Snap count numbers are officially in from the Buffalo Bills' 23-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday. Rather than abide by our usual breakdown methodology, in which we list and then make general observations about the numbers, we're going to spin this off today into a short blurb about C.J. Spiller, with a few of those general notes tossed in at the end. But first, we'll direct you to our snap counts page with tallies for the full season, which we update every Monday. That's where you'll find this week's numbers, plus every other week's.
Spiller, who has been nursing a high ankle sprain for the past six games (and lost a smaller chunk of time to a different injury before that), played just 22 of the Bills' 67 offensive snaps in Pittsburgh, and has played just 29.8 percent of snaps so far this season. That's compared to 56.7 percent of snaps in 2012, when Bills fans already thought he wasn't seeing enough playing time and touches.
Of his 220 snaps this season, 81 came within the Bills' first two games of the season, when he was the starting tailback and seeing more playing time than Fred Jackson (who played 56 snaps in the same time frame). Since then, Spiller has averaged about 17 snaps per game, compared to 46 for Jackson (and 12 per game for Tashard Choice).
Granted, circumstances favored Spiller heavily a year ago, when he saw an increased workload with Jackson banged up (and eventually on IR late in the season). This year has been the polar opposite; Jackson has stayed healthy, while Spiller has been beat up for most of the season. That said, Jackson has nearly double the reps Spiller does to this point (423, which works out to 57.2 percent of total snaps), and the massive disparity speaks to a much larger problem than simple injury circumstances. (Spiller wasn't on the Week 10 injury report, for the record.)
Every-down running backs are not easy to find. Jackson is the Bills' every-down back; he's capable of handling a full rushing workload, and far more importantly, he can handle pass protection duties. Now in his fourth season, it is readily apparent that Spiller will never be viewed in that light. The mistake the Bills may be making, however, is using that rationale to conclude that Spiller isn't an every-down back.
Spiller is one of the most explosive athletes in the NFL. He is a game-changing talent, and he can hurt defenses more ways than simply running him out of the backfield or on screen passes. If the Bills don't want to use Spiller in pass protection roles - and they have every reason to not want to do that - then they need to start exploring other ways to get him onto the field on obvious passing downs, when Jackson is needed to protect. We've seen Spiller play a little wide receiver before, for example; why not cross-train him a bit out wide to see if he brings more utility to the offense?
The Bills' playoff hopes are all but kaput, leaving the remaining six games on the 2013 schedule as a time for intense self-evaluation - and perhaps even experimentation. If Spiller is healthy - which he may not be, even though he was no longer on the injury report this week - it's time for Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett to start trying Spiller out in different roles, with specific personnel pairings, to expand his role in their offense. We can all agree that the more Spiller touches the ball, the better this offense is going to be - and the old-school mentality of running back committees needs to go away. Spiller's too valuable an asset to keep off the field simply because he can't pass protect effectively.
Some more thoughts from this week's rep counts, specifically:
T.J. Graham played every snap at receiver with Robert Woods sidelined. Marquise Goodwin saw a season-high 46 snaps, as well, aided by Stevie Johnson leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a groin injury.
Jerry Hughes packed his productive day into just 28 snaps, as Manny Lawson saw more playing time (44 snaps) for a second straight week now that the veteran is healthy. Teams are starting to run the football more frequently against Buffalo, and it's hurting Hughes' snap counts while elevating the numbers for Arthur Moats and Nigel Bradham (who both played 23 snaps in Pittsburgh).
Kiko Alonso had company in the 100 percent club defensively this week, as both Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd played a full game, as well. That was a routine circumstance for the Bills in 2012, when both Gilmore and Byrd eclipsed 1,000 snaps played on the season, but it's the first time either had accomplished the feat in 2013.