There was a lot of hoopla surrounding the Buffalo Bills’ (5-4) trade deadline acquisition of talented wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, and at least for the opening drive of Sunday’s disappointing loss to the New Orleans Saints, it seemed the Bills were focused on involving their new offensive weapon.
Benjamin, acquired from the Carolina Panthers for third- and seventh-round draft picks, was targeted by Tyrod Taylor three times on the opening drive...and then, it’s as if he vanished from the playbook.
Despite trailing early and needing to rely on the passing game to try and catch up (which, given how well the Saints were gashing the Bills’ run defense now seems like a futile suggestion), Taylor and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison failed to target Benjamin again. In fact, Benjamin did not see another target until rookie Nathan Peterman took over late in the fourth quarter.
“I think when we came out there on that first drive, we were more man and then they switched the coverages and started playing a lot of six and a lot of two,” Benjamin said after the game. “Just switching it up and rolling more to my side I guess. I think we tried to come out fast and we did. It just kind of slowed down for us.”
Taylor hit Benjamin on a slant pattern for a nine-yard completion on the second play of the game, and after LeSean McCoy broke off a 36-yard run and Taylor scampered for 13 yards, the Bills had the ball at the Saints’ 19-yard line.
Taylor overthrew Benjamin badly on second down, then threw behind his newest offensive weapon on third down. Buffalo’s offense stalled, and the Bills settled for a 37-yard field goal from Stephen Hauschka.
Benjamin’s third target of the opening drive came with 11:07 remaining in the opening quarter. That was the last time Benjamin was targeted until Peterman took over with 4:53 remaining and the Bills hopelessly behind 40-3.
Why did the team seem to completely ignore its new offensive weapon?
“Well, coverage dictated that,” Dennison said Monday. “They started out, had him one-on-one, we took our chances and didn’t make the plays. ... They started changing their two safety coverages, try to protect the guy on him I guess. We tried to work some high-level levels with him and somebody underneath him and they kept dropping underneath. It’s up to me to get him in the right spot to get him the targets and catches.”
“It was part of the plan but it was also taking what the defense gave me,” Taylor added. “The defense started rolling towards him and some situations as well too but just a lack of execution across the board passing game, running game, like I said that starts with me.”
Benjamin still finished as the team’s leading receiver with 42 yards on three catches. For the Bills to be more successful and snap out of this two-game slide, Taylor and Benjamin will need to right the ship and have more success in the passing game, beginning with Sunday’s important AFC showdown vs. the Los Angeles Chargers.