We've seen it each of Lee Evans' previous three NFL seasons, and it usually arrives right around this time of the year. It might as well be dubbed the 'Evans Explosion.'
Since Evans' rookie season there has been a significant spike in the receiver's production once the second half of the season rolls around.
Over his first three years in the league from the first half of the season to the second his catches have increased by an average of 31 percent, his receiving yards have increased 44 percent and his touchdowns have ballooned a whopping 73 percent.
In his rookie season it was chalked up as nothing more than a young player getting a better handle on the NFL game. But then it happened again in 2005, and the following season as well. And it was done with three different quarterbacks in Drew Bledsoe, Kelly Holcomb and J.P. Losman.
So what's the deal?
Evans believes his spike in production can be tied directly to the evolution of the team's offense through the course of the season.
"Early in the season you're still trying to define yourself as a team," said Evans. "What are you going to be? Early in the season you try rushing the ball and things like that and opponents for some reason get a bead on things. But once you hit your stride and there are no mental mistakes you operate more efficiently as an offense that helps everybody. It helps soften up defenses a little bit and gives you a little bit more room to work."
Bills tight end Robert Royal points to the offensive line shuffling of this season as an example of why their offense couldn't get going right from the start.
"We had Langston Walker coming in and Derrick Dockery coming in and Brad Butler at guard," said Royal. "It's a little different. In the beginning it's a little tougher because the coaching staff is still determining what will work and what won't. Once the coaching staff got comfortable with certain guys protecting and realizing that they call up certain plays that's when we started being more productive."
The last two weeks alone Evans had 14 catches for 303 yards and a pair of touchdowns, perhaps just a precursor to the production that lies ahead.
But if it takes time for coordinators to figure out what will work in terms of plays and what won't based on personnel changes up front, how does one explain the second half of Evans' 2006 season?
Right in the middle of the season the coaching staff made three position changes on the offensive line, moving Jason Peters from right to left tackle, shifting Mike Gandy inside to left guard and putting rookie Terrance Pennington in at right tackle for the last seven games of the season.
But Evans proceeded to rip off 18 catches for 393 yards and three touchdowns in the first three games since that switch.
"When you put in a new offense, switch some guys out, it's tough early in the season," said Evans. "But once you've repped things and you're halfway through the season it's just a matter of going out and executing. Executing against different looks, different teams and consistently doing it. I think as you get into the middle to late part of the season is when you really start to hit your stride."
Opponents, however know how dangerous Evans is and often roll safety coverage over the top of his assigned cornerback for help. Another tactic popularized by New England is bracketing Evans with two defenders on the outside almost using the sideline as a third defender. Why are teams less successful doing that in the second half of the season?
"You can't just key on one person," said Evans. "If you just key on me somebody else is going to make you pay. When you're starting off as a young offense early in the season it's hard to fit everything together. But as you go along different guys step up and different guys make plays and it benefits everybody."
And that happened last season when Evans was getting blanketed on a weekly basis.
"When a lot of teams started doubling and bracketing coverage on Lee we had other guys that stepped up pretty big," said Royal. "Last year I was able to put up some of my best numbers since I've been in the NFL. Josh Reed stepped up big, Peerless did some good things as well as Roscoe. So once everybody started getting involved in the offense they had no choice but to play Lee with single coverage because they couldn't double on him as much as they wanted to."
And Royal sees it happening again this season.
"He's starting to draw a lot of attention and when that happens someone else steps on the scene and starts getting the ball a lot more," said Royal. "Then teams have to calm down on what they do to him and we'll be able to get the plays that we need to get to him."
The key is staying patient and not forcing the ball to Evans despite how tempting that might be.
"If they happen to give it to you then you take it," said J.P. Losman. "If they don't we have Roscoe, we have Josh, Robert Royal, Michael Gaines, Marshawn Lynch, there are so many other weapons."
Evans admits he'd prefer to be productive right from the start every season, but understands each year there will be personnel changes for the offense to adapt to and that takes time.
"We've just become a lot better offensively in the passing game, running game, protection-wise, just a better offensive unit in the latter half of the season," said Evans. "You'd like to get it going early but it doesn't always happen. You know what you can do and that's what you're aiming for."
The bottom line is Evans is ramping up his production now and if the past three seasons are any indication, Buffalo's number one wideout is likely headed for another super second half.
"He's a Pro Bowl caliber receiver and whenever you have somebody as good as him to make plays all over the field you have to find ways to get him the ball," said Royal. "He's a terrific wide receiver and I'm just glad to have him on my team. When you want have a chance to win the game you throw the ball to him and he'll give you that chance."
|**Year**||**Half of season**||**Rec.**||**Yards**||**Avg.**||**TDs**|