BY MARK LUDWICZAK The Associated Press
Niagara Gazette — ORCHARD PARK — C.J. Spiller insists that he is not concerned about his lack of opportunities in the Buffalo Bills’ offense since returning to full health.
The running back has struggled to find his form this season as he works his way back from a high ankle sprain. He was a non-factor in Buffalo’s 23-10 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday with just eight carries for 23 yards and is splitting time with veteran Fred Jackson in the backfield.
“I’m just frustrated that we’re on a three-game losing streak,” Spiller said. “I’m not frustrated with the amount that I’ve touched. I’m just sick and tired of the losing.”
Much more was expected from Spiller leading up to the season. The 26-year-old established himself as one of the NFL’s top young running backs last year when he ran for 1,244 yards and became only the seventh player to finish a season with an average of six yards or more per carry.
In the preseason, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said that he would run Spiller “until he throws up.”
So far, the prospect of too many carries has not been an issue. Spiller is second on the Bills in rushing with 501 yards and one touchdown on 110 attempts. He’s shared reps with the 32-year-old Jackson, who has been a more consistent and dependable runner.
It doesn’t sound like that dual-back approach will change any time soon under coach Doug Marrone, who has leaned more on Jackson as the season has progressed.
“We’re eighth in rushing, we’re the only team that has two running backs over 500 yards, you know, both of those players are playing well so both of those guys are in there,” Marrone said. “I view them as both number ones for us. I’ve always said it, and from the beginning when I got the job, that I liked two different backs, I liked two different styles and that’s what we have in those two players.”
Spiller’s season took a sharp turn in Week 4 when he suffered a high ankle sprain against Baltimore. He attempted to play through the injury on a limited basis and performed admirably given the circumstances, averaging 6.9 yards per carry on 36 attempts (including a 61-yard run against Kansas City).
The injury affected Spiller’s ability to cut and twist and run full speed, which are Spiller’s strengths.
“It’s very frustrating ... with my ability of doing pretty much a lot of cutting and a lot of exploding and when I hurt it in Week 4 I wasn’t able to do that for almost a month,” Spiller said. “But now that it’s starting to get back, you kind of wish that it didn’t happen but I can’t control that.”
Said Marrone: “The injury situation might have hindered some things early on ... but he’s healthy enough to be very, very productive and to go out there and play as much as we need him.”
Consistency has been Spiller’s biggest issue. At times, Spiller has struggled with the same issues that plagued him earlier in his career — bouncing runs too often to the outside and missing the correct hole at the line of scrimmage — which has led to more short gains or losses.
“It’s tough,” Marrone said. “When there’s negative yardage, then all of the sudden there’s the big one that you didn’t think was going to get any yards that pops for 50. I think consistency is important and that’s what we’re always looking for and C.J.’s looking for that, too. So we just need to continue working with him on that and putting in schemes and situations that can help him.”
Spiller disputes the notion that he’s taken a step back in this part of his game.
“Not at all,” Spiller said. “I’m going to go where the ball’s supposed to take me. If it happens for it to go outside, then that’s where I’m going to bounce it. ... I don’t think I reverted back to any of my old habits.”
It won’t get any easier for Spiller this Sunday when the Bills go up against the best run defense in the NFL in the New York Jets. The Jets have allowed an average of 73 yards on the ground per game.
“They’re the No. 1 ranked defense and their rush defense is really good,” Spiller said. “So it’s going to be a tough game. These guys are physical and they pride themselves on being physical so we’ve got to match that intensity.”