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Receiver Production: Week 1

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Tracking a pass-catcher’s performance by the routes he ran, not just the passes he caught.

We can put it bluntly: The Buffalo Bills’ passing offense flat-out stunk in its 2016 season debut. So what’s the deal? Was Tyrod Taylor misfiring, or did the receivers clam up against Baltimore’s secondary? To answer this question, we’re going to take a look at Buffalo’s Receiver Production.

The Premise

Derived largely from Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception system, the Receiver Production lens will examine all of the receivers and tight ends on the roster. Using NFL Gamepass and the All-22 angles, I’ll watch every play on which they appeared to run a route, note the type of coverage (man, zone, or press) that they faced, if the receiver was “open” on their route, how many times the receiver was targeted, how many of those targets were contested, and how many passes they caught. The goal is to identify the direct matchup between Buffalo’s receivers and the defensive back seven, to see if a passing performance was thanks to or in spite of the collective effort of the receiving corps.

I’m not going to watch the running backs, because their pass play responsibilities fall into one of two buckets, most of the time. Either they’re in for pass protection, or they’re running routes for “simple YAC” patterns, designed to scheme them the ball in space.

Grant me this: The practice is largely a judgment call. You can take my word for it, or watch the game again and draw your own conclusions. I’ll explain the rules I use below:

  • Press coverage - if the receiver is within two yards of a defender at the snap and the defender initiates contact post-snap.
  • Man coverage - if the defender appears to take a coverage pattern wherein he sticks with the receiver throughout the route. Some defenses will disguise man/zone looks pre-snap, so I mainly look for “man” behavior post-snap.
  • Zone coverage - if the defender appears to take a coverage pattern wherein he occupies a space on the field and passes receivers between his teammates.
  • Open - At the time the pass is thrown, or within approximately 3 seconds of the snap, the receiver is open. In man coverage, that implies a yard or two of “separation” between the receiver and defender. In zone coverage, the receiver occupies or is about to enter a space in between the zone defenders.
  • Target - A catchable pass towards a receiver.
  • Contested - At the time of the target, the receiver and defender were in close enough proximity that the defender could play the receiver (or ball).
  • Simple YAC - I use this to designate any routes that I feel were “schemed” open. Bubble screens, two yard drags, and swing passes qualify for this, and I don’t feel that a receiver can count as “open” if they have space on these passes.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at this week’s performances:

Sammy Watkins

Man coverage: 5/12 | 41.7%

Zone coverage: 9/11 | 81.8%

Press coverage: 1/3 | 33.3%

Total: 57.7% success

Simple YAC: 1 route

6 targets, 4 catches

Watkins started the game off strongly, but he had moments where he was unable to shake his coverage in the given timeframe. Watkins often had more challenging routes, such as deep corner patterns that could have been more about clearing the underneath routes than getting open for a catch. He was his usual reliable self if he could get a hand on the ball. Watkins showed a great feel for navigating the zone.

Robert Woods

Man coverage: 6/8 | 75%

Zone coverage: 8/12 | 66.7%

Press coverage: N/A

Total: 70% success

Simple YAC: 4 routes

5 targets, 4 catches

Woods made the most of several opportunities he was given, but the majority of his catches came at the sideline or diving to the ground, limiting the yards after catch opportunities. It’s well-known now that he had an opportunity to score a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage if Tyrod Taylor had looked his way, and that sort of sums up the whole game, to be honest.

Greg Salas

Man coverage: 1/2 | 50%

Zone coverage: 6/7 | 85.7%

Press coverage: 0/1 | 0%

Total: 77.8% success

Simple YAC: 3 routes

1 target, 0 catches

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Taylor wasn’t paying enough attention to the middle of the field. While Taylor was busy checking down to the flats and making six-yard passes to the sideline, Salas was developing some excellent routes through the middle of the field. He could’ve had an 80 yard receiving type of day if Taylor had even looked his way a little bit.

Marquise Goodwin

Man coverage: 2/3 | 66.7%

Zone coverage: 1/1 | 100%

Press coverage: N/A

Total: 75% success

Simple YAC: 1 route

0 targets, 0 catches

Goodwin barely saw the field on offense, but he had at least one deep out pattern that was well-run.

Charles Clay

Man coverage: 3/4 | 75%

Zone coverage: 10/17 | 58.8%

Press coverage: N/A

Total: 61.9% success

Simple YAC: 3 routes

3 targets (2 contested), 2 catches (1 contested)

Much like Salas, Clay was frequently ignored by Taylor despite having some snaps where he just ran rampant through Baltimore’s secondary. Clay faced a ton of zone coverage, being in the middle of the field and due to the fact that Baltimore leaned more towards zone across the board, and when he got open against those coverages, it usually could’ve turned into 20 or more yards.

Nick O’Leary

Man coverage: N/A

Zone coverage: 1/1

Press coverage: N/A

Total: 100% success

Simple YAC: 1 route

0 targets, 0 catches

O’Leary got three token snaps on offense, but on one of them he was targeted on a lousy pass from Taylor, and on another he ran a decent route against zone coverage that had him open on the sideline. Not bad, kid.


While I still have to take another look that examines only Tyrod Taylor, I was disappointment with his quarterbacking performance. Looking around the field, I see players running open, only for Taylor to elect to check down or make short passes to the sidelines. True, he was dealing with pressure, especially late in the game. But it seems like his ability to read the field was totally paralyzed on Sunday. The receivers held up their end of the bargain, but Taylor didn’t deliver.

On a side note: Cyrus Kouandjio has arrived, folks. He was clean on 90% of his snaps filling in for Cordy Glenn, and looks as comfortable as he can be at left tackle.