New England Patriots: C.J. Spiller

Getting to know the Bills

September, 3, 2013
Regular-season football almost is back. The long-anticipated wait is nearly over and the Patriots are just days away from the quick flight to Buffalo to take on the Bills in their season opener, a division contest that pits last year’s champion against a team starting fresh with a new general manager and head coach.

It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for the Bills at the quarterback position, as presumptive starter EJ Manuel -- the team’s top pick in April’s draft -- underwent a knee procedure that has his status for Sunday in doubt. Veteran Kevin Kolb was placed on injured reserve, and the team recently added former Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, only to release him shortly thereafter.

The Bills have a new coaching staff led by Doug Marrone, who patrolled the Syracuse sidelines before his arrival in Buffalo. He added a familiar face to oversee his defense, as he hired former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to the same position.

Doug Whaley takes over as the general manager in Buffalo, replacing Buddy Nix, who remains with the team in a special assistant role.

Below is a primer on more names of note for the Bills:

Record: 6-10 (2012)
Head coach: Doug Marrone (0-0, first season)
Offensive coordinator: Nathaniel Hackett
Defensive coordinator: Mike Pettine

1. QB EJ Manuel/QB Jeff Tuel. The Bills look likely to start Tuel, an undrafted free agent out of Washington State, though Manuel, the impressive prospect out of Florida State, returned to practice on Sunday. If the team does go with Tuel, he’d be the first undrafted rookie since at least 1967 to start at quarterback in Week 1 of the regular season. Manuel was the 16th pick in this year’s draft and the first quarterback taken. Prior to Kolb’s injury, many were projecting that Manuel would win the job. Now it’s a matter of his health.

2. RB C.J. Spiller. Few players are as electric as Spiller, a sprinter who averaged 6 yards a carry last season. He can get the job done as a runner and receiver, with sensational open-field agility and the presence to make defenders miss. He’s not a power runner, per se, but defenders must wrap up to bring the Clemson product down. No doubt that Spiller will be a focus for the Patriots this week.

3. C Eric Wood. The Bills spent big to ink Wood, a tri-captain for 2013, to a contract extension, cementing his status as a pillar of this line and standing as one of the best centers in football. A former first-round pick out of Louisville, Wood anchors the middle for Buffalo and can hold up as both a pass protector and run blocker. He draws a tough assignment this week against Vince Wilfork.

1. DE Mario Williams. The Bills emptied the checkbook to land Williams as a free agent last offseason, and Pettine’s defensive scheme should lend itself to helping Williams have a productive 2013. Williams has unique length and the ability to bend the edge as a rusher, which should provide a stiff test for the Patriots' top tackles. He came on at the end of last season, finishing with six sacks, two forced fumbles and three passes defensed in the final eight games of 2012.

2. FS Jairus Byrd. Another Bill who is banged up, Byrd is one of the best safeties in football when healthy, which is why the Bills made him their franchise tag player this offseason. He’s currently working through a plantar fasciitis issue, which has put his status for Sunday in jeopardy. The ball-hawking safety has 18 interceptions in just four pro seasons, including five last year.

3. DT Kyle Williams/DT Marcell Dareus. The Lions likely set the bar for best defensive tackle tandems in the NFL, but the Bills have an impressive duo who have the raw talent to be exceptional. Williams, a captain for 2013, is a rock in the middle who is tough to move off of his spot. He’s been perpetually underrated during the course of his career. Dareus has an abundance of talent and is looking to make strides under Pettine. He was a star at Alabama and the third pick in the draft in 2011. He stands at 6-3 and 330 pounds, but, much like Wilfork, has terrific movement skills for a player of his stature.

Also of note: The Bills will be without their best defensive player in cornerback Stephon Gilmore, as he recently fractured a wrist that has him out for 6-8 weeks. The team is likely to start Leodis McKelvin and, perhaps, Justin Rogers at cornerback. ... Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, two of the team’s top four picks in this year’s draft, may work into the wide receiver rotation, while second-round linebacker Kiko Alonso is expected to be an every-down player from the outset.

Pats know stopping Spiller is key

November, 8, 2012
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the Patriots last faced the Bills, it was Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden who played starring roles. The Patriots finished with 247 yards rushing, 243 of which came from the aforementioned duo.

But Buffalo has its own formidable ground game, led by C.J. Spiller, an electric back who leads the NFL with an unbelievable 7.2 yards per carry this season.

Linebacker Jerod Mayo knows his defense has to be ready to stop the run on Sunday when the Patriots host the Bills.

"Obviously they're a two-headed monster, or really a three-headed monster. [Tashard] Choice provides a spark off the bench as well," he said of Buffalo's running backs. "Any time a guy is averaging over seven yards a carry, you know they can always take one to the house. It'll take a group effort. The front seven has to do an excellent job staying on blocks and hopefully stop runs."

Mayo said that Spiller, who managed just 33 yards on eight carries during the first meeting, has taken on a different role since the September match-up.

"C.J. Spiller, his role has increased. He's doing a lot more things for them," Mayo said. "He's catching a lot more screens. He's breaking a lot more runs. I don't think he was averaging seven yards a carry when we played them the last time."

Spiller's play has caught the attention of nose tackle Vince Wilfork.

"This guy is a helluva player," Wilfork said of Spiller. "He's running the ball very well, catching the ball for them. He's really showing explosive plays that we were accustomed to seeing when he was in college and now what they drafted him for. He's coming into his own, and of course Fred Jackson, more of a power runner, but two good backs. This offense is a very explosive offense."

Mayo, who said it has taken a group effort for the Patriots' defense to get off to its strong start defending the run in 2012 (they yield an AFC-best 3.5 yards per carry), also noted that Spiller is running the football better on the interior of the line of scrimmage.

"It'll take 11 men to go out there and slow him down," Mayo added. "He takes the ball outside, and one thing he's been doing a lot better since the last time we played them, he's running inside as well. He's making a lot of guys miss inside and breaking those long runs."

Wilfork talked about the importance of stopping the run in order to make an opponent one-dimensional.

"We always talk about the run game. I think we are better this year," he said. "Every year you want to talk about making a team one-dimensional, and we have for the most part this year... We've been in some tough games where teams keep running the ball, and we did pretty well."

He said stopping the run and generating a pass rush have always been primary goals for the defense.

"It's going to continue that way," he said. "I'm very proud of the way we've handled the run game and hopefully we can do a little better job going forward."

Bills' Jackson says he's cleared to play

September, 28, 2012
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson says he has a team doctor's approval that his sprained right knee is healthy enough to play against New England.

Jackson received the OK before practice Friday, and expects to be "ready to go" on Sunday when Buffalo (2-1) hosts the Patriots (1-2). Despite feeling some soreness, he practiced for a third straight day since being hurt in a season-opening loss at the New York Jets on Sept. 9.

Against the Patriots in a Week 3 win last season, Jackson rushed for 74 yards and added 87 receiving yards and a touchdown.

Jackson is listed questionable on the injury report, giving him a 50 percent chance of playing. Running back C.J. Spiller (left shoulder) practiced for a second straight day, and is also listed questionable after he was hurt in a win at Cleveland last weekend.

Coach Chan Gailey says both have a "legitimate chance" of playing.

Brady off injury report; Spiller practices

September, 27, 2012
Tom Brady, who was listed on Wednesday's practice report as being limited with a right shoulder injury, was taken off Thursday's report. Defensive tackle Kyle Love was added to the report, limited by a knee injury.

For the Bills, it was a mild surprise to see running back C.J. Spiller on the practice field. He was limited by a shoulder injury. Bills coach Chan Gailey said Sunday he didn't think Spiller would play against the Patriots on Sunday. That's one to monitor. Running back Fred Jackson (knee) was also limited for a second straight day. Here are the full reports:

Bills will be without Spiller vs. Pats

September, 23, 2012
The Patriots got a bit of good news Sunday before they even took the field against the Ravens.

Bills running back C.J. Spiller went down in the first quarter of Sunday’s Buffalo win over Cleveland with a shoulder injury that coach Chan Gailey thinks will sideline him for a few weeks. Gailey already ruled him out of next Sunday’s game against the Patriots.

"I don't believe it's long, long-term," Gailey said. "If he missed a week that's long for me. He's going to be out for sure this week and then we'll see."

The Bills have already lost their top two running backs, Fred Jackson going down in Week 1 with a knee injury. However, Jackson has not been ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Patriots.

In Jackson’s absence, Spiller racked up 169 rushing yards against the Jets in Week 1 and 123 more in Week 2. He totaled 16 yards in four carries before being injured Sunday and is averaging 10.1 yards per carry this season. He has also caught 5 passes for 72 yards.

With Jackson and Spiller on the sideline, the Bills turned to Tashard Choice on Sunday. The 27-year-old Choice rushed for 91 yards on 20 carries against the Browns.