Examining Andre Johnson's underwhelming debut

The excitement created by the Colts' signing of free-agent receiver Andre Johnson in March was palpable.

And why not?

The veteran has seven 1,000-yard seasons and over 13,000 career yards, most coming in his previous 12 seasons with the Houston Texans.

But Johnson's debut in Indianapolis, coming in Sunday's loss to the Buffalo Bills, left much to be desired. It wasn't just the fact that he finished with only four catches for 24 yards, though those are hardly eye-popping totals.

Instead, the real surprise is this: Johnson became a victim of the very problems he was supposed to solve in Indianapolis.

Specifically, Johnson was thought to be a player who could help the Colts overcome their struggles with tight man-to-man coverage by making tough, physical and contested catches in traffic. Many of those would be of the short variety, Johnson providing an ever-ready option for quarterback Andrew Luck when deeper routes aren't available to him.

Only, that's not what happened on Sunday. Johnson, at times, struggled to make those catches in traffic, with him and Luck connecting on just four of the 10 passes thrown his way. And that doesn't take into account the two-point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter on which Johnson saw a pass from Luck go right through his hands.

But you saw the game. You know what happened. The question is whether this will continue or whether Johnson rebounds?

A preponderance of available evidence tells us Johnson will be fine.


For starters, concerns about his age are legitimate – there's a reason the Texans refused to pay big money to a 34-year old receiver – but should not be overstated. That's because Johnson has not been reliant on elite athletic ability in recent seasons. He's relied more on route running, his excellent size and his (mostly) reliable hands. Those are things that don't necessarily leave you with age, and Johnson exhibited all of that in training camp and in preseason games.

Another reason: Johnson and Luck are still getting in sync. That might be hard to believe after an entire offseason of work together, but Sunday marked their most extensive action together in a game situation. Outside of the third preseason game, against the St. Louis Rams, their preseason work consisted of very small sample sizes. Perhaps as a result, at least three of those 10 attempts to Johnson were simply not catchable. That adds important context to the disconcerting 40 percent conversion rate on attempts to Johnson.

Finally, there's the fact that Johnson had only two passes come his way through the first two quarters. T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief were Luck's primary targets early. So, several of Johnson's pass targets came after the Colts lost Hilton to a knee injury in the second half. That allowed the Bills to devote No. 1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore to stopping Johnson, something they were less inclined to do earlier in the game.

Hilton is still dealing with the knee injury and it's unclear whether he'll play against the New York Jets on Monday night. But he is not expected to be out for an extended period, he and coach Chuck Pagano said. Good thing, because Johnson was never projected to be this team's No. 1 receiver. He was expected to be a complement to Hilton, the $65 million man.

Sunday's struggles notwithstanding, Johnson can still do that. And he will do that.

If Johnson responds the way he has for the past 12 seasons, this whole topic might soon become a distant memory.

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