Through five weeks of the season, the Buffalo Bills have gotten off to a 3-2 start to the season, which has shown they’re at least ahead of the generally accepted schedule both fans and media had of the team heading into the 2017 season.
As is the case for NFL teams through a bye week, it’s a time for reflection about what has happened, and what’s to come. With that said, what are the biggest questions for the Bills as the season continues? We’ll be counting down the top seven throughout the week.
No. 4: Can the Bills wide receivers become more of a factor in 2017?
There has been a lot to complain about with the offense of the Buffalo Bills — particularly with where they are at their weakest, and how it inhibits them from putting the drives together late in games that are essential to claiming a victory.
Take the Bills two losses — both on the road — to the Panthers and the Bengals, and the commonality between them is a complete inability to get the ball successfully to their wide receivers. It was a little better in Carolina than in Cincinnati — mainly due to having their top receiver on the team available — but still not nearly good enough, and it led to exactly zero touchdowns.
The lack of respect for the boundary targets has led teams to hone in on LeSean McCoy and the rushing attack, which has completely neutralized the Bills best option at moving the football consistently.
It really hasn’t been great even with top wideout Jordan Matthews, but his 10 receptions for 162 yards at least gave defenses something to think about on the outside. Between the other four wide receivers on the roster? There is not a single reason why teams should fear the Bills in that capacity, especially when Matthews is injured as he is now.
Seriously, look at the numbers through five games on the remaining four options:
Zay Jones - 5 receptions, 66 yards
Andre Holmes - 6 receptions, 35 yards
Kaelin Clay - 1 reception, 28 yards
Brandon Tate - 2 receptions, 25 yards
Now, let’s add it all up, shall we? I must warn you… the following numbers are graphic:
Total without Matthews: 14 receptions, 154 yards
Total with Matthews: 24 receptions, 316 yards
Pittsburgh WR (and NFL leader) Antonio Brown: 40 receptions, 545 yards
Making matters worse, Matthews might be away for a little more time due to his most recent hand injury, which is not exactly conducive to the Bills breaking out. The Bengals lost both of their top cornerbacks early on in the game, which means there was potential for the receivers to win on their routes and make somewhat of an impact. Clearly, that didn’t happen.
So where do the Bills go from here?
I don’t think it would be wise to utilize one of those six picks in the first three rounds to try and trade for someone. That’s taking a potential long-term piece and squandering it for a short-term band-aid. Instead, the Bills could look to deal someone like right guard John Miller or defensive tackle Adolphus Washington for a receiver to help out what has been a frustrating ordeal for the team and fans alike.
There is also the option of bringing up one of their two promising practice squad players Brandon Reilly and Malachi Dupre, but this staff believes quite a bit in development, so I think they want to continue working with them in a practice squad capacity for the time being.
Unfortunately, unless the Bills deal a player-for-player ahead of the deadline, I think the most likely route is for them to just stand pat and take their medicine — as unbearable as that may read for fans. Really, if they work with Zay Jones and can get him going, that will do wonders for this group.
Jones has a lot of talent and has vastly underperformed from what we saw during the summer with him. There is still reason for the belief that the light will turn on for him, but sometimes that is a slow process for rookie receivers.
If they can establish him a little bit in the next game or two, and then pair him with Matthews once he gets healthy enough, the Bills could see an uptick in production from the position. Some better pass blocking would help, too, but that’s another topic for another column.
As bleak as it seems now, there is potential for it to get a little better — and it’s really all depending on the development of Zay Jones in his rookie year — something they have to do right, given Matthews’ status as a free agent at the end of the season.