ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 18: C.J. Spiller #28 of the Buffalo Bills carries the ball during their NFL game against the Miami Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 18, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller had "the best game of his professional career" for the second time in three weeks in yesterday's loss to the Miami Dolphins. Spiller set career highs with 91 rushing yards and 76 receiving yards, tied a career high with two touchdowns, and touched the ball 21 times in defeat.
Yet this morning, people like WGR 550's Paul Hamilton are up in arms about Spiller. What gives? Let's just say that Bills head coach Chan Gailey didn't do Spiller any favors after the game in answering a question about why Tashard Choice (8 touches, 59 yards) took reps away from the former Clemson star.
"We had a plan of certain packages that we were using C.J. and we were using Tashard in," Gailey explained. "We knew we were going to use C.J. a lot in the passing game. We knew that was going to be part of it. We're trying not to wear the guy completely out. He's not the biggest back in the world. I don't think he can go out there and carry it 25 or 30 times. I don't want to put him in that position right now to carry it 25 or 30 times. I think we've got to split the carries and let Tashard have some of those packages to take some of the hits off of C.J."
There it is: people are upset because Gailey essentially admitted that he doesn't see Spiller as a feature, every-down back in this league. At least not yet, he doesn't. That prompted Hamilton's massive rambling article this morning, in which he deemed the Spiller pick a "BUST!!!!!!!" and labeled the runner "nothing but a toy."
Whine all you want about the logic of the pick, Hamilton-led Bills fans - those points are mostly valid - but if Gailey's toys are throwing up 167 yards and two touchdowns against the NFL's No. 3 run defense (and No. 15 overall defense), that's when you need to quiet down for a while.
The problem with Spiller isn't that he's not a feature back. In fact, aside from his inconsistency and his slow development (both of which seem to be coming around), there isn't a problem with Spiller at all. The problem is that Gailey's offense, his game planning, and his choices in the circumstances of the flow of the game keep the ball out of Spiller's hands. And yes, I'm saying this after Spiller recorded 21 touches in a game. Arian Foster had the same number yesterday, friends.
Only once in 17 possessions on Sunday did Spiller log more than two touches. That was the drive in which he caught a three-yard touchdown pass to make the score 23-13 late in the fourth quarter; on that possession, he carried twice for 13 yards and caught three passes for 28 yards and the score. The Bills had three more possessions after that, and discounting a desperation lateral on the final play of the game, he touched the ball just three more times.
Part of that has to do with Gailey's wanting to keep Spiller fresh - and aside from the frustration of Buffalo's offense going into a funk when the ball isn't in its best player's hands (yes, Spiller is the offense's best player right now), there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with keeping any NFL running back fresh, especially when you're playing for pride.
The other part is that Buffalo's offense is so terrible right now that it's tough to get Spiller into any rhythm as a ball carrier (and part of that problem is Gailey's offensive philosophy, as well). Buffalo was facing a 30-yards-to-go situation twice in the first five possessions yesterday, folks. Nobody's going to give the ball to their running back in that down and distance. Not a coach as aggressive with his play-calling as Gailey is, anyway.
Let's not blow this out of proportion, either: Spiller had nearly triple the number of touches Choice did. Goodness gracious. People are acting like Choice was the go-to option for Gailey.
Since taking over as the top tailback on the depth chart following Fred Jackson's season-ending injury, Spiller has rushed for 275 yards at 4.8 yards per carry with two touchdowns, and he's also tallied 120 receiving yards and another score. He's averaging 19 touches per contest in that four-game stretch. Call him a toy if you must - and question the logic of his being a Top 10 draft pick all you like - but if the over-drafted toy keeps producing when called upon, nobody should be registering seven-exclamation-point complaints.