ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Jordan Matthews pushed back Wednesday against criticism of the Buffalo Bills’ wide receivers, who have the NFL’s second-fewest receptions (11) and third-fewest receiving yards (149) through the first two weeks of the season.
“You’re going to [need to] get a little bit of a bigger sample size, if that makes sense,” Matthews said. “You guys study football. I don’t think there’s been any big, like, receiving games through the first two weeks of the season. And I watch, so I know that for a fact. So I think you need to give it a little more time before you start saying, you know, what’s what and who’s who.”
Matthews is partially correct about the lack of “big” receiving games this season. Through two weeks, NFL players have gone over 100 receiving yards 11 times. Last season, there were 30 such performances through Week 2.
Even so, it was hard to miss Steelers star Antonio Brown’s 11-catch, 182-yard afternoon against the Browns in Week 1, or Adam Thielen’s nine-catch, 157-yard outing in the Vikings’ opener against the Saints. Nobody was expecting Matthews to put up those numbers against a stout Panthers defense in Week 2, but it is fair for fans to want to see more than his three-catch, 30-yard performance.
It is early, but the Bills’ passing game has been one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. When running back LeSean McCoy leads the team in receiving with 34 yards, as he did in Sunday’s 9-3 loss to Carolina, there is a problem.
“I do feel we have enough speed at the receiver corps,” coach Sean McDermott said Monday. “[Winning one-on-one matchups] is an area we need to work on. You come out of two games and you are saying, ‘What needs analysis? What do we have to get better at?’ That is one of the areas that we need to improve on.”
Rookie receiver Zay Jones allowed a tough-to-catch pass from Tyrod Taylor slip through his fingertips on a fourth-down play with 14 seconds remaining in Sunday’s defeat. Jones, 22, was visibly shaken in the locker room after the game. He said he did not sleep well Sunday night and that the first 24 hours after the play were difficult.
“The main thing for me is just looking at the players in the locker room, knowing that I let them down in a sense,” he said. “I like to give great effort but these are my guys, they’re who I play hard for. My coaching staff as well. So to prepare all that week and to not finish with the [win], that really hurt me.
“But I’m learning from it. I’m growing from it. I think it’s going to make me a better player moving forward and I’m so excited for the next challenge.”
Former Bills receivers Andre Reed and Stevie Johnson reached out to Jones on Twitter to offer their support. The rookie wideout said Wednesday both also reached out to him privately, although he did not share the details of those conversations.
“If I would’ve made a spectacular catch, the game-winning touchdown, I would’ve only dwelled on it for 24 hours,” he said. “I think everyone’s seeing that I’m kinda back to myself, I’m having fun again, I’m enjoying football again. It sucks what happened. It happened. It’s over. I’m learning from it. I’m growing. I’m developing. I’m a rookie, but no excuses. You’ve got to keep moving forward.”
The criticism of the Bills’ offensive struggles extends beyond the receivers. Taylor has also been under the microscope after managing just 15 passing yards in the first half Sunday.
McCoy reacted Wednesday to some fans’ calls for the Bills to start rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman instead of Taylor. McDermott said Monday there has been no discussion of turning to Peterman.
“I guess he gets blamed for everything,” McCoy said. “Tyrod’s a hell of a player, he makes plays, and without him we would have had no shot last week. He made some plays, things weren’t blocked well and he got out of it. Certain plays, I didn’t help him out. The whole week stressing Shady, on certain plays get to the outside and I tried to cut back inside. You guys don’t see that, and a lot of people don’t see those types of things, but he’ll get blamed for it.
“I haven’t heard that yet, but I’m sure that would start up,” McCoy said of the calls for Peterman. “[I mean] you just mentioned it. I have a lot of confidence in Tyrod and the guys on the team, and the offense does too.”
Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison also praised Taylor this week.
“I have complete confidence in him,” Dennison said. “I think he did some good things, even though he did some bad things. He did some good things. [He] managed the team when things weren’t going well, but kept us in the game. Some people might’ve gone south; he kept us all rolling. Had to move, make some plays with his feet when things weren’t there. He’s coachable, that’s what I think. You tell him to do something, he’ll do it right, he’ll fix it.”