Bills need tight ends to step up. Or A tight end. Okay, ANY tight end.
Sunday’s Buffalo News had a great article about the Bills’ struggles in the red zone. The evidence of futility is quite breathtaking.
Last season, the red-zone offense was clearly in protective custody somewhere. The Bills went inside the 20 just 34 times and produced 13 touchdowns and 17 field goals. Their touchdown percentage was just 38.2 percent. Now compare that to the Bills opponents who ventured into the red zone 56 times and produced 25 touchdowns for 44.6 percent.
The key to red zone success is to have multiple threats to keep the defense honest. With a lack of a passing game, the defense can focus on the run. When you’re running the ball deep in the opponent’s territory, it’s hard to get the personnel on the field to open up the passing game.
You need to have two stud receivers and a tight end who’s a threat. The Bills have Lee Evans and rookie James Hardy to fill those receiver slots. Tight end? Not so much.
The Bills haven’t had a stud tight end in a while. If ever. Who was the last notable Bills tight end? Pete Metzelaars?
In the absence of a true “star” tight end, the Bills have had to make due, and it has hurt them. Now, even with another weak group, it’s getting weaker. Derek Schouman, the former Boise State Bronco, who had been taking first team reps, is now out indefinitely.
Coach Dick Jauron said trainers informed him that it will be weeks before Schouman is expected to be cleared for practice, meaning the player likely will miss the Bills’ two final preseason games.
“It’s not good, but it could have been worse,” Jauron said.
So, for now, that means it’s up to Robert Royal and rookie Derek Fine to carry the load. Royal has been serviceable in his time here, but despite his stellar performance last Thursday in Toronto, he’s shouldn’t be expected to produce like that every week, because, simply, he won’t. Or at least he hasn’t… yet.
For many reasons, Royal has not been ‘that guy,’ since joining the Bills as a free agent in 2006 following four seasons with Washington. In two years with Buffalo, Royal has 48 catches for 481 yards and six touchdowns.
Nagging injuries have been a factor, though Royal has not missed one game with the Bills. Another factor is how the Bills have ignored working their tight ends into the passing attack, instead using them as blockers in passing situations or halfbacks after the team went without a fullback last season.
It is nice to see him get a solid outing like that, but it remains to be seen whether or not that can continue. If Royal can be a legitimate threat for the Bills, it’ll open up the offense and allow everyone else to be a little more dangerous.
But, seriously, a Bills tight end being productive in the red zone? It’d be a “fresh of breath air.”