Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson is not as involved in the offense as he has been in years past. That needs to change before Chan Gailey's running back-heavy attack becomes too predictable.
The Buffalo Bills are in danger of getting very predictable offensively, and the easiest way to prevent that would be to get wide receiver Stevie Johnson more involved on a weekly basis.
After becoming the first Bills receiver to record back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons last year, Johnson is only on pace for 885 this season. He has yet to record more than 82 yards in one game this year, and his 73 projected receptions would also be a three-year low. And we haven't even hit the alarming stats yet.
Buffalo has not been nearly as efficient at getting the ball to Johnson as they were in 2010 and 2011. Out of the 22 wide receivers that have been targeted more than 60 times this season, only two - Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson and Donnie Avery of Indianapolis - have a lower touch-to-target ratio than Johnson's 50.8 percent success rate (32 receptions in 63 targets). In 2011, his 56.3 percent rate would have vaulted him past another six receivers on that list this season; his 57.3 percent rate in 2010 would have vaulted him another place. In short: Buffalo has never been particularly excellent at getting Johnson the football, but it's gotten markedly worse this season.
Of even bigger concern, however, is how marginalized Johnson has become within the context of Chan Gailey's offense. Please note that the following stats are based on data from the Bills' last two games (against Arizona and Tennessee), which gives us a more representative idea of how Gailey would like to run his offense, and removes statistical oddities brought about by the Bills playing from way behind in their two previous games.
No skill position player has been on the field more than Johnson lately, who has only missed one snap in the last two games combined. The only other player on the field for more than 90 percent of snaps (Johnson is at 99.2 percent) is fellow starting receiver Donald Jones. From there, every Bills skill player, at bare minimum, is sitting out one in every five snaps.
Yet in that time frame, Johnson is a very distant third on the team in total touches, falling way behind running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in that department. Now, granted: it is significantly easier to get the ball into the hands of a running back than to do so with a receiver. Running backs will always have higher touch ratios than receivers. But Johnson's marginalization is still evident.
Take a look at the following table, again from the last two games:
|Player||Pos.||Reps||PT%||Touches||Per Snap||Per Offense|
Note first, if you will, the "Per Snap" column, which divides the number of touches by the number of reps to essentially establish the chances that a player will end up with the ball in his hands when he's on the field. The percentages overwhelmingly favor the two running backs, as both are a 50-50 (or better) bet to get the ball if they're playing. Johnson, meanwhile, barely registers in that category, and is not far enough ahead of justifiably marginalized pass-game targets like T.J. Graham and Jones.
Then note the far more practical "Per Offense" column, which divides the number of touches by the number of total offensive reps (130 in two weeks) to establish a ratio of touches within the scheme; this shows effectiveness at getting the ball to a specific player within the context of the whole. (Combining that column won't ever get you to 100 percent, unless by some miracle Ryan Fitzpatrick starts completing every pass he throws.) The two running backs touched the ball on 55.4 percent of the offense's total snaps, while Johnson couldn't even crack 10 percent.
Again, running backs will always have higher touch ratios than receivers simply because it's easier to get the ball to a back. The concerns here can be broken down into three main components: the drop in efficiency getting Johnson the ball; the huge emphasis on the running backs, which is justifiable but has marginalized Johnson; and Johnson's lack of separation from the team's underwhelming trio of receivers running alongside him. Johnson's touch stats should dwarf those of Jones and Graham - and probably even tight end Scott Chandler, too.
There's no question that until further notice, Jackson and Spiller - who have evolved into one of the more productive running back duos in the NFL - should, together, be the focal point of the offense. Lest the attack become predictable, however, the Bills need to more efficiently involve Johnson, or smart defensive coordinators will quickly solve Gailey's latest wrinkles.