Jordan Matthews’ time with the Buffalo Bills has been a constant struggle.
A chest injury 15 minutes into his first practice with the team in training camp got things off to a bad start, and 12 weeks into the regular season, things haven’t got much better.
Matthews has 24 catches for 268 yards and one touchdown in 10 games, which puts him on pace to finish with 35 catches, 390 yards and that lone TD. All of those would be career lows – by a lot. Approaching unrestricted free agency, that is less than ideal timing.
Matthews made it back from the chip fracture in his sternum in time for the season opener, but injury problems have continued to plague him. He broke his thumb in a Week 4 win at Atlanta, which kept him out the following week at Cincinnati. He also missed the Week 11 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers with a knee injury.
He’s also being put in a position that might not best suit him. During Matthews’ first two seasons, he operated almost exclusively out of the slot, with more than 90 percent of his routes being run there, according to the analytics website Pro Football Focus. In those two years, Matthews made 152 catches for 1,869 yards and 16 touchdowns.
This year, however, Matthews has lined up in the slot on 71.4 percent of his routes.
“I’m trying to put him inside and put him in a good matchup,” offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.
Matthews made two catches for 15 yards in Sunday’s win over Kansas City.
“He made two catches on third down,” Dennison said. “One came up a little short, one was a first down. Ball didn’t go to him on the other third downs. It went to some other people. You’re looking for matchups, you’re trying to put some schemes together and let the quarterback go through a progression.”
Outside of a six-catch game against the Jets in Week 9, Matthews hasn’t had more than three catches in a game. His season high in receiving yards is 61, against the Broncos in Week 3.
“Jordan's a guy that's competitive by nature,” coach Sean McDermott said. “He's one of the leaders of our football team, and he comes to work every day to get better. That's the DNA that we're looking for in our players. I haven't sensed (frustration) at all. He worked hard out here today. He works hard every week. He'll continue to get more and more opportunities, just like he's gotten to this point.”
After both practices this week, Matthews has spent considerable time afterward catching extra passes. He talked with The Buffalo News about his season to date Thursday:
Question: This week in particular, it seems like you’ve put in a good deal of extra work. What has gone into that?
Jordan Matthews: “I wasn't as healthy early on this year. I had to rest a lot more. I wanted to prepare more physically, but I really just couldn't. But now that I'm able to, you know, it's kind of like the standard for me. Just making sure I stay active and get a lot of work.”
Q: That dates all the way back to training camp. How tough have all these injuries been to deal with?
JM: “It's been a lot. … Obviously the chest thing kept me out for a long time. Then with the thumb, you know right when you get done practicing, they want to start rehabbing it, because it's going to be sore. You don't want that thumb after practice making that type of contact. It's definitely been a grind, but now that I'm healthy, you know, it's kind of like what I do.”
Q: Has ‘a grind’ been the best way to define this season?
JM: “For sure. Definitely not what I'm used to, but at the same time, as a team we're poised to make a run to get into the playoffs. That's what I'm focused on.”
Q: In what ways would you define it as a grind?
JM: “Probably (injuries). I'm not used to being hurt. You know, so, that's definitely No. 1. Whatever it is, my biggest thing is just to continue to come out here and work hard and then make the plays when they come.”
Q: How do you feel about your usage in this offense?
JM: “I come out here and do what I'm told, do what I'm asked to do. You know, trying just to continue to grow in the offense and make plays whenever I have the opportunity, so I mean that's pretty much it.”
Q: Do you think this offense suits what you do well?
JM: “There are some things that, you know, definitely suits me. If you ask any receiver, they always feel like they can do more. I think there's a lot more that I can do, but at the same time, I want to be able to help my team and play within the confines of what ‘Rico’ and all the guys are asking me to do. My biggest job is to make sure I come out here and make the plays whenever I have the opportunity."
Q: You’re in a contract year. Does that enter into your mind?
JM: "Every once in a while, but what can you do other than, you know, work hard? Continue to come out here and put your best foot forward. Whenever you have the opportunity, show who you are on film. You know, sometimes, the numbers don't tell the full story. Sometimes they tell a lot of it, but lots of times, they're going to go back to it. So you go put your stuff on tape and continue to show everybody the type of player I am.”
Q: Has that been the case here? Are your numbers not accurately reflecting your film?
JM: “I mean, what do I have, 100 maybe, 200 yards? I'm not a 200-yard receiver. I definitely think I'm a 1,000-yard receiver. Second year I came really close, and then my third year I was on pace, but then I had an ankle injury. I don't short myself. There's a lot I can do. There have been some different variables that have put me in this spot, so my biggest thing is just, how do I help my team win, because the opportunities I do have, I've got to just make sure I capitalize on. Like today, I didn't have a great practice, so that frustrates me, because I can't want more and come out here and not perform at the highest level every single day.”