Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Buffalo Bills CJ Spiller's smarter approach a boon for Buffalo Bills - NFL News

It's about time.

That's what Buffalo Bills executives and coaches are likely saying after watching running back C.J. Spiller emerge as the NFL's most explosive player this season.

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The Bills selected Spiller ninth overall in the 2010 NFL Draft to add a big-play element to their offense, but his output through two seasons was limited to a handful of spectacular moments. Spiller recorded just one 100-yard rushing game during his first 30 contests, and mustered only eight runs of 20-plus yards in his first 281 rushing attempts.

Stepping in for injured veteran running back Fred Jackson this season, however, Spiller found his groove, and the results have been spectacular. Spiller leads the NFL with 292 rushing yards (on just 29 carries) and has produced four runs of 20-plus yards and two of 40-plus yards in two games. Spiller has also become an explosive weapon in the passing game out of the Bills backfield, tallying five catches for 72 yards.

When Spiller suddenly started putting up ridiculous numbers as a multi-purpose playmaker, I thought I'd break down his game to see how the Bills have gotten their young superstar going. Here is what I discovered:

Spiller has become more decisive at the point of attack

The biggest adjustment young runners have to make when transitioning to the pro game is getting used to the speed of NFL defenses. Linebackers and safeties are faster and more explosive than they are in college, and holes close more quickly. Runners must make good decisions at the point of attack in order to pick up positive yardage regardless of the defensive call.

During Spiller's first two seasons, he routinely attempted to outrun defenders to the corner rather than hitting the ball up inside to grab three or four yards. Although Spiller's extraordinary speed occasionally allowed him to get to the edge for a big run, opposing defenders typically corralled him before he could turn the corner.

This season, however, Spiller has been more decisive at the point of attack, showing a willingness to take the ball between the tackles for a short gain rather than just bouncing it outside and hoping for a big play. Those three- and four-yard gains don't pop out on the stat sheet, but they eventually lead to the monster runs that Spiller covets as a home-run hitter.

In the screengrab below, taken from the Bills' Week 2 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Spiller is running an inside zone play out of "deuce" formation aligned to the right. He will take his initial steps to the left, then make a cut based on the reaction of the Chiefs' interior triangle (both defensive tackles and the middle linebacker):

When Spiller sees the Chiefs aggressively pursuing to the play-side, he quick-sticks his foot in the ground and attacks the seam created on the backside. He eventually bursts into the secondary and rumbles for a 38-yard gain:

Click here to watch video of the full play.

Quick-hitting plays get Spiller to the second level in a hurry

Spiller is a burner who boasts electrifying elusiveness in the open field; his speed (he ran the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds) and explosiveness are scary for opponents. The Bills capitalize on his talents by frequently getting him the ball on quick-hitting plays like traps and quick pitches, which catch defenders by surprise and allow Spiller to burst into the secondary. The combination of Buffalo's play-calling and Spiller's ability has regularly resulted in huge gains.

In the screengrab below, taken from the Chiefs game, Spiller is running an "inside zone kick." Tight end Scott Chandler (84) will work across the formation to block the defensive end on the right, while the Bills double-team the nose tackle with left guard Andy Levitre (67) and center Eric Wood (70). Cordy Glenn (77) will kick out the outside linebacker on the right, creating a seam in the B-gap:

On the snap, Spiller takes the handoff in front of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, while Levitre and Wood's double-team creates a huge seam. Spiller waltzes through the hole on the way to a 17-yard touchdown:

Click here to watch video of the full play.

In the screengrab below, taken from the same game, the Bills are running a quick pitch to the left. Receiver Donald Jones (19) and Chandler are blocking down to seal the edge, with Glenn pulling around the corner to lead Spiller to the outside. The play is executed perfectly, and Spiller sneaks into the end zone for a five-yard score:

Click here to watch video of the full play.

The Bills are putting Spiller to good use in the screen game

Many have focused on Spiller's tremendous running skills, but he is just as dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield. His speed and quickness make him indefensible in the open field. The Bills have started taking advantage of those skills by featuring him prominently in the passing game on various screens. Spiller gets the ball in space, and a few blockers are assigned to clear a path down the field. Given his speed, quickness and burst, Spiller is as much of a big-play threat for the Bills in the screen game as he is carrying the ball.

In the screengrab below, taken from the Chiefs game, the Bills have Spiller flanked out wide to the offensive left. He will take a few steps upfield before bowing back to catch a quick screen pass from Fitzpatrick. Receiver Stevie Johnson (13) will work to the outside to block the corner, while Glenn and Levitre work up the field to clear out the most dangerous defenders on the second level:

With the Chiefs in a blitz, Spiller gets the ball with plenty of room to run, which turns into a 27-yard gain for the Bills:

Click here to watch full video of the play.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks

New York Yankees vs. Toronto Blue Jays September 19-20 Series Preview - Bleacher Report

The Toronto Blue Jays are a big part of what stands between the New York Yankees and another American League East division title. The Yankees will try and dispatch their division mates to the north en route to another postseason and they'll get help from an old friend who returns to start Tuesday night.

The Yankees are 6-5 against a weak Toronto team this season, with seven games left in the season series. The Blue Jays come in with nothing to play for other than personal pride and the chance to give their fans something to cheer about by putting a dent in the Yankees' postseason hopes.

Toronto will trot out two left-handed pitchers against New York, hoping to see see the Yankees' weaker "B" lineup that is filled with hitters the likes of Steve Pearce and Andruw Jones. The Yankees have mostly struggled against southpaws over the last two months, as evident by their weak performance against Felix Doubront at Fenway last week.

The Bombers rebounded nicely on Sunday at the Stadium by destroying highly-touted Tampa Bay lefty, Matt Moore, frustrating him through three innings and even agitating the young fireballer into throwing at Curtis Granderson's head.

Toronto, like all of the AL East teams, have been greatly impacted by injuries and it’s shown in their record. Toronto has been without star Jose Bautista since late August, though Bautista has played only six games in the 2nd half of the season. Bautista injured his left wrist while at the plate on a swing back in mid-July against New York.

Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind and JP Arencibia have all missed large stretches of time during the second half of the season, eliminating the Jays from playoff contention for a 19th consecutive season.

Toronto is hobbling to the end of the season and their pitching staff is practically praying things will end. Toronto ace Ricky Romero has endured a disastrous 2012 after getting off to a very nice start in his first three MLB seasons. Henderson Alvarez, Wednesday afternoon's starter, has been up-and-down of late, showing the inconsistency of a young starter.

Yet for all of Toronto's faults, they're still incredibly fifth in the majors in home runs. The Yankees should not take them for granted, particularly big sluggers like Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasumus.

The Yankees are hoping to pounce on their prey and beat down the Jays at the Stadium continuing to build on the last two series victories. Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez have come alive for the Yankees at the right time as they near another AL East division crown.

The Yankees are hoping to gain ground on Baltimore and Tampa and find a late season surge while Toronto is playing out their slate of games looking to see what players may be contributors or starters for their squad in 2013.

Here is an offensive tale of the tape and a breakdown of the pitching match-ups:

By the Numbers (Major League rank through games played on September 17th):

Team OPS (On Base + Slugging Percentage): 
Yankees: 2nd
Blue Jays: 19th

Team Home Runs: 
Yankees: 1st
Blue Jays: 5th

Runs Scored: 
Yankees: 2nd
Blue Jays: 11th

Batting Average: 
Yankees: 11th 
Blue Jays: 25th

Batting Average with Runners in Scoring Position (RISP): 
Yankees: 19th
Blue Jays: 9th

Top Hitters: 
Yankees: Robinson Cano (.300 BA, .911 OPS, 30 HR, 77 RBI); Derek Jeter (.323 BA, .810 OPS, 15 HR, 55 RBI, *leads MLB in hits); Curtis Granderson (.235 BA, .816 OPS, 39 HR, 92 RBI)

Blue Jays: Edwin Encarnacion (.279 BA, .947 OPS, 40 HR, 102 RBI); Brett Lawrie (.278 BA, .733 OPS, 9 HR, 43 RBI); Colby Rasmus (.231 BA, .712 OPS, 22 HR, 73 RBI)

New York Giants vs. Carolina Panthers: Bold Predictions for Each Team - Bleacher Report

The New York Giants travel to Bank of America Stadium to take on the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night in a game that will set the tone for the NFL's Week 3 schedule.

The NFC is deep this year, so every game matters. Both teams are coming off hard-fought victories and would do well to escape this week with another win.

While a loss at this point certainly doesn't derail either team's chances for the postseason, jockeying for position could be a key storyline all year long.

New York is one of the more perplexing teams in the entire NFL. The Dallas Cowboys stole one in the Meadowlands in Week 1, and the Giants needed a 28-7 second-half run to knock off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home last week as well.

The Giants are known as slow starters. But to stay afloat in the NFC this season, they will have to find a more consistent brand of football.

The Panthers employ one of the more dynamic players in all of football. Second-year quarterback Cam Newton can do it all and is doing his best to dispel any notion of a sophomore slump.

This game will be fun to watch and is a great way to kick off this week's matchups.

Here is one bold prediction for each team in Thursday night's game:

Eli Manning Throws for 400 Yards in Back-to-Back Games for First Time in Career

Hi-res-152088282_crop_exactJeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Eli Manning is in the midst of his methodical ascent to being recognized as an elite quarterback in the NFL. Even after two championships and countless defining moments, many still question his ability to  stay atop the mountain with the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and even his brother, Peyton.

Last week's 510-yard and three-touchdown performance will be accompanied by the fact that Manning played a huge part in allowing the Giants to get down 27-13 early in the third quarter to the Buccaneers by also throwing three first-half interceptions.

While Carolina's defense doesn't necessarily give up too much in the passing game, a struggling Brees was able to throw for 325 yards last week.

Thursday night's game could become a shootout. And with the Giants hobbled in the running game, look for Manning to use his arm to keep his team close again.

Panthers Rush for Over 200 Yards and Three Touchdowns in Back-to-Back Weeks

The Panthers would not make the same mistake twice in their 35-27 victory over the Saints last week.

Carolina only ran the ball 13 times for 10 yards in Week 1's 16-10 loss to the Buccaneers, but Newton and Co. ran wild over New Orleans to the tune of 41 rushes for 219 yards and three touchdowns.

While those numbers can't be expected on a weekly basis, the Panthers may have found their recipe for success this season. And a middle-of-the-pack Giants run defense will pay the price this week.

Newton is a great runner in his own right when plays break down. But when teams also have to try to stop Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, the advantage sways in Carolina's favor.

Contact Jeremy at, on Twitter @KCPopFlyBoy and at

Buffalo Bills: 4 Reasons Fans Should Not Fret About Shaky Start - Bleacher Report

After their Week 1 blowout loss to the New York Jets, many Buffalo Bills fans were already hitting the panic button.  They were understandably pessimistic after such a shaky start to the season.  So why should they not worry so much after that performance?

The Bills redeemed themselves this past Sunday with a convincing 35-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.  Buffalo sits like 20 other teams in the NFL at 1-1.

Despite that impressive victory, question marks still remain for Bills fans who aren't sure what 2012 may hold for the rest of the season.

Did the Jets game highlight a secondary that can't be trusted and is the weakest link on the defense?

Or did the Chiefs game showcase a running attack that is one of the most explosive in the NFL?

Let's take a look at four reasons Bills fans shouldn't fret about the rocky way the season has started after two games.

1. C.J. Spiller's Play

Spiller is averaging a ridiculous 10.1 YPC.
Spiller is averaging a ridiculous 10.1 YPC.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Buffalo is blessed with one of the best RB tandems in the NFL. When healthy, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller allow the Bills to keep opposing defenses off guard. However, health has been a major issue for Jackson lately. He missed the last six games of 2011 and got hurt in the opener against the Jets.

It has resulted in Spiller blossoming into a game-breaker. 

As we prepare for Week 3, he sits atop the rushing leaders of the league. It's not even close.  Reggie Bush is in second place, and he has 51 yards less.

When Jackson returns from his knee injury, the Bills are going to have a big decision on their hands. In a way, it's a good problem to have. 

Spiller is knocking on the door of stardom after two weeks. The Bills need to realize this and not relegate him to a third-down back once Fred Jackson is ready.

2. The Defense Got Back on Track vs KC

Kyle Williams sacked Matt Cassel twice in the win over the Chiefs.
Kyle Williams sacked Matt Cassel twice in the win over the Chiefs.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Buffalo's D had nowhere to go but up after the no-show they pulled at the Meadowlands.  Giving up 48 points to a mediocre Jets offense was not exactly what they had in mind to start the season.

Now, while the Chiefs aren't exactly the San Francisco 49ers of the '80s, they do have more talent on offense than the Jets. The Bills had their hands full with the likes of Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles.

They were up to the task, recording five sacks and forcing three turnovers. Buffalo held Kansas City to three points through three quarters. However, the Bills will need Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to contribute if they hope to win on the road in Cleveland this week.

The much-maligned secondary played better as well. Bowe didn't put up either of his TDs until the game had long been decided. 

This unit will look to have another solid performance against the Brownsâ€"a team with one of the worst WR groups in the AFC.

3. Their Weak Schedule

The Bills will face Trent Richardson and the Browns in Week 3.
The Bills will face Trent Richardson and the Browns in Week 3.
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Analyzing schedules, especially this early in the season, is problematic. According to their opponents' records in 2011, Buffalo has the third easiest strength-of-schedule in the NFL.

Yet, how many people had the Arizona Cardinals at 2-0 going into Week 3? Or the New Orleans Saints at 0-2? 

What isn't left up to interpretation, though, is that the Bills only have three games against top-20 QBs. Two of those are vs. Tom Brady (the other is Matt Schaub). What that should mean is that Buffalo is in every game.

Brady is the type that can get himself a 21-0 lead before the first quarter is over. But in 13 out of 16 games, in theory, the Bills shouldn't be in a situation where they're getting blown out.

Until Ryan Fitzpatrick performs better, the Bills are going to have to rely on their running game and defense. That again points towards closer, lower-scoring games.

4. More Talent Than in Previous Years

Marcell Dareus has become a force in the middle for the Bills.
Marcell Dareus has become a force in the middle for the Bills.
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Everyone that plays in Buffalo knows this franchise hasn't had a playoff berth since 1999.  That pressure alone seems daunting.

But, unlike in years past, Bills fans can take solace in the talent level of this team. Gone are the days where they seemed outmatched at every position. 

Most of the talent Buffalo has is young too. So, with that inexperience, you're bound to have mental lapses and mistakes. Nothing some good coaching can't fix, though.

All in all, the Bills have difference-makers on both sides of the ball for the first time in over a decade. Talent can often overcome sloppy play.

In the NFL, the difference between good teams and elite teams is talent. What Buffalo needs, however, is for that talent to bring it every single week. That was clearly missing against the Jets.

So the question remainsâ€"can Buffalo put everything together this year to become one of those elite teams? If these four factors stay true, the answer to that is yes.

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