that game, and his status leading up to Thursday night's game against the Cleveland Browns was questionable. He didn't even practice on Monday or Tuesday.

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Still, Spiller suited up. While his workload was relatively light, he proved how quickly he can change a game with a 54-yard touchdown scamper early in the third quarter.

The question Bills fans might be wondering is why Spiller hasn't been utilized even more this season. That call belongs to rookie head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.

Injuries have surely played a role, but there is no question that Spiller deserves to have the football in his hands as much as possible, especially considering Manuel left the field Thursday night with a knee injury and is still under evaluation.

Hackett stated before the season on WGR Radio's Howard Simon Show that he would feed the ball to Spiller "until he throws up."

However, backup running back Fred Jackson significantly cut into Spiller's workload, likely because his average for the first month was over five yards per carry.

So if Jackson is the more consistent runner, but Spiller is the true breakaway threat, what are Marrone and Hackett to do?

The answer is simple. Get him the ball in space.

Spiller is a very capable receiving back, as evidenced by the 43 catches and 459 yards he compiled in 2012. His average last season was 10.7 yards per reception.

Yet, heading into Thursday's game, the former Clemson star had hauled in just nine passes for the season.

Spiller finished Thursday's game with 66 yards on eight carries, yet he didn't register a reception and the Bills lost.

Moving forward, the focus for Buffalo should be to put Spiller in position to make plays any way possible. That means getting him the ball in space in the passing game.

Marrone and Hackett have every reason to continue to grind the ball with Jackson, especially between the tackles.

However, Spiller can be truly dangerous catching passes out of the backfield and should be just as big a focus in the passing game as he is in the running game.

Regardless of who is at quarterback.

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