It’s a story line that’s been repeated ad nauseam for the Buffalo Bills this season.
Another loss, and another chance to question coach Chan Gailey’s use of running back C.J. Spiller.
The league’s leader in yards per carry touched the ball just eight times in Buffalo’s 15-12 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. That’s the fewest touches Spiller’s had since logging only seven two months ago in a Week Five loss at San Francisco.
“I really can’t control how many times I touch the ball, guys,” Spiller told reporters in the locker room following the game. “I keep saying it over and over, but I don’t know what else y’all want me to say. The only thing I can do, when my number’s called, is do the best I can. Even when it’s not, just try to do the best I can.”
Spiller rushed seven times for 37 yards and caught the only pass thrown to him for a gain of 15 yards. His use – or lack thereof – has become a constant line of questioning to Gailey. The coach’s response when asked why Spiller touched the ball so few times Sunday was bewildering.
“It was not happening there after that first drive of the second half. We were trying to run the football and when it was Fred’s [Jackson] turn, it was Fred’s turn to be in there. Trying to keep them both fresh,” the coach said.
Jackson was hurt with 5:26 left in the game. Spiller touched the ball just once over the final 22 minutes.
“Of course I want to touch the ball more, but there’s no need for me to sit around and mope and groan and do all that stuff. That’s high school. That’s childish. That’s not what I’m all about,” Spiller said. “Is the frustration there? Yeah, deep down inside your gut as a competitor, yeah it’s there, but there’s nothing I can do about it, so I’m not going to sit around and pout.”
Spiller gained 15 yards on a screen pass in the first quarter, then came out of the game for the next five plays.
“Well he gets ... he had two good runs in that first drive, he gets winded and he comes out. We just put Fred in there,” Gailey said. “It worked out that the next couple of carries we got behind the sticks on runs that we called he was in there. That’s just the way it works out. We’re trying to get those guys the football.”
When it comes to Spiller, however, it’s not happening enough. Through the first 13 games of the season, Spiller has averaged 6.55 yards per carry. That’s the second highest in the NFL since 1960 for a running back with at least 130 attempts, trailing only Cleveland Browns Hall of Famer Jim Brown’s average of 6.61 in 1963. In Sunday’s Buffalo News, eight Hall of Fame running backs marveled at Spiller’s dynamic ability.
“Yeah, I agree with you,” left guard Andy Levitre said when asked whether Spiller needs to touch the ball more. “He’s a big piece of what we do. Obviously he’s getting the yardage he does. We’d like to use him more, but at the same time, people are going to key off that if we use him too much. We have to mix some things around, but I’d love to see that guy get the ball a lot.
“I’m not going to take away anything from the game plan. Obviously there are situations where we can’t give him the ball, but that guy’s dangerous every time he touches the ball.”
Gailey did not have an update on Jackson’s injury, but did say it “didn’t look good.” It’s the third time this season he’s left a game because of injury.
“My heart’s broken. Besides from just football, he’s like my brother,” Spiller said of Jackson. “The guy has done everything he possibly could to get back and have a successful season and injuries just keep piling on.
“It’s football and stuff like that happens, but you definitely feel sad for him. I’m hurt for him, because I know for us to get where we want, he’s a big part of that.”