Offensively, chemistry is key to Buffalo’s possible success in 2014.
Last season, EJ Manuel struggled to find chemistry with many of his receivers. Injuries to Manuel and the wide receiver corps certainly played a part in this, but Manuel only had great chemistry with one wide receiver: Robert Woods.
Take a look at Buffalo’s top four wide receivers’ stats with Manuel against their stats without him. Keep in mind that the sample size in this case is very small (10 possible games with Manuel).
At a quick glance, it seems like Manuel had good chemistry with Stevie Johnson, but this really wasn’t the case. In nine games with Manuel at QB, Johnson averaged 3.77 receptions, close to 48 yards per game, and two touchdowns.
Without Manuel, Johnson found himself catching six passes per game for a little over 56 yards and one touchdown. The lack of chemistry with Johnson may be one reason the Bills were willing to trade Johnson to the 49ers. Another reason Johnson was traded? Robert Woods.
Jason DeHart previously pointed out that the real reason Johnson was traded was due to Woods’ play/chemistry with Manuel. Stats are certainly on DeHart’s side. When Manuel was in the huddle, Woods averaged 3.25 receptions and 50.75 yards per game. All of Woods’ touchdowns came from Manuel.
Woods’ numbers declined mightily without Manuel. When Jeff Tuel or Thad Lewis was under center, Woods averaged 2.33 receptions, a shade over 30 yards per game and zero touchdowns.
Woods will likely assume Johnson’s spot in the slot and his stats should improve with increased playing time and opportunities. If Manuel and Woods stay healthy in 2014, both parties will benefit.
T.J. Graham is seen as a bubble player of sorts for the Bills in 2014. Many fans think Marquise Goodwin has a similar skill-set and higher ceiling. Others don’t believe that Graham has shown much since the Bills selected him in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft. Graham didn’t even average one catch per game with Manuel as his quarterback (0.8 reception average). His receiving yard average of 13.6 also leaves much to be desired.
Graham was a better player without Manuel. He caught an average of 2.5 passes per game in Manuel’s absence, as well as 37.5 yards per game. He scored one touchdown with and one without Manuel.
Goodwin, Buffalo’s speedster, caught an average of 1.5 passes per game with Manuel for 15 yards in six games. The rookie made big plays without Manuel. His reception average was only 1.33 without Manuel, but his yards per game average was a little over 32 yards per game. Goodwin had two touchdowns without Manuel and only one with him in the same number of games.
Once again, I cannot stress enough that the sample size was small. Goodwin or Graham could develop excellent chemistry with Manuel in 2014 and beyond, but in 2013 it wasn’t there. This wasn’t the WRs fault entirely either, as Manuel had his fair share of struggles. In 2013, Manuel didn’t go through his reads well. He was often quick to dump off his passes and for that reason, guys like Goodwin and Graham didn’t get as many targets. A safety valve like Scott Chandler thrived in 2013, but going forward it’s important that Manuel holds onto the ball a bit longer and goes through all of his reads.
The good news for Manuel is that he gets a fresh start with two of his top three wide receivers. Mike Williams, a trade acquisition, and Sammy Watkins, the fourth overall selection of the draft, will be able to work with Manuel in training camp and the preseason to develop a rapport. Woods, a receiver who had obvious chemistry with Manuel, will be in the slot and guys like Goodwin and Graham will be the 5th or 6th options at receiver.
If Manuel and the Bills are on the same page, the team will be very difficult to slow down. The talent is certainly there. Chemistry is key.