Something odd is happening in Buffalo. No, not the nun facing grand larceny charges. This cuts deeper, and to the core of fantasy owners. But perhaps more importantly, it’s something that Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick called the “story of the day” following yesterday’s 21-9 loss to the Texans, and it’s something that head coach Chan Gailey said is a thing his offense should try to do on a more consistent basis.
We agree, Chan. Giving the ball to C.J. Spiller much, much more should be a thing.
Such a seemingly simple, common sense decision would lead to a far more efficient offense in Buffalo, and a return to fantasy good times. Hey, remember when Fred Jackson was injured early in Week 1 and Spiller then had 364 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns over the first two weeks? Good times indeed, for fantasy folk and Bills fans alike, despite Buffalo dropping one of those games.
Given our geographical proximity to Buffalo here in Toronto and the supposed declaration of the Bills as “Toronto’s team” (*shudders*), I’m quite familiar with the Bills fan. Right now, they’re a simple group, and I don’t at all mean that in a condescending way. They want results, and they sometimes overreact to good news like any fan. But failure is expected, and braced for at the onset of every game. So when it inevitably comes, they’re still somewhat satiated by a heaping helping of hope. Spiller is hope, and Fred Jackson is not.
Yet in Week 4 when Jackson returned from his injury and the time share between the two running backs began in earnest, a funny/awful thing happened. The best and most explosive player on the Bills’ offense was given an equal or sometimes lesser workload than his aging, and clearly inferior backfield teammate.
Here’s the workload allocation between Spiller and Jackson since Week 4:
Spiller: 215 rushing yards, and 122 receiving yards on 62 touches = 5.4 yards per touch
Jackson: 205 rushing yards, and 148 receiving yards on 75 touches = 4.7 yards per touch
Look at that per touch average, and then look at the touches again. Dart back and forth between those numbers, and then it’ll hit you: Spiller has received 13 fewer touches since Week 4, yet he’s still flirting with being a full yard better per touch, and right now sits at 0.7.
Maybe we can use modern science to determine a reason for that difference in production, but I’ll do some fine limb walking and conclude that it’s because Spiller is younger, and therefore fresher and faster, and he has far more breakaway speed. This is commonly-accepted knowledge by everyone in the civilized world except Chan Gailey.
But the above breakdown is on a bit of a more macro level, which doesn’t fully show the supreme ineffectiveness of Jackson when compared to Spiller. Let’s zoom in a bit more on the Bills’ backfield calamity as it relates to weekly rushing averages, because running the ball is something the Bills simply didn’t do much yesterday when they were, you know, in the game, as Spiller only had four first-half carries, and they attempted only five runs overall during the first two quarters, and 12 in the game.
- Week 4 vs. New England: Jackson had 2.2 yards per carry on 13 carries, and Spiller had 4.1 on eight.
- Week 5 @ SF: Both RBs struggle and are used sparingly in a blowout, with Jackson averaging 3.2 yards on nine carries, while Spiller finished with 3.4 on 12.
- Week 6 @ARI: Jackson plods at 3.3 per carry on 16 carries, and Spiller gets 12 carries at 7.3.
- Week 7 vs. TEN: Jackson shines (71 overall yards) at 7.9 yards per carry on nine carries, while Spiller gets 12 carries at a pace of 5.8.
- Week 9 @ HOU: Jackson has 3.5 yards per carry on six carries, while Spiller had 6.5 with the same rushing workload.
And that’s just rushing, which disregards Spiller’s 63 receiving yards yesterday, and overall 9.2 yards per touch to Jackson’s 3.2, yet they both received 11 touches. Yes, Jackson has also been effective at times while on the receiving end of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s passes, logging games with 49, 30, and 50 receiving yards, and that’s keeping him relevant statistically while he struggles to match Spiller’s momentum on the ground.
The truly glaring difference between the two, though, lies in their big-play ability, which brings us back to that foreign concept of speed. Jackson has touched a football 81 times this year, 59 of which have come when said football goes from Fitzpatrick’s hand into his gut without flying through the air first. Yet still he has only one play that went for over 20 yards. It came on a 34-yard reception in Week 4 when Spiller wasn’t fully healthy, and here’s the yardage for the longest plays in his four other games since then: 7, 12, 13, 13.
What of C.J.? Welp, overall on the season he’s had 12 plays that have gone for 20 yards or more. Yep, 12 to Jackson’s one. Breaking those plays down further, five of them went for 30 yards or more, with his longest play of the season a 56-yard run in Week 1. Spiller then is averaging a +20 yard play once every 8.5 touches, whereas at this pace it’ll be 81 more touches until Jackson’s next such big play. Since, you know, he’s had one big play in 81 touches.
So hear our pleas, Gailey. We’re not asking you to do something outlandish like bench Jackson, because he certainly still has value. And besides, that would be a move that’s far too radical for an old mind and its old ways.
But if you’re taking a knife to your running back pie, give Spiller the significantly bigger slice, and do it every week. We’ll call it a routine, and maybe even a habit. You’ll win more, and we’ll all win more. Everybody will win more, and everyone will be happy. Just a bunch of smiling happy people, holding hands.