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Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Bills' bye-week questions: C.J. Spiller

By Mike Rodak

The Buffalo Bills are on their bye week, and throughout the week we'll take a look at some of the biggest questions the team will face in the final five games of the season.

Next on the docket: Will C.J. Spiller's role within the offense ever increase, or is this what the Bills should expect going forward?

Spiller
Spiller's playing time and production have been hot topics this season, and rightfully so: Way back during training camp, offensive coordinator Nate Hackett said he expected to run Spiller "until he threw up," sparking interest and excitement in how Spiller would be used in Hackett's new scheme.

In Week 4, Spiller suffered a high-ankle sprain that hampered his ability as a cutback runner and forced him off the field after some plays. While he was able to break some long runs -- he limped his way to a 54-yard touchdown in Cleveland -- Spiller was also ineffective at times. Those issues were generally attributed to his injury.

But Spiller has been off the injury report for two weeks now and still hasn't bounced back. His last two games have been among the worst of his career. He's run 21 times for 29 yards, struggling to beat defenders around the edge while remaining hesitant to run up the middle.

Spiller's playing time, meanwhile, hasn't returned to pre-injury levels. He played 33 percent of offensive snaps against Pittsburgh and 40 percent against the Jets, still significantly shy of his 59-percent workload in Weeks 1 and 2.

There haven't been any strong indications Spiller's participation will creep higher. Instead, the Bills have sent the message that they want to keep third-down distances manageable for their rookie quarterback, EJ Manuel.

To do so, they've opted to use Fred Jackson as their lead running back. Jackson has proven to be more reliable in gaining positive yardage on first and second downs, and is also on pace for the best season of his career as a receiver.

Spiller has been relegated to more of a change-of-pace role. He's capable of hitting the home run, as we saw in Cleveland, but he's also more liable to lose yardage than Jackson.

So this could be what Spiller is for the Bills the rest of the way. He's having statistically his worst season as a receiver, while his 4.1 yards per carry is respectable but also significantly less than what he posted over the previous two seasons.

Unless he turns it around soon, it's hard not to chalk this season up as a step backward for the former first-round pick.