When Roscoe Parrish was lost in the middle of the 2010 season in a loss to Chicago with a fractured wrist, it was a blow to Buffalo's offense. Rookies were thrust into sizable roles to fill the void. Though there was some encouraging play turned in by those young players at times, the Bills offense did experience a drop off in production. With Parrish now on injured reserve for a second straight season and for 14 games instead of eight, the Bills appear more capable this season to make up for the loss of one of their playmakers.
In 2010 when Parrish went out of the lineup for the second half of the season there was a slight, but measurable drop off in points per game (19 to 16.5), third down conversion percentage (41.6% to 33.6%) and touchdowns to interceptions (14 TDs – 9 INTs; 10 TDs – 12 INTs).
Obviously there are a number of variables that go into those figures including caliber of opponents. This year however, there appears to be less of a concern about a drop off despite the respect Parrish's teammates have for his abilities.
"He's a big part of what we do and what we wanted to do," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "It's going to be hard for us. The next guy has to step up. That's what you are going to see in this offense."
That's what Buffalo saw in their offense last season. When Parrish went out the offensive staff leaned more heavily on then rookies David Nelson and Donald Jones. The duo made plays, but delivering consistent production week in and week out was something the two players were learning on the fly last season.
Now entering year two Nelson has emerged into a consistent playmaker, with Jones not far behind. According to head coach Chan Gailey, Nelson is expected to handle the majority of Parrish's role having worked primarily out of the slot himself.
"He's got (the job now)," said Gailey. "Every opportunity he's taken advantage of and he's done a good job. He understands what we're trying to get done and understands what Fitz needs from him on each and every route. We learned a lot in this last ball game. We'll continue to work on the little things that will help us to get better."
Nelson leads the team in receptions and is second to Stevie Johnson in receiving yards. His skill set is far different from that of Parrish, but he's been every bit as effective in making plays if not more so.
"David Nelson is a tough matchup in the slot," said Bills GM Buddy Nix. "David Nelson is 6'5" so it's pretty hard to match up with him."
Helping Nelson to work the middle of the field in the passing game has been Scott Chandler. Buffalo didn't really have a capable receiving threat at the tight end position last season. That's not the case this season as Chandler leads the team in scoring with three touchdowns in the first two games. He's another matchup problem.
"If you run Scott Chandler out wide, they're going to put a linebacker out there with him instead of a D-B," said Nix. "It creates problems scheme-wise defensively and some matchup problems. If you get a guy like Scott who is 6'7" and 270 pounds, defensive backs can't reach around him. His height really creates a mismatch in the red zone."
If the Bills truly want to replicate Parrish's physical skill set in the slot, they have yet another option in C.J. Spiller. Spiller has lined up in the slot more than a handful of times through the first two weeks of the season.
"We put him in the slot a lot, but we haven't thrown to him a lot because we had Roscoe," said Nix.
"I feel very confident getting in the slot," said Spiller. "I feel we can definitely take advantage of those matchups. They either have to bump a linebacker out or even a D-B. I definitely feel confident in my ability to beat those one-on-one matchups. I take great pride in that. Whatever the coaches decide to do I'll be ready for it."
While the degree to which Spiller is used in Parrish's slot role remains to be seen, he will be Parrish's replacement on punt returns.
An added benefit for those players that will step forward to make up for the loss of Parrish, is they were already doing it this past summer. Parrish missed most of training camp and the entire preseason with a hamstring injury. As a result players like Chandler, Nelson and Spiller already had the opportunity to work in similar offensive roles with Parrish out of the lineup.
What's important is Buffalo has more than one capable answer to address the loss of Parrish, and they all have a strong working knowledge of the offensive system. And knowing Fitzpatrick never plays favorites when it comes to the passing game, all of Buffalo's receiving options will be ready to make plays.
"If you're open, if you're the guy that's supposed to get the ball, I'm not going to hesitate to get you the ball," said Fitzpatrick. "The next guy's got to step up and get in there and get open and win."