Coming into the 2013 season, hopes were sky-high for C.J. Spiller. Head coach Doug Marrone vowed to “run him until he pukes” as many were prepared for Spiller to join the elite running backs in the NFL.
Fast forward 10 weeks. Injuries have certainly played a role in this disappointing season – he nursed a high ankle sprain for the past six games or so that severely limited him, robbing him of that explosive burst – but there’s more to it than that.
If you look closer, Spiller has seen just 29.8 percent of the Bills offensive snaps this season. That’s down from the 56.7 percent he played in 2012, when Buffalo Bills fans already felt like he wasn’t getting near the workload he should.
There are a few reasons for this besides the injury. First and foremost being Fred Jackson. The reason for Spiller’s increased workload last season was because Jackson was hurt and eventually sent to the injured reserve. This left more carries for Spiller and a greater opportunity to make an impact. The opposite has been true this year: Spiller has been hurt while Jackson has remained relatively healthy.
Perhaps the most important reason, however, is that the Bills clearly view Jackson as an every-down back and don’t feel the same about Spiller. Jackson not only runs the ball, but he’s a reliable receiver and picks up the blitz with regularity. Spiller isn’t used in situations where an extra blocker is needed, presumably because he just isn’t as good as Jackson in that regard.
The platoon makes sense in terms of keeping both guys fresh and not wearing them down, but aren’t you sort of wasting a dynamic talent like Spiller by only playing him 25-30 percent of the time?
Imagine what the offense would look like with both Spiller and Jackson in the backfield. Screens and draws would theoretically become more dangerous because defenses would have to keep eyes on both. Sell a fake using one while the other runs free. Or keep Jackson in to pass-block while sending Spiller out on a route.
Or here’s a novel idea: split Spiller out into the slot on obvious passing downs. Spiller is solid out of the backfield as it is; getting him more touches or even using his presence as a decoy to get someone else open could prove huge for the Buffalo offense. Anything to give quarterback E.J. Manuel another option and make his life easier.
It’s time for Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to make use of perhaps their greatest weapon. Even if he’s not getting the ball, simply getting him on the field makes everyone else dangerous because the defense has one more playmaker to pay attention to.
Spiller has flashed that dynamic talent many times throughout his career. Now is the time to put it to greater use.