Share this article

print logo

Tim Graham: Even if the Bills had more WRs, would they use them?

Tim Graham

Don't blame Tyrod Taylor for Sunday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

No, he wasn't perfect.

But the Buffalo Bills could be 5-0 if they had better receivers, or maybe if they used them at all.

The Bills are in better shape than we expected. They enter their bye week tied atop the AFC East at 3-2, same as the New England Patriots and New York Jets. They hung tough in the rain against the favored Bengals.

And yet a couple of injuries have exposed the Bills' lack of receiving depth even more than the Sammy Watkins trade ever could.

For five weeks, the offense has had trouble scoring without the defense giving them enhanced opportunities. The Bills can three-and-out like nobody's business and went into Sunday ranked 29th in yards.

The Bills, nonetheless, had gotten by prior to Sunday. Now, at least, General Manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott have extra time to monitor medical charts and explore moves to make before the Bills' next game Oct. 22 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

McDermott still confident in a woeful wideout group

The Bills aren't the only team that will be excavating for receivers. Terrell Owens on Sunday offered his services to the winless New York Giants, who lost Odell Beckham Jr.

As for the Bills: "Start the petition," Owens wrote in a text. "I'm not aware of the Bills' needs or if they would even consider, but I'm available."

Bills fans should reach for their pens. Or a bottle.

Buffalo's offense starts with LeSean McCoy and then went through Charles Clay, at least until Clay took a shot on his left knee with 2:23 left in the first quarter and was carted away to the locker room.

Now what?

The Bills have used the wideouts at a historically meager rate.

Since the NFL started tracking targets in 1992, the lowest percentage of passes to Bills wideouts happened in 2011, when they fielded a roster with the likes of Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, Donald Jones, Naaman Roosevelt, Derek Hagan and Ruvell Martin.

Even with running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson involved in the passing game, Buffalo's wideouts garnered 293 targets, or 50.7 percent of the passes.

That's the lowest percentage over the quarter century targets have been a stat. The 1993 Bills were the next-lowest at 51.7 percent. Over half of the Bills' seasons are at 60 percent or higher.

Buffalo's wideouts this year have been targeted for 41.1 percent of Taylor's passes.

They are on pace for 179 targets, 78 (five targets per game) fewer than the baseline set in 1993, when the Bills attempted just 497 passes. The Bills had future Hall of Fame receiver Andre Reed, but only five wideouts were targeted all season. Russell Copeland and Steve Tasker had 23 targets between them.

So the Bills finally have a tight end threat this year, you might be saying.

Perhaps you'll point out this is what happens when your offense goes through a superstar running back and a productive tight end in a ball-control offense set up to pounce on an opponent's mistakes.

Watch: Our team's takeaway on Bills' loss to Bengals

Let's take a snapshot of the 2006 San Diego Chargers, whose offense went through LaDainian Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates and assembled a defense that ranked seventh in scoring defense and 10th in fewest yards allowed.

Tomlinson ran for 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns and caught 56 passes for 508 yards and three touchdowns. He was the MVP. Gates was targeted 120 times in the third straight All-Pro season.

Even so, the Chargers threw 45.3 percent of their passes to wideouts.

McCoy is not having one of the greatest seasons of all-time. Clay is not an All-Pro.

Alas, Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison can't seem to get his receivers involved even as much as that RB/TE-loaded Chargers team could.

Buffalo's offense is not good enough to marginalize an entire position.

The receivers aren't good enough, you say?

Chan Gailey found a way to involve a menagerie of Johnson (seventh-round draft choice), Nelson (undrafted), Jones (undrafted) and Roosevelt (undrafted). Gailey's wideouts over his three years with the Bills averaged 61.5 percent of the targets and 20.6 a game.

From 1994 through 2014, the Bills' top wideout pair finished with more targets than the entire Bills unit is on pace for this year. Eric Moulds and Peerless Price combined for 328 targets in 2002.

For the record, the highest rate for Bills wideout targets was 74.4 percent in 2010. Johnson and Lee Evans combined for 225 targets, or 46 more than all the wideouts are on pace for this season.

The 2017 crew is averaging 11.2 targets a game.

Once Clay left the game, Buffalo's group of receivers and tight ends had a total of three 100-yard games among them. Jordan Matthews didn't dress Sunday because of a thumb injury, although even when healthy he has averaged 3.3 targets a game.

Brandon Tate can boast a 100-yard day, but he has gotten more than three targets in a game only four times since 2010. Sunday, he saw four targets, catching two for 25 yards. Tate slid to snag a stellar, 12-yard Taylor touchdown threadball 3:10 before halftime.

Andre Holmes, owner of the other two 100-yard games, has two touchdown catches this year, but the last time he registered more than three receptions was 2014. Holmes saw one target Sunday.

Rookie receiver Zay Jones had one reception on six targets against Cincinnati. He has been targeted 23 times. He has made five catches for 66 yards. Pro Football Focus chalked him up for another drop Sunday, giving him four on nine catchable targets. The 44.4 percent drop rate is PFF's worst among 87 receivers who played a requisite number of snaps.

Kaelin Clay had zero targets before this season. He has one career catch, a 28-yarder two weeks ago against the Denver Broncos.

Third-string quarterback Joe Webb can play some receiver, with eight career catches for 61 yards. He got on the field in Cincinnati but wasn't targeted.

There's no safety net at tight end. Clay's absence reveals the inexperience.

Nick O'Leary was targeted six times, double his prior busiest day. O'Leary snagged five for 54 yards, also career-highs. He's seen more than one target four times in his NFL life.

Third-string tight end Logan Thomas, another converted quarterback, caught his first NFL pass. It went for 3 yards.

Buffalo's lack of offensive depth takes its biggest strength, a ballhawking defense that wrangled three more takeaways Sunday, and reduces the margin for error it has created with a magnificent plus-8 turnover margin.

In the second half, Buffalo's six possessions looked like this: three-and-out (2 yards gained), three-and-out (lost 10 yards), field goal (51 yards gained), six plays and a punt (10 yards gained), field goal (2 yards gained when a touchdown would've given them a 20-17 lead), interception on third-and-15 in desperation mode.

There are no simple solutions to the Bills' circumstances. Any answer likely is already on a roster.

Except maybe Terrell Owens, of course.

T.O. can run routes and have the ball not thrown to him just as easily as the wideouts already on the roster.

Tyrod Taylor takes 'full responsibility' for ugly offensive showing

Story topics: / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /

There are no comments - be the first to comment