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Thursday, December 12, 2013
Are big plays backfiring for the Bills?

By Mike Rodak

Big plays, big results, right?

Maybe not.

Some of the Buffalo Bills' most memorable moments of this season have been long touchdown passes, particularly by receivers T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin. When the two speedsters have been able to connect on long balls, the resulting big plays have been the strongest evidence supporting the Bills' new offensive style.

But when those deep plays aren't there, the Bills' offense has struggled. Buffalo ranks 30th in the NFL in red zone efficiency, lacking an ability to punch the ball in when they can no longer use the speed of Goodwin and Graham to take advantage of opposing defenses.

That's a troubling trend. Consider this statistic: The Bills average the most yards (26.7) per touchdown reception in the NFL, but they have thrown the third-fewest touchdown passes in the league -- just 13.

On the surface, averaging nearly 27 yards per touchdown catch might suggest an explosive potential within an offense. But in reality, the Bills aren't in good company among the NFL leaders in that statistic. Of the teams who rank in the top ten for yards per touchdown reception, only two -- the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles -- have winning records. Moreover, seven of those ten teams are also among the ten teams with the fewest total touchdown passes.

For the Bills' offense, having the big-play, scoring potential isn't a negative, but it needs to be balanced by an ability to move the ball -- and score in the red zone -- when the deep game isn't in play. That responsibility falls more on receivers Steve Johnson and Robert Woods, as well as tight end Scott Chandler, and collectively the results haven't been there this season.

As for Goodwin and Graham, who have combined for six touchdown catches this season, they're not off the hook, either. Part of the problem is that Goodwin and Graham force the offense into being one-dimensional when they're on the field, as neither has been productive when they're not using their speed in the deep game.

"I think that we have to find ways as an offense where we can get them the ball. Obviously it can’t just be throwing go routes," coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday. "Now we’ve got to make sure we’re doing things with them where teams aren’t getting beat with just run and gos. Put it up there a little bit where we can use their speed and get them in."