Give Him The Damn Ball: CJ Spiller Breakout Back of 2013

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Aug 27, 2013



By Justin Henry (@jrhwriting)
Cold Hard Football Facts Dr. Death

Pop quiz, hotshot!

Who are the only three running backs in NFL history to rush for at least 1,100 yards on less than 210 carries?

Hall of Famer Leroy Kelly would be one, achieving the feat in 1966 for the 9-5 Cleveland Browns. Kelly ended 1966 with 1,141 yards (second, behind Gale Sayers) on 209 carries (fourth most). His 5.46 YPA was the best of his storied career.

This balance would not be seen again for more than 40 years. In 2009, second-year Chiefs ball carrier Jamaal Charles joined Kelly, rushing for 1,120 yards on 190 carries (5.89 YPA).

Charles shared reps with the broken down Larry Johnson (377 yards on 132 carries, 2.86 YPA) while playing for a 4-12 team, both of which kept him from producing a truly special year.

The third answer trumps the first two: Buffalo's C.J. Spiller didn't just break 1,100 yards on a limited set of carries, but he also broke 1,200.

Spiller Provided Maximum Results with Minimum Use

Spiller's 2012 season could have been so much more. Instead of joining 2,000-yarder Adrian Peterson, breakout rookie Alfred Morris (1,613 yards), and portait-of-consistency Arian Foster as a fellow talked-about stud, he thrived on a below-average Buffalo team that was eighth worst in offensive yards.

That's no fault of the running back. Spiller's totals in 2012 included 1244 yards (eighth best in the league) on 207 carries, good for 6.01 YPA. He had one more yard than Chris Johnson, who needed 276 carries to reach 1243 (4.50 YPA).

Six running backs carried the ball more than Spiller, and still couldn't break even 1,000 yards. Among the group were Reggie Bush, Trent Richardson, Vick Ballard, Michael Turner, Mikel Leshoure, and Darren McFadden. Bush was the only one with more than 4.0 yards per carry (4.34), but fell short of a grand, posting 986 on 227 carries.

To top it all off, Spiller's 6.01 YPA was the second best among running backs last season. His only superior was MVP Adrian Peterson.

"All Day" needed 348 carries to get those 2,097 yards. His average of 6.03 YPA was only slightly ahead of Spiller's 6.01 YPA.

If you took away a chunk of the fading Fred Jackson's 115 carries (437 yards, 3.80 YPA), and gave them to Spiller, who knows how far he could have gone?

If Spiller maintains his average with 50 carries taken away from Jackson, that's 1,545 yards. That would have put him fourth, behind Peterson, Morris, and former teammate Marshawn Lynch.

Jackson and Spiller split starts last year, which looks especially foolish in hindsight, given how banged up and decrepit Jackson proved to be. Doug Marrone would be wise not to make that mistake in his maiden season.

Spiller Hurts the Numbers of Any Run Defense

Due to his truncated amount of carries last year, there were five games in which Spiller had eight or less touches on the ground.

For purposes of showing what he does to run defenses of any renown, we included only his eleven games in which he ran the ball nine times or more.

OpponentRush YPA AllowedSpiller Att/YardsSpiller YPADifference
Jets4.3214/16912.07+7.75 YPA
Chiefs4.515/1238.2+3.7 YPA
Cardinals4.3312/887.33+3.0 YPA
Titans4.2212/705.83+1.61 YPA
Patriots3.939/707.78+3.85 YPA
Dolphins4.0222/914.14+0.12 YPA
Colts5.1414/1077.64+2.5 YPA
Jaguars4.1214/775.5+1.38 YPA
Seahawks4.4917/1036.06+1.57 YPA
Dolphins4.0222/1386.27+2.25 YPA
Jets4.3224/592.46-1.86

 

The average defense allowed 4.26 YPA in 2012. Five opponents on the chart were better than average, and Spiller averaged 5.65 YPA in those games.

Other than the Jets stifling him in a meaningless 'blow-off-some-steam' finale, Spiller stretched out some capable run defenses. In six of the eleven games listed, Spiller ran for 2.0 YPA more than the opponents' allowed for the year.

Even New England and their 3.93 average, sixth best in the league, wasn't immune. They allowed 7.78 YPA in one game, and the other (which was disqualified due to Spiller having just eight carries), still allowed 33 yards and a 4.13 YPA average. Seems paltry, but Spiller did indeed "beat the spread," so to speak.

The only other game in which Spiller was held below 4.0 YPA was against the 49ers in a 45-3 horse-whipping on October 7.

Spiller had just seven carries for 24 yards (3.43 YPA), and not a single carry in the second half. One of his runs was a five yard loss, so if you took that out, he averaged 4.83 YPA on the other six. This against a 49ers defense whose 3.70 YPA average was third best in the league.

No matter how you slice it, Spiller's shown plenty of explosiveness against a variety of defenses.

Spiller Will Get His Carries No Matter Who Plays QB

With Kevin Kolb facing the very real possibility of a career-ending head injury, rookie EJ Manuel becomes the leader of the Bills offense. Even then, with minor knee surgery, unheralded rookie Jeff Tuel may get the honors of starting the season.

EJ Manuel will, of course, start soon enough, unless Tuel explodes a la Russell Wilson last preseason. Even then, Manuel could still start opening day. However, one of the big knocks on Manuel at Florida State is that he doesn't go through his progressions, often throwing to the first guy he sees potentially open.

While Manuel evolves to the pro game, he'll most likely adapt to the read-option. Doug Marrone and Nate Hackett (Marrone's offensive coordinator at Syracuse, who joins him in Buffalo) implemented a read-option system for Ryan Nassib last year to considerable success.

Spiller stands the most to gain either way. Manuel has much adapting to do, and leaning on his running back will allow him to get his feet wet. If Tuel has to play any length of time, he has just the running back that can lighten his workload. 

All in all, barring injuries, CJ Spiller will put a positive face on a Buffalo team that's floundered for a long, long time.

They just have to give him the ball.


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