It's a kicker's dream and a fantasy owner's nightmare -- when an offense gets in the red zone and can't score a touchdown. Last season, that was often the case in Buffalo, when the Bills scored an NFL-low 13 touchdowns from inside the 20-yard line.
It's a BIG problem, often the result of having LITTLE players. Lee Evans, Josh Reed, and Roscoe Parrish are the top three wide receivers on Buffalo's depth chart, standing 5-foot-10, 5-10, and 5-9, respectively. They all have great short-area quickness (no pun intended), but they're not ideal targets near the end zone.
Enter rookie receiver James Hardy, the 41st pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. When he was a freshman at Indiana, Hardy started three games for the Hoosiers basketball team. Four years later, at 6-foot-5, he's taller than every defensive back in the NFL. His height and 37-inch vertical jump make him a threat to score, especially in the red zone, and the Bills have already taken advantage.
It was first-and-goal on the 7-yard line with just over four minutes remaining and Buffalo was trailing Jacksonville by six points. Hardy, Reed, and tight end Robert Royal were aligned in a trips formation to the right of quarterback Trent Edwards. They were in a bunch or "bundle" set, which is a triangular, three-receiver cluster with a point-man on the line of scrimmage and two men off the ball, on either side of the point-man.
Royal was at the point, in the middle of the bundle, with Hardy to his inside and Reed to his outside. The call was "Double-Indy, Z-Corner." Royal and Reed ran short, Indy patterns, stopping at five yards and breaking in (made famous by Marvin Harrison and the Colts -- hence the name "Indy"). The Z-receiver, Hardy, ran a corner route to the back pylon.
It was essentially a one-man read for Edwards, in this case, cornerback Rashean Mathis. If Mathis dropped into the back of the end zone, to cover Hardy's Z-corner, Edwards would throw to one of the Indy routes underneath. If Mathis reacted forward, Edwards would throw over the top to Hardy.
Mathis has a tendency to bite on short routes in front of him. That's what he did in this instance, squatting on Reed's Indy route and losing track of Hardy's corner pattern. Hardy was open, clearing Mathis with plenty of room to spare. The throw and catch should have been easy, but Edwards made it interesting. He was late with the throw, allowing Mathis time to react back to Hardy.
With the timing out of sync and Mathis bearing down, Edwards' throw needed to be perfect. He had to get the ball over Mathis without sailing it too high. The margin for error was very small. Luckily, his receiver was very TALL. Hardy's long frame gave Edwards a bigger window, vertically, to deliver the football.
Even with Mathis' initial reaction forward, a great throw from Edwards, and a phenomenal catch, the pass was still only a few blades of grass away from being incomplete. That's how tough it is to score in the red zone -- and it shows just what kind of difference a few inches can make.