METAIRIE, La. -- C.J. Spiller's disappearance in the New Orleans Saints' offense has to rank among the NFL’s biggest head-scratchers this season.
His dynamic skill set as a runner/receiver seemed like a perfect fit for a versatile Saints offense that has always featured pass-catching running backs under Sean Payton.
Payton and Spiller were both fired up about the playbook possibilities in the offseason.
But nine games into the season, Spiller is still playing a minor role.
Spiller played a season-low six snaps in last Sunday’s 34-28 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans, with two carries for 4 yards and one reception for 2 yards. And this was on the heels of backup running back Khiry Robinson’s season-ending broken leg, which seemingly should have created more opportunities for Spiller.
Spiller has continued to insist that he isn’t frustrated by his lack of touches. But he also doesn’t seem to understand the reason for it.
"I go in when I'm told to go in. There’s nothing I can change,” Spiller said. “I know what I can present to this league. So it's the same questions, [but] there's no different answer. That’d be something, I guess for upstairs to answer, not me.
“I haven't went up there and asked for an explanation. Obviously, there has to be a reason behind it. ... But I feel good, and I stay in-tuned into the game so when I am called upon I'm ready to go out there and play.
“Obviously, you want to play more. You're a competitor, you want to be out there, but you can't play with 12 people on the field."
Payton’s explanation for this past Sunday was that the Titans were blitzing a lot in the game and Mark Ingram is the Saints’ preferred back when it comes to blitz protection.
“Sometimes the front we see dictates the type of runs we’re gonna have or the type of passes,” Payton said. “It’s a heavy blitz team, and Mark’s typically been our protecting back. ... Specifically in that second half, there’s quite a bit of pressure.”
But Payton said it wasn’t a matter of Spiller not being productive enough. And both Payton and Spiller said he is healthy after undergoing minor knee surgery in training camp.
Spiller has been slightly more involved in other games, and he has had a couple of highlight moments – including his game-winning 80-yard touchdown catch in overtime against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4 and his game-tying 9-yard TD catch in the final minutes against the New York Giants in Week 8.
But he is averaging just 5.75 touches per game in the seven games he has played.
Spiller has 24 catches for 198 yards and two touchdowns and 22 carries for 86 yards with no TDs.
Someone asked if people may have forgotten how well he can run the ball since he’s been used so often as a pass-catcher.
"I don't know. I'm pretty sure the coaches haven't forgotten I can run the ball pretty well. I mean, they have the film. They're with me every day at practice,” Spiller said. “So it's just one of those things, [Sunday] I didn’t play."
Spiller, a former first-round draft pick out of Clemson, spent his first five years with the Buffalo Bills. He had a monster year in 2012 with 1,244 rushing yards and 459 receiving yards.
But then Spiller also dealt with a diminishing role in Buffalo in recent years while battling some nagging injuries and a broken collarbone in 2014.
When asked for the second time on Monday (and at least the 10th time this season) if he’s frustrated, Spiller said, "If it was my first rodeo, then it would be frustrating, but I've dealt with it my whole career, so it's nothing new to me.”
“I mean, it is what it is,” he said. “The most disappointing thing is that we lost the game. Obviously, you want to go out there and play more, but I was more ticked off that we lost, considering playing at home in front of the best fans in the NFL, having a chance to go above .500, and to come up short, that's a disappointing thing."
Perhaps the two can go hand in hand down the stretch.
No matter what the reason for his lack of production so far, the Saints (4-5) could get a big boost if they figure out how to make more use out of him going forward.