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Fantasy & Reality: The spin on Spiller

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It's been four weeks. Consensus first-round pick C.J. Spiller has not scored and has only one game with 100 yards. Meanwhile, Bills teammate Fred Jackson has two touchdowns and two 100-total-yard games. Jackson's numbers have propelled him to the Top 10 among Fantasy rushers. Spiller? You don't want to know ...

OK, fine, I'll tell you. He's tied for 31st with Ronnie Hillman and Andre Ellington in standard Fantasy play. He's produced one fewer point than BenJarvus Green-Ellis. There. Depressed yet?

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Spiller's weak statistical start makes him the front-runner for Fantasy bust of the year. But it's absolutely not because of a lack of opportunities nor is it because of an offensive philosophy shift in Buffalo. That's part of what I learned after watching every offensive snap from the Bills this season.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly made headlines because of his new-fangled hurry-up, run-leaning offense, but the Bills aren't too far off from doing the same thing. In fact, they've run more plays from scrimmage than any other team in the league save for the Texans, averaging 72.0 plays per game. And while Buffalo's run-pass ratio is basically even, the 136 plays involving Spiller and Jackson represent 47 percent of the total offense. Spiller even has more touches than Jackson, 75 to 61, and that's with Spiller missing all but three plays in the second half of Week 3 against the Jets and the tail end of Week 4 against the Ravens.

In the Bills first three games, Spiller served as the lead guy while Jackson was more of a change-of-pace back. The only time Jackson had dedicated roles was in the two-minute offense and in goal-to-go situations, though Spiller got in on a handful of goal-line plays. Otherwise, Jackson participated in three consecutive plays just four times. That makes what he's done even more incredible -- and what Spiller hasn't done even more concerning.

Last week there was a change. Jackson took over third-down work as well as two-minute drill snaps. Jackson also popped in for some other plays but again wasn't in consecutively for more than three or four at a time until Spiller hurt his ankle. Then he took on a bigger workload while Tashard Choice rounded out the run game, including work on three third downs.

Maybe last week's change was by design because Spiller was hurt. Or maybe it was an acknowledgement by the coaches to give Jackson, the running back with the hotter hand, more playing time. Though Spiller ended up with more touches in Week 4, it was Jackson who outproduced him yet again.

Spiller's running style hasn't changed. He remains a quick, shifty runner with very good speed. He hasn't been as elusive; many of the first defenders he runs into take him down. He's also run east-west a lot, dancing behind the line and trying to make a play by running sideline to sideline. It's also worth noting his O-line hasn't given him many clean creases, though there were also a number of plays where Spiller had room to bounce a play outside but instead cut inside for just a few yards. There have also been a number of plays where Spiller ran right into his own linemen and ultimately got wrapped up and hit hard by defenders. That hasn't helped.

Spiller seems to be looking for the home-run play, but he's not getting it with nearly as much frequency as expected. Spiller has carries good for 21 and 46 yards on the year (an additional 28-yard gainer was called back by a penalty). Those all came in the same game -- Week 2 against the Panthers. In the other three games combined Spiller has had nothing greater than three carries of 10 yards. Two came last week, including one when he came back after hurting his ankle.

In fact, it's that ankle injury that forced him out of action late last week and had him sidelined earlier in practice this week. That's on top of a quad injury that knocked him out of the game prior. Already this week Spiller said he'd play if he were at 80 to 85 percent but hasn't practiced as of Tuesday. Looking into a matchup against a Browns defense (Thursday night) that ranks third best against running backs in Fantasy, I'd say Spiller would be in for a tough time on limited work if he did play. The Browns happen to be the fifth straight opponent the Bills will play that ranks highly in Fantasy points allowed to running backs. Buffalo's other opponents were first, tied for sixth and two tied for 11th in Fantasy points allowed to rushers so far this season. Spiller hasn't had a gimme matchup yet and frankly will not have anything resembling one until Week 7 at Miami, and even that's not a cakewalk. Week 8 at New Orleans won't be easy either.

But remember, while Spiller has mostly stunk in tough matchups, Jackson has been great. So maybe the matchups aren't the problem. Maybe it's his health, or the workload (he has 75 carries through four games this year; he had 50 through four games last year), or his dancing behind the line and his impatient running, or all of the above. He's got the chops to take any carry at any time to the house, but the combination of his bad start, his injuries and Jackson's hot start could further dampen his playing time. The coaches have already taken notice. It might take a breakout game for those coaches to reconsider upping his workload, and he'll have to be healthy to do that.

If you own Spiller, I would not only sit him in Week 5 -- whether he's active or not -- but I'd entertain hearty trade offers for him. If I could land a capable running back and another decent starter for him, I'd take it. That's how concerned I am about him turning this season around and becoming the 1,600-yard back we all hoped he'd be.

Managing expectations

Two weeks ago I figured out that the passing game had become incredibly more productive in Fantasy compared to a year ago. But has that remained the case?

Just like before, I took the total Fantasy production in a standard scoring league from each of the top positions in Fantasy, then made tiers based on the first 12, second 12 and in some cases the third 12 of ranked players. From there I calculated the average Fantasy point production you could expect from each tier. Keep the number in mind -- it's what constitutes a fair performance from your starter at each respective position.

Tier Wks 1-2 Wks 1-4 Diff.
QB 1-12 28.4 24.0 -4.4
QB 13-24 17.8 16.8 -1.0
RB 1-12 14.4 13.9 -0.5
RB 13-24 8.7 8.9 0.2
RB 25-36 7.0 5.7 -1.3
WR 1-12 16.8 13.3 -3.5
WR 13-24 11.5 10.3 -1.2
WR 25-36 8.3 8.3 0.0
TE 1-12 12.3 10.5 -1.8
TE 13-24 5.8 5.0 -0.8

So what does this mean exactly? Through the last two weeks we've seen passing numbers take a dip after a hot start. Quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends are all scoring less than they did to open the season. Running backs are basically steady, not falling like their counterparts. In fact, the only spot where there was any gain was at No. 2 running back, and it's by a fraction of a Fantasy point. We'll keep tabs on these numbers and run them in this space every two weeks.

Fantasy & Reality

Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) from around the league.

Fantasy: Tony Gonzalez will get bottled up by the Patriots. Out of all the calls I made last week, this bad one hurt the most. For his entire career Bill Belichick schemed to take out Gonzalez every single time he played him -- and succeeded all but one time. Well, make it two times now after Belichick decided to contain Julio Jones in the early going instead. It worked out fine for Matt Ryan, who threw to Gonzalez enough to get him to a 7-90-1 stat line at halftime (Julio had 6 yards on two catches). Gonzalez was invisible in the third quarter before rallying along with Jones, Ryan and the rest of the Falcons in the fourth quarter when they were down 30-13.

Reality: The Saints shouldn't forget about Darren Sproles. Most players get slower as they get older. Sproles looks as fast -- if not faster -- this year compared to last year. When the Dolphins ganged up on Jimmy Graham, Sproles did a ton of damage. When the Dolphins peeled off even one defender from Graham to contain Sproles, Drew Brees hammered them over the top with Graham. Both players should be regulars in the offense every week.

Fantasy: It's time to give up on David Wilson. Believe it or not, I'm trying to trade for Wilson. I want him for this week's game against the Eagles. The 0-4 Giants are at home and desperate for a win. Eli Manning just saw brother Peyton carve up the Eagles with his receivers and surely could apply some of what big bro did to his game this week. But he also should hand off a lot -- the Eagles have allowed 179.0 total yards per game to running backs over the last three weeks. With Da'Rel Scott sent packing, the Giants have to come around on Wilson in this must win. Plus, Wilson hasn't looked so awful the past five quarters.

Reality: Jim Caldwell temporarily lost his mind. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when John Harbaugh approached Caldwell, his offensive coordinator, and asked him why he called nine run plays last week against Buffalo. They ran the ball nine times! Twice in the second half! This game was never a blowout where the Ravens had to throw, they just decided to fling it again and again against the Bills. No wonder why Joe Flacco threw five picks (not all were his fault). Ray Rice fans, I'd expect a change in that direction this week against the Dolphins.

Fantasy: Giovani Bernard will have to wait until midseason to take the running back job away from BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Gio disappointed statistically on Sunday but still played on 74 pct. of snaps to The Law Firm's 26 pct. He had 16 touches too, all thanks in part to playing from behind. Bernard has the primary workload in his hands and should rebound nicely against a Patriots defense missing defensive line game changer Vince Wilfork.

Reality: Chris Johnson should spend less time sounding off on his Fantasy owners and spend more time looking to improve his game. After racking up 14 yards on his first two carries against the Jets, Johnson had one carry for 4 yards, another for three and the rest went for 2 yards or less, including negative yardage. There were even some plays where it looked like Johnson freelanced while the O-line followed out the orders given by the coaches. Johnson ran for minus-6 yards on his first two carries with Ryan Fitzpatrick in part because of one of those runs. I'll admit it's not all Johnson's fault -- you can tell he's trying this year and you can see it in the number of 10-plus yard runs he has. His line is not always great and in the case of last week he faced a very tough run defense. And he'll continue to for the next three weeks when the Titans play the Chiefs, at the Seahawks and vs. the Rams before taking a week off. Maybe he should spend more time in the film room and less time on Twitter.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard .

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Player News
Bears CB Kyle Fuller able to get some practice reps in Thursday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:22 pm ET) Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller returned to practice in a limited capacity Thursday after sitting out Wednesday due to a hip pointer and broken hand. The Bears are preparing to face the Patriots in Week 8.

Not looking good for Alfred Morris
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:21 pm ET) With the news that Colt McCoy will start at quarterback for the Redskins Week 8 at Dallas, running back Alfred Morris' chances for a bounce-back performance go from bad to worse.

Not only is he facing a defense that has allowed the ninth-fewest Fantasy points per game, but he also won't have a quarterback who can help keep defenses honest. Dating back to his days with the Browns, McCoy hasn't shown the ability to stretch the field, and though his final line in relief of Kirk Cousins Sunday looked good, that was mostly because wide receiver Pierre Garcon turned what should have been a short catch into a 70-yard touchdown. Otherwise, McCoy completed 10 passes for just 58 yards.

With such a limited passing game, the Redskins are basically inviting the Cowboys to stack the box against them. Morris has had a hard enough time since starting quarterback Robert Griffin III went down in Week 2, averaging just 60.6 total yards in the five games started with Cousins. Now with McCoy under center, he might even be a sit in Fantasy. Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard both rank him just 29th among running backs for Week 8.


Bears TE Martellus Bennett (hamstring) practices Thursday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:17 pm ET) Bears tight end Martellus Bennett was back at practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday due to a hamstring injury. He was listed as limited in practice Thursday as the Bears prepare to play the Patriots in Week 8.

All-Pro Gerald McCoy says Buccaneers defense has been 'soft'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:05 pm ET) Buccaneers All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy did not hold back Thursday when talking about the team's defensive struggles. He said the defense has been "soft" through six games, per ESPN.

"Yeah. I mean if you look out there on tape and you see a bunch of guys sitting on blocks, are you not earning the title of being soft?'' McCoy said. "I mean, guys get so sensitive around the league, but we have to be men. This is a man's league. This is a man's league and we're professionals. Guys have issues with criticism. I've been getting criticized since I've been in the NFL, and I don't even feel it anymore. It is what it is.''

The Buccaneers rank last in total defense (422.8 yards per game) and last in scoring defense (34 points per game).

"I think we're making too many excuses,'' McCoy said. "There's always a reason why this is happening or why that's happening. It has to stop. We just have to say, 'OK, I did wrong, I didn't win that one, I have to win the next one and the one after that.' If you win 70 percent of your battles, you have a shot to win, simple as that."


Might be time to sit Matt Ryan
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:59 pm ET) After he lost his fourth starting offensive lineman for the season in what his third straight game with just one touchdown pass, I suggested Fantasy owners might consider sitting Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan for Week 8 against the Lions in London. Turns out Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard are completely on board with that, ranking him only 20th among quarterbacks.

Granted, the Saints' Drew Brees managed to find a way against them last week, but it doesn't change the fact that the Lions have allowed the fewest Fantasy points per game to quarterbacks by far. And most of the ones they've faced still had their offensive lines intact.

Part of Ryan's problem is that he just doesn't have time to throw the ball downfield, and that's not going to improve with his starting center now gone. The Lions, as you might expect from their ranking, have a terrific pass rush. They're tied for third with 21 sacks. They're also one of three teams that have recorded more interceptions than they've allowed touchdown passes.

Even if everything was hunky-dory for Ryan and he was coming off a stretch where he looked like Peyton Manning, he'd be a candidate to sit with such a tough matchup. As things currently stand for him and the Falcons, it's a no-brainer move.


Ravens TE Owen Daniels a no-go for Thursday practice
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:58 pm ET) A knee issue has Ravens tight end Owen Daniels out of his second straight practice Thursday. He missed the Wednesday session, but that had been thought of as a veteran's day off.

The continued absence could be a red flag in regard to his status for Sunday at Cincinnati. Daniels has been coming on of late with 13 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown in the last three games combined.


Panthers ready for challenge of facing Seahawks' Richard Sherman
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:56 pm ET) Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said he won't be afraid to throw against Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman in Week 8. However, he knows he has to be careful when he challenges one of the league's best cornerbacks.

"If the play is called for me to read it to Richard’s side, by all means I’m going to do it," Newton said, per ESPN. "And I’m going to give each and every receiver an opportunity to make plays.  I’m not going to force it. I’m not going to be an idiot. I’m going to do a great job of protecting the football and be aggressively patient in taking what the defense gives me."

Sherman will likely draw rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin for most of the afternoon Sunday. Benjamin is ready for the challenge.

"You can tell he loves the game," Benjamin said. "He brings the passion to it. He has fun. He talks a lot of smack out there, but this is football. I’m just going to come out there and match his intensity; play fast and be sound in all my assignments."


Texans' Jadeveon Clowney would be 'surprised' if he doesn't play
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:46 pm ET) Texans rookie linebacker Jadeveon Clowney said Thursday he is ready to return to action Week 8 against the Titans after missing the last six games due to knee surgery.

"I’m as healthy as I’m going to be this season," he said, per the Houston Chronicle. "I’m ready to play football. I’ll be surprised if I don’t play, but it’s up to the coaches.

"My knee’s going to bother me a little. There’s a little discomfort, but it’s something you have to push through. I’ve been working on my craft and trying to get in football shape. It’s one thing to run, but another to be back on the field. I’m looking forward to helping my team and getting back and having fun. I’ve been missing being with my team."


Packers RB James Starks able to practice Thursday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:43 pm ET) Packers running back James Starks was back on the practice field Thursday after sitting out Wednesday due to an ankle injury he suffered Week 7. The Packers are preparing to face the Saints in Week 8.

Packers DL Datone Jones back at practice Thursday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:40 pm ET) Packers defensive end Datone Jones returned to practice Thursday after missing the last two games due to an ankle injury. The Packers are preparing to play the Saints in Week 8.

 
 
 
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