Jackson’s injury leads to Spiller Time in Buffalo
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The one and only thing C.J. Spiller was running out of in Buffalo was patience in having to answer the near-weekly round of questions of why he wasn’t more involved in the Bills offense.
“Pretty much, because, I don’t know what else you all want me to say,” Spiller said. “I can only carry the ball when my number’s called.”
If that’s the case, Spiller should get accustomed to hearing his No. 28 called far more often over the final three games.
That’s because “Spiller Time” has finally arrived after co-starting running back Fred Jackson was placed on the season-ending injured reserve list Tuesday because of a sprained right knee.
Spiller doesn’t enjoy the circumstances behind why he’ll be getting more playing time. And yet, he’s up to the challenge as Buffalo (5-8) prepares to “host” the Seattle Seahawks (8-5) at Toronto on Sunday.
“I’m not necessarily eager. I’m just eager to try to see what I can do to try to help us win,” Spiller said. “It’s time for every playmaker on this team to rise up a little bit, including myself. So I definitely have to take it to another notch.”
Another notch would send Spiller into an altogether higher stratosphere, given how well he’s produced while splitting the duties with Jackson for much of this season.
With 944 yards on 144 carries, Spiller is averaging 6.55 yards per run. That’s the NFL’s highest total through 13 games since 1963, when Hall of Famer Jim Brown averaged 6.61 yards per carry with the Cleveland Browns.
Spiller has been the Bills’ most dynamic threat this season. And he’s finally playing up to the expectations the team saw in drafting him with the ninth pick in 2010.
He leads the team with five touchdowns rushing and is on the verge of his first 1,000-yard season. Spiller is also a threat in the passing attack, with 34 catches for 354 yards and a score.
Spiller’s production, however, has been overshadowed by lingering questions and criticisms of coach Chan Gailey, and why the running back isn’t on the field more often for an offense that could certainly use a spark.
Spiller’s only twice had 15 or more carries this season, with a career-best 22 for 91 yards in a 19-14 win over Miami on Nov. 15. There have been far more times Spiller’s been seemingly overlooked, such as last week when he had only three carries in the second half.
Gailey explained Spiller’s time was limited because of how the running back rotation was split with Jackson, who had nine carries. And he defended the need for having a rotation as an opportunity to keep both of his running backs fresh.
“They’re both great players, and neither one of them are going to get it as much as they want,” Gailey said. “You could look at it and say there’s a couple of plays I wish (Spiller) was in there on. And there were a couple of plays I wish Fred was in there on to be perfectly honest.”
That rotation is now out the window with Jackson hurt.
Gailey said Spiller will get a majority of playing time, with third-stringer Tashard Choice serving as the backup.
The two-back rotation is new to Gailey, an offensive-minded coach who has 18 years of NFL experience. In Dallas, he leaned on Emmitt Smith in 1998-99; in Pittsburgh, it was Jerome Bettis in the mid-1990s; and in Denver, he was the offensive coordinator who had Bobby Humphrey break 1,100 yards in both 1989 and `90.
Gailey’s philosophy changed last season when he was impressed by how Spiller closed the season averaging 74 yards over the final six games filling in for Jackson, who broke his right leg.
“We came into the season saying, `We’ve got two great backs, let’s use them both, that way we may not wear one down,”’ Gailey said. “I’d do it again if I had to do it over.”
Spiller isn’t going to argue.
“My style is I’ll never go up there and beg, beg, beg for the ball, because I understand we’ve got a lot of playmakers out there,” Spiller said. “Everybody wants to try to make the play.
“I’m no different, but I’m not going to sit around and mope.”