Buffalo Bills RB C.J. Spiller’s Troubles Stem From Misuse

Throughout the Buffalo Bills’ first six games of the season, running back CJ Spiller is off to his worst rushing season since his rookie campaign. It’s not a good thing for Bills fans who expected Spiller to be one half of a speed threat, with fellow Clemson alum Sammy Watkins, which was going to transform the Bills offense into a scoring threat every time he touched the ball.

Instead fans have seen a rusher that seems to get lost in the swarm of the defensive line and hasn’t put up a 100 yard rushing game so far this season, and his trademark long runs have been few and far between.

Part of the results has to be put on Spiller as his inability to fit through tight running lanes, which have been clogged due to poor guard play, has increased his propensity to bounce runs to the outside; beyond that though the biggest hindrance to Spiller has been offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s failure of using him correctly.

When you define CJ Spiller as a football player you see an outstanding air back with speed that also possesses a talent of making people miss within tight areas. From there you can identify that his greatest strength is getting to an edge, after having a defender whiff, and then turning on the jets. He’s not a sledge hammer middle runner, and that’s how the Bills have been primarily using him.

The chart below shows CJ Spiller’s rushing attempts for each game:


Chicago 3-0 3-10 3-19 0 1-5 2-15 3-4
Miami 0 4-52 1- -4 4-12 1-2 2-7 0
San Diego 0 1-3 2-6 6-10 1-6 0 0
Houston 1- -3 3-21 2-9 5-2 1-5 2-4 1-22
Detroit 1- -2 4-4 0 2-2 0 1-2 2-2
New Eng 0 1- -3 2-7 1-4 0 2-11 0
TOTAL: 5: -5 16: 87 10:37 18: 30 4:18 9:39 6:28

When looking at this chart it’s interesting that the Bills speed back has mainly been running behind the center and guards. In fact 47% of Spiller’s attempts have been within those tight confines. You can also see that Spiller is a better off tackle runner, namely behind the blocking of tackle Cordy Glenn. Spiller is rushing either tackle lane 36% of the time, but has accumulated 53% of his yards off those rushes.

The Bills want their running backs to be able to do everything within the scheme at all times, which can work to keep a defense honest, but there has to be a recognition from the offensive coordinator of each individual player’s talents, and how best to exploit those against the defense.

In that regard then the best way to use Spiller is by running sweeps and off tackle to allow him to get to the edge and the second level quickly, otherwise he can be best used by flaring out as a receiver either for underneath routes or within a screen game.

Again Spiller deserves some blame for his lack of production as there have been many times where he has failed to turn up field and get the tough yards, but he’s also never been that type of back either.

It seems the Bills offense has been frustrating at all levels for fans. There hasn’t been the aerial attack, the zone read threat, or even the big plays that everyone was expecting this season. This clear lack of talent identification, and utilization, lies at the feet of Hackett and then head coach Doug Marrone.

Even Bills great Thurman Thomas pointed it out on the John Murphy Show last week that some of Spiller’s struggle this year has been how he’s been miscast against his abilities. If an all time great sees that there is an issue, then it’s clear, as @singletrackster pointed out, that Nathaniel just #canthackett.

About Jason DeHart

Jason is a UB alum with over six years of media experience including his time as the student voice for the UB Bulls football & basketball teams. He currently resides in Delray Beach with his wife and currently works for CBSSports.com as an online video producer. #billsmafia4life