Bills’ wealth of depth at receiver making opponents pay
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The Bills have such a wealth of depth at receiver, Stefon Diggs found himself playing the role of traffic controller for quarterback Josh Allen last weekend.
With Diggs double-covered running a route to the left of the end zone, he pointed to the other side, where Isaiah McKenzie was wide open for a 14-yard touchdown catch in Buffalo’s season-ending 56-26 romp over the Miami Dolphins.
“It’s not like Josh needs me to point at him to tell him where to throw the ball. I’m pretty sure he saw it,” Diggs said with a chuckle on Wednesday. “But it’s just a natural reaction when you see a guy open like, `Hey, hey.’”
It’s been that way for a pass-happy offense for much of the season in which Buffalo set a single-season franchise record with 501 points and matched the NFL single-season record with 13 players scoring a TD receiving, including one by Allen.
That depth could come in handy Saturday when the AFC East champion Bills (13-3) host their first playoff game in 24 years by facing the seventh-seeded Indianapolis Colts (11-5).
Injuries are suddenly catching up to Buffalo, with slot receiver Cole Beasley in jeopardy of missing his second consecutive game with a knee injury, while Diggs (oblique) and McKenzie (ankle) are also nicked up.
Diggs, who did not practice Wednesday, said he’s fine. Coach Sean McDermott did not provide updates on McKenzie or Beasley, who has not practiced since getting hurt in a 38-9 win at New England on Dec. 28.
Though missing Beasley would be a concern, after he finished second on the team with 82 catches and 967 yards, both career highs, it’s somewhat mitigated by how Allen has spread the ball to whomever is on the field.
In a season Diggs became Buffalo’s first player to lead the NFL in catches (127) and yards receiving (1,535), the Bills had others making significant contributions.
Rookie Gabriel Davis ranked second on the team with seven touchdowns, followed by McKenzie, who scored five times on just 30 catches.
And don’t forget John Brown. A year after leading Buffalo with 72 catches for 1,060 yards, the outside speedster has been limited to just nine games because of ankle and knee injuries and a stint on the reserve-COVID-19 list.
On Sunday, Brown returned after missing five games to show he’s ready to re-establish his presence with four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown in just one half of work.
“That was something I needed to be able to test the water and get a good feeling and get my own confidence back up,” Brown said of making his first catch, a 7-yarder over the middle, on Buffalo’s second snap from scrimmage.
“It was something hard to deal with the offense and the whole team play outstanding ball and have to sit back and watch,” he added, noting he wanted to make sure he hadn’t lost a beat.
As frustrated as Brown felt watching from the sideline, he was relieved in seeing others step up in his place because it meant he didn’t have to rush his recovery.
Colts coach Frank Reich is fully aware of the challenges Buffalo presents his defense, which has been better against the run than the pass this season.
“They are hot, and they deserve the respect that we are giving them,” said Reich, a former NFL quarterback who spent nine seasons with the Bills, where he served as Hall of Famer Jim Kelly’s backup.
“But I also know, every team, no matter how good they are, us included, you can disrupt every offense,” he added, by noting the Kelly-led Bills had their letdowns, too. “They are a very good team, just like the teams we were, but we weren’t flawless. Nobody’s flawless.”
The Colts’ defense is versatile enough to play in zone coverage before switching to man to man, to spur their pass rush, which was led by DeForest Buckner, who set the single-season team record among defensive tackles with 9 1/2 sacks.
Indianapolis also features a Jonathan Taylor-led running attack that could be used to eat up the clock and limit Buffalo’s offensive possessions.
Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has faith Allen has gained the experience to adjust to however the Colts might defend him.
“After 16 games, you’ve pretty much gotten every defense,” Daboll said. “Our job is to just go out there and execute whatever we get.”
The Bills have been difficult to contain in a season Allen topped 300 yards a team-record eight times and threw a team-record 37 touchdowns versus just 10 interceptions.
Overall, he set the single-season team record with 4,544 yards passing, and went 396 out of 572 for a 69.2 percent completion rate, representing a 10.4-point improvement from last year.
Bills safety Micah Hyde is impressed by the collection of talent Buffalo has at the receiver position, and how quickly they’ve jelled.
“I love the way this offense is going out there and handling business,” Hyde said. “It’s good, because the defense gets a front row seat to watch it all.”
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