During a recent radio interview, C.J. Spiller was asked how he envisions his life changing with Drew Brees serving as his quarterback.
“I won’t see eight guys in the box anymore,” the running back replied.
That was often an issue for Spiller in Buffalo. The Bills lacked an elite quarterback and the kind of weapons that force defenses to stay honest.
Life won’t be like that in New Orleans. The offense might not feature the same number of weapons it did a year ago, with tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Kenny Stills being dealt away, but the presence of Brees ensures defenses will be kept honest and won’t be able to sell out against the run.
But that much is obvious. Spiller will get yards playing in New Orleans, and many of them will come easier than they once did in Buffalo. The question Spiller should have been asked is how he will help Brees and the offense.
A quick glance at Spiller’s numbers paint a murky picture. Those numbers suggest Spiller peaked in 2012 after accumulating 1,703 yards from scrimmage, and that he has been on a downward trajectory since. He finished with 1,118 yards from scrimmage in 2013 and logged just 425 over nine games last year.
Without context, those numbers say the Saints took a big risk by agreeing to terms with Spiller on a four-year, $16 million deal. But those numbers lack context and fail to explain how and why Spiller’s production dropped over the past two seasons.
After reviewing all of Spiller’s offensive plays from the last seasons, it became clear that his drop in production was the result of being trapped in an offensive system that did not utilize his unique skill set. It was almost as if coach Doug Marrone had an exotic sports car but only drove it inside school zones.
Instead of moving Spiller around the offense and creating ways to get him the ball in space, Marrone kept him caged up and used him in traditional, vanilla ways. Spiller’s offensive package in the passing game contained screen passes and little else.
This was illustrated last season when 13 of the 22 targets Spiller received in the passing game came on slants. He was targeted only once from the slot.
In 2012, with Chan Gailey at the helm, Spiller was a weapon. He moved around the offense and appeared to be the kind of weapon who gave opposing defensive coordinators nightmares.
He ran out routes and options and every other route on the tree out of the backfield. He made 14 receptions while split out or from the slot. He ran crossing routes and hitches and comebacks. Gailey used him to his full potential.
So how will Spiller help Brees? By being the guy he was under Gailey.
Coach Sean Payton didn’t sign Spiller to a lucrative deal to be vanilla. He would have kept Pierre Thomas on the roster if all he wanted out of this spot was screens and sweeps.
Some viewed this transaction as a luxury signing. It’s not. The satellite back has been a key piece of Payton’s offenses since he arrived in New Orleans. With Spiller, he once again has the chess piece who will allow him to get weird with his offensive packages, to borrow a phrase from defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
And assuming health, Spiller has a chance to be the best satellite back to come through New Orleans. Better than Reggie Bush. Maybe even Darren Sproles. He’ll need the touches to rival what Sproles did in 2011, when the former Saints running back accumulated 1,313 yards from scrimmage, but Spiller’s 2012 film is as impressive as anything Sproles ever did.
If Spiller can be that kind of player, he’ll force defenses to scheme against him the way Sproles once did in this offense. They’ll start pinching down and paying greater attention to the short area of the field. As a result, the passing lanes to the outside and deep will once again open up, making it easier for Brees to pick up chunks of yardage.
Remember all the talk about the deep pass disappearing from the offense last season? Those issues, at least in part, can be traced back to the departure of Sproles. Spiller can open things up again.
That’s how he will help Brees. He’ll cause matchup issues and create opportunities for others. And when he doesn’t create those opportunities, he can use his speed and ability to exploit defenses that don’t pay him proper attention. Assuming, of course, Payton uses him the way the way Gailey once did.
That shouldn’t be an issue.
Call it a hunch, but it doesn’t seem like Payton has issues with speeding.