The Buffalo Bills need to find a way to replace about 20 percent of their passing attack when they face the New York Jets on Sunday in a crucial AFC East matchup.
Receiver Josh Reed represents that much of the Buffalo attack, and he is expected to miss the game due to injuries to his Achilles tendon and ankle.
That's just one of the injury concerns facing the Bills (5-2) as they try to stay ahead of the Jets (4-3) in the division. Defensive end Aaron Schobel seems likely to sit out a third straight game due to a foot injury. Starting right guard Brad Butler is expected to miss his second straight with a sprained knee. And the Bills hope cornerback Terrence McGee is improved after playing at less than 100 percent last week in Miami due to a sore knee.
Reed's absence is a worry, since the Bills are facing a Brett Favre-run New York offense that is averaging 26 points per game. Reed ranks second to Lee Evans in catches for the Bills with 26, and 17 of those have produced first downs. That's 22 percent of the Bills' passing first downs.
"When you have Lee on the outside and you have deep threats like James [Hardy] and Roscoe [Parrish], you always have the underneath route to Josh," quarterback Trent Edwards said. "Even if he's not past the first down marker, you can always hit him underneath the first-down marker and he can make a guy miss or break a tackle like he did [twice] on Sunday. That's going to be tough to not have him in there."
It sounds like the job of picking up the slack is going to be a community effort.
Parrish, who has 10 catches in five games, thinks it's about time he starts seeing more balls.
"I always want a bigger role on offense," said Parrish, who sat out two games with a thumb injury. "That's what I came in for, not to be a special teams player. Don't want to start a conflict, but I want to have more on offense and do what I do, which is make plays and do whatever I can to help the team."
Like Reed, the 5-foot-9 Parrish works best out of the slot. So he has been stuck in the No. 4 receiver role during his three-plus seasons. Parrish caught 35 passes last season. He has caught 50 yards in passes in only three of 83 games. He figures to get his longest look this week.
"Being that Josh is down, we have to take a bigger load," Parrish said. "We know we have to pick it up."
Hardy, the Bills' rookie second-round draft pick, likewise is eager to show he can do more. Hardy has seven catches for 66 yards and one touchdown. He had two catches against Miami last week. He said he thinks he has a good grasp of the offense now.
"I know what I'm doing," Hardy said. "I'm out there critiquing it. I'm just trying to perfect it each and every day in practice. You have to come in and practice like it's a game. I'm definitely stepping my game up in practice. It's starting to show."
Edwards expects second-year reserve receiver Justin Jenkins and rookie seventh-round pick Steve Johnson will be more involved against the Jets, too.
"Roscoe and James have had some opportunities these past few weeks to get their feet wet but now they really are going to have to step in and make a difference this week," Edwards said. "I think Steve Johnson and Justin Jenkins are both going to be a big part of our offense, too."
"We're going to have our different packages that utilize what they do best," Edwards said of the young receivers. "That's the thing I like about Turk [Schonert's] offense, is that we're going to put them in positions to use them to their advantage."
The Bills rank 12th in the NFL in passing yards at 222 per game.