The short of it

The Buffalo News - - PICTURE PAGE -

Fewest wide re­ceiver catches in the NFL last 10 sea­sons:

Year Team

Oakland Raiders Cleve­land Browns Oakland Raiders Oakland Raiders Ten­nessee Ti­tans

Catches

82 94 99 112

league this year and the low­est to­tal in the NFL in the last eight sea­sons.

• Ty­rod Tay­lor had by far his least pro­duc­tive sea­son throw­ing down­field. He man­aged just 551 yards on passes that trav­eled 20 or more yards

past the line of scrim­mage, ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus. That was 17th in the NFL, 20 per­cent less than in 2016 and about half of his 2015 to­tal, when he ranked fifth in the league with 1,014 yards on down­field throws.

“It falls on us all,” Gen­eral Man­ager Bran­don Beane said. “It falls on me to pro­vide play­ers. Sean’s go­ing to take his share of it. Coach­ing, play­ers – you know, this was a new scheme, a new year, a lot of new parts. There were some re­turn­ing parts, but there were a lot of new things here. I thought they re­ally did some good things. We just could never, you know, we could never get on track con­sis­tently and that’s what we’ve got to be.”

The first step came Fri­day when the Bills fired of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Rick Den­ni­son, but the is­sues were not re­stricted to play-call­ing or coach­ing. Most of the Bills’ best-laid plans at wide re­ceiver came un­rav­eled.

Vet­eran An­quan Boldin re­tired in pre­sea­son. Jor­dan Matthews, ac­quired from Philadel­phia on the same day Sammy Watkins was traded, was hin­dered by in­juries. He started just seven games and caught 25 passes. Kelvin Ben­jamin, ac­quired at mid­sea­son from Carolina, hurt his knee and man­aged 16 catches in six games.

Den­ni­son made it clear on sev­eral oc­ca­sions the pri­or­ity in the pass­ing game had to be get­ting the ball to the two health­i­est play-mak­ers, LeSean McCoy and Charles Clay.

“You have to try and spread the ball,” Den­ni­son said re­cently. “Cer­tainly, we have guys that we think are good mis­matches – 85 does a good job ver­sus safeties and you get 25 out in the open, he’s a tough guy to cover. We try to spread the ball as much as we can, just what­ever the cov­er­age is, that’s what we get.”

McCoy led the Bills with 59 catches and Clay was sec­ond with 49.

More re­ceiv­ing tal­ent is an ob­vi­ous pri­or­ity. The Bills wide­out catch to­tal was the low­est since Oakland man­aged 99 catches in 2009.

The league av­er­age in 2017 was 181 wide­out catches per team, which shows how much help the Bills need at the po­si­tion.

If the 6-foot-5 Ben­jamin is healthy, his first two sea­sons in Carolina sug­gest he’s a 70-catch, 1,000-yard re­ceiver. Rookie Zay Jones, who caught just 27 passes, will be counted on to make a big im­prove­ment.

Matthews, Deonte Thomp­son (27 catches) and Bran­don Tate (six catches) all are due to be free agents.

Nei­ther Ben­jamin nor Jones is a blow-the-top-off-the-de­fense deep threats.

To some de­gree, Tay­lor could not be faulted for his big drop-off in down­field com­ple­tions.

He showed in 2015, when he had a healthy Watkins, he could throw ac­cu­rate deep balls, es­pe­cially to the out­side of the field on play-ac­tion passes.

Tay­lor, how­ever, does not win from the pocket late in the down, and that’s how a lot of elite quar­ter­backs make big plays, by wait­ing for the scheme to al­low the deeper routes to de­velop.

The Bills seemed less ea­ger to go deep as the sea­son went on, as they got a lit­tle bet­ter at mov­ing me­thod­i­cally down the field.

The last eight games, Tay­lor was just 6 of 24 for 188 yards on throws 20 or more yards down­field.

With a mostly healthy Watkins in 2015, Tay­lor had 12 TDs and three INTs on passes 20-plus yards down­field. This year he had just four TDs and one INT on such throws.

Bills fans are used to watch­ing a low-ranked pass of­fense. In the eight sea­sons from 2003 to 2010, the team av­er­aged just 169 pass­ing yards a game. The Bills also were in the bot­tom half of the league in in­ter­cep­tion per­cent­age dur­ing that stretch.

Tay­lor was the least in­ter­cepted Q B in the NFL this sea­son.

Harry Scull Jr./Buf­falo News

Deonte Thomp­son watches a ball go over his head dur­ing the Bills’ 47-10 loss to the Saints in Or­chard Park Nov. 12.

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