Can C.J. Spiller Finally Outperform Marshawn Lynch?
By Chris Cluff
When the Seahawks meet the Buffalo Bills in Toronto on Sunday, it will be a battle of Bills running backs past and future. In 2010, the Bills basically swapped out Marshawn Lynch for C.J. Spiller, the ninth pick in the draft. And while Lynch has become the focal point of the Hawks’ offense over the last 40 games, Spiller has barely been used.
Coach Chan Gailey has been criticized for not using Spiller more. In 43 games for the Bills, he has 422 touches for 1,912 yards and 13 touchdowns. Lynch, meanwhile, has over 3,000 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns in 40 games in Seattle.
This year, Spiller is averaging 6.6 yards per carry but has just 144 carries for 944 yards. He has run the ball fewer than 10 times in six games, including last week’s loss to St. Louis in which he ran seven times for 37 yards. With Fred Jackson now on injured reserve with a sprained knee, Spiller figures to see more action. But he is not going to lobby for it.
“My style is I’ll never go up there and beg, beg, beg for the ball,” he told the Bills’ website. “I understand we’ve got a lot of playmakers out there. Everybody wants to have the ball in their hands and everybody wants to make that play. I’m not different, but I’m not going to sit around and mope week in and week out.”
Seattle coach Pete Carroll is wary of Spiller. He tried to recruit the explosive back to USC, but Spiller chose Clemson.
“I have tremendous respect for C.J. Spiller,” Carroll told reporters. “I saw him as one of the great players we ever came across. And boy, he has really torn it up. They build the offense around him and he’ll get even more activity now. That means you have a chance for them to score on every play, run or pass. So it’s a big deal for our defense to get ready for that. We want to make sure that we respect the heck out of that, because we know that he’s such a great player.”
That’s why the Bills decided to draft spend a top-10 pick on him in 2010 and then send Lynch to the Hawks later that year for what turned out to be fourth- and fifth-rounders.
“I guess we liked those other two guys (Jackson and Spiller) better at that point,” Gailey told Buffalo reporters this week. “You have to make decisions that are good for the football team based on the talent you have and the talent you have accumulated. We were loaded up there, and we took advantage of the opportunity to get value.”
The Hawks might argue they got the better value. Lynch’s 1,266 rushing yards this season are second in the league behind Adrian Peterson (1,600). The Bills are giving up 134.5 yards per game on the ground, so Lynch could be poised for a big day.
“He’s a tough back, and I know he runs hard,” defensive tackle Kyle Williams told the Democrat and Chronicle. “As the game progresses, it seems like he gets stronger, so it’s a full-day deal with him. They have an efficient O-line and he’s a heck of a back, so we have to get ready for him, obviously.”
Speaking of getting ready, former Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson — traded to Buffalo for a seventh-round pick in August — has helped the Buffalo defense prepare for Seattle’s offense.
“We’ve talked to him a lot about personnel,” Gailey said. “Not so much scheme, but what he feels about their guys’ strengths and weaknesses, we’ve talked to him a lot.”
Jackson said, “I’m more familiar with these guys and able to help the team with some personnel stuff. I know the whole offense besides what they added this year, but that’s probably not a whole lot. I can help with tendencies on what they like to do and what the coaches think about in certain situations. I should be able to shed some light on a couple things.”
Jackson has been stuck as the third, inactive quarterback behind Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyler Thigpen all season, and some have said it is because he has not been able to learn the offense.
Jackson, who recently said (quite accurately) the Seahawks jerked him around by not letting him go much earlier, told Buffalo reporters, “That’s not the problem. You ask any coach I’ve ever played with; that’s never been a problem. I’m going to be quiet; I’m just going to leave it at that. My job is to come in and do the best job I can do; I can’t make decisions about that. I can’t speak to why I haven’t been active, but I haven’t and that’s all I can tell you.”
It probably is more connected to the fact that the Bills reportedly would have to upgrade the seventh-round compensation to a sixth-rounder if Jackson were active for six games this season.
Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick and company have not hit 20 points in three of the past four games, and they face a Seattle defense that is No. 2 in the league in points allowed at 15.5 per game.
Unless Spiller tears it up for once, it all could add up to Gailey’s 31st loss in 46 games as coach.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.