It's been a rough couple of weeks for RB C.J. Spiller and his struggles against the Steelers and Jets are likely to be a major topic of conversation during the bye week. For the two games, Spiller wound up with a total of 29 yards on 21 carries, very little production.
In the Jets game, he finished with 13 carries for 6 yards, thanks to five carries that produced zero or fewer yards. The perception among some is that Spiller is creating his own problems by bouncing runs outside, but while that may have been the case against the Steelers, it was not against the Jets.
Spiller lost four yards on a first down run with 5:20 left in the second quarter. But he had no chance on the play. Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson overpowered the Bills at the line of scrimmage and met Spiller in the backfield, dropping him for a loss. Later in the second quarter, on 2nd and 7 at the Jets 24, Spiller tried to make a quick cut at the line of scrimmage and tripped over Eric Wood's feet, winding up with no gain on the play.
Three minutes into the third quarter, Spiller lost four yards on a 1st down run, when Damon Harrison drove his blocker into the backfield, allowing Dee Milliner to shoot through to make the tackle.
On none of these plays did Spiller attempt to bounce the play outside. He was victimized by some assignment errors up front, and he was running against the number one run defense in the NFL.
On Monday, Spiller acknowledged that he can hit the ball up the middle more often when he runs, but he also said he's not about to vent his frustration with the running game in public, or call out his offensive line.
"Everybody on the sidelines saw that I was frustrated coming off the field and I was," he said. "As soon as you get the ball you don't want to be getting hit for a negative loss. But I didn't go over there and yell at the guys just because I don't want you all to think I'm being selfish or something else. I have a certain way that I handle it."
Despite their problems getting production out of the run game, the Bills did not shy away from the ground game. Head Coach Doug Marrone says there are benefits to running the ball, even if the runs don't produce yards.
"Yes, we weren't where we wanted to be running the football (Sunday)," Marrone said, "but being able to keep doing what we did, even though the production wasn't what we wanted, enabled us to have the production in protecting our quarterback and throw the ball. Sometimes people lose sight of that."
-The amazing rookie season continues for second round draft pick Kiko Alonso. He had one of his best games of the year against the Jets, finishing with 13 tackles. He's had double digit tackles in six of his 11 NFL games so far. And a couple of Alonso's plays on Sunday were eye openers.
With 10:13 left in the third quarter, the Jets tried to set up a screen pass on 1st and 10 at the Bills 40. Thanks to his incredible instincts, and no doubt some film study, Alonso quickly diagnosed that a screen was coming and he stayed with Jets RB Bilal Powell. Alonso shut off Powell as a target for Geno Smith, and the rookie quarterback kept rolling to the sideline, with Manny Lawson chasing him down. Lawson got credit for the sack when Smith ran out of bounds at the Bills 43.
The Jets moved the ball downfield on this drive, and had a third and goal at the two yard line. On this play, Alonso cut underneath Jets guard Brian Winters to stop Powell seconds after he caught a shovel pass from Smith, resulting in a one yard gain. The next play, Alonso appeared to guess incorrectly and went high to stop Chris Ivory from diving over the pile, and instead Ivory went low for the touchdown.
"His effort is unbelievable," Marrone said Monday. "He gets cuts and he's on the ground and he gets up and makes a play. Things like that. You see him really the instincts getting better and better. "
-Credit should go to the Bills wide receiving corps for making big plays downfield in the face of the howling winds on Sunday. They may have gone to school on Santonio Holmes 33-yard catch in the first quarter when the Jets were driving into the wind—Holmes just stopped his route and fielded Geno Smith's pass as if it were a punt.
T.J. Graham was going in the same direction on the same sideline when he lined up across from Dee Milliner in the second quarter. This time, it was EJ Manuel's pass that hung in the air, so Graham stopped his route, caught the ball at the six, and cut through traffic to finish off a 34 yard touchdown play.
Graham told me in the locker room Sunday that it is possible to make big passing plays in the November winds of Orchard Park.
"When the ball's in the air, we get more separation anyways," he said, "but they did hang in the air due to the wind. EJ did a very good job today handling the wind and the conditions. Any time we can get the ball down the field even when it's windy and make deep plays, it's pretty good."
-Mike Pettine's pressure defense isn't perfect, but when it comes to pressure and takeaways, they're getting the job done. The Bills are tied with Seattle with 16-interceptions this year, and they've got four of the top 26 interceptors in the league after 11 games. And Buffalo's 37-sacks lead the NFL, with four different players at five or more sacks this season.