The Bills are in “must win” territory just about every week they take the field from here on out. Offensively, with some of their weapons back, the Bills found their stride specifically in the second half against the Jaguars last Sunday.
It was the first half however that was concerning. Three-and-out after three-and-out again put an outmatched Bills defense on the field far too often. Lucky enough for the Bills, the offense found their running game in the second half that opened up a few things in the passing game for Taylor to exploit.
Let’s take a look at a few plays that stood out to me.
I always find it funny when people say Taylor almost never has a clean pocket to make good accurate throws. Now there are certainly situations Taylor must break the pocket and make a play on the run, but on a good number of those plays he has a perfectly clean pocket but breaks it anyways.
Although this isn’t example of Taylor breaking the pocket, it’s an example of him just not knowing what to do when he has all day to throw. Charles Clay, Taylor’s intended receiver is essentially open the entire play. To be honest, both crossing routes on this play are wide open. Having said that, it confuses me why Taylor decides to hold on to the ball so long. He isn’t looking off the safety, he’s staring down Clay the entire time. So, why doe he not throw the ball off of his first hitch?
What this shows is a lack of trust in what Taylor sees on routes over the middle. We can no longer say Anthony Lynn doesn’t attempt to run crossing routes or routes over the middle of the field. I think Lynn and the offense has gotten to a point where they realize Taylor simply can’t operate efficiently over the middle, so they’ve done what they can to disguise it.
Although the play is a play-action, this ball should be released in under 3 seconds as Clay breaks for the middle of the field. If Taylor is able to make this rather elementary level throw over the middle, it’s likely Clay has an opportunity to create some YAC (yards after catch). What Taylor does it pat the ball hitch almost 6 times before he makes a throw that almost got his receiver killed. A decent defensive back cuts right in front of Clay and takes that ball to the house. It was a well thrown ball thrown about 4 seconds late. In the NFL, you cannot throw late and Taylor makes a routine of doing so and it’s a main reason he struggles to throw over the middle.
In yet another example of a ball over the middle being thrown late, Taylor spoils a great opportunity to put his team on the board in the first half where they struggled greatly to do anything. The Jags are running a tradition cover 3, one-high safety look and the safety immediately turns his attention to Sammy Watkins from the snap of the ball. Seeing that, my eyes go directly to Nick O’Leary who’s running a modified post route on the left side.
If you have pre-snap awareness here, your eyes from the snap of the ball should be on the one-high safety in this look. He’s the key that tells you where to go with the ball on this play. His movement to get over the top of Watkins opens up the entire middle of the field on the left side. Knowing this, I’m looking to Watkins on my drop, hitching once, finding O’Leary and delivering an accurate ball leading him to the middle of the field safely for an easy pitch-and-catch touchdown.
Instead what happens on this play is Taylor takes four hitch steps before releasing the ball. Typically what that would do is give time for the safety to get back into position but he was so far out of position he wasn’t even able to recover even given the extended time to do so. So then, how wasn’t this a completed play for a touchdown?
Two fundamental flaws on this play lead the ball to be thrown late and behind O’Leary on the play and cost the Bills seven points. The first and most obvious reason is the ball is simply thrown too late. On this sort of route, especially over the middle, you want the ball to be released as he’s making his break to the middle. If thrown correctly, the nickel corner, playing outside leverage should have absolutely no shot at breaking up or intercepting the ball. But because Taylor waits for his receiver to make his break to the middle and it gives the corner time to recover and ultimately blanket him in coverage.
The second and most critical reason this ball was thrown behind his intended receiver is due to his trail foot. You can best see it from the third angle at the end of the video. If you freeze the video at exactly :30, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. The throw isn’t one fluid motion, instead he doesn’t fully allow his trail foot to follow through and it leads Taylor to throw the ball behind his target. It leads me to think he’s trying to aim the ball, and it’s causing his natural throwing motion to be compromised. A combination of timing and fundamentals have led to a lot of Taylor’s inaccuracies, no more apparent than on this play.
What an absolutely terrific throw and catch on this play. Before I dive into my thoughts on Taylor in the pocket, you have to first stop and recognize what a great job Watkins does on this play to close off his defender, slow his route down to find the ball in the air and make a terrific sideline grab before eventually going out of bounds. It’s the sort of play that makes Watkins the most dangerous deep threat in the league and a major reason Taylor and this Bills offense missed him so much over the past eight weeks.
As for Taylor, you get an opportunity to see what life would have been like with a healthy Watkins for eight weeks. A perfectly throw sideline ball that Watkins adjusts to perfectly for an easy 62-yard pitch and catch. But again, what we have is an example of a ball being thrown just far too late. Watkins wasn’t really even open on this play, but Taylor put the ball out there far enough that Watkins would have an opportunity to outrun his defender, which he did.
On the play, Taylor has two outside verticals and three underneath targets to choose from so there wasn’t a lot of route complexity on the play, making it rather easy to defend. So in this instance, I can handle and accept Taylor holding onto the ball for slightly longer than I wanted him to. Especially on vertical routes, I can’t explain to you how important throwing those routes early are especially to a receiver like Watkins with his straight line speed. Taylor however, has exceptional arm strength on those deep balls and it allows him to throw those types of balls late and do it effectively.
On this play, I leave having watched it with a feeling of “here we go again.” Now, Taylor didn’t have a super clean pocket to work with on this play, but it’s just another example of Charles Clay running wide open and Taylor not having the ability to find him.
Part of me thought Clay’s inability to get going in the passing game was due to Anthony Lynn not letting him run vertically in order to keep him in for blocking purposes or having him run the short, dump off routes. But this play and the first play on my breakdown show Clay running free on deep crossing routes but Taylor not having the ability to see him early enough to make the play.
This play is no different. Many would have likely praised Taylor on this play had he gotten the first down with his feet. At first he did, but Jacksonville challenged the play and Taylor’s knee ended up down a yard before he reached the first down mark, forcing the Bills to punt.
Clay actually runs free on this play due to a miscommunication on the part of the defense. What’s frustrating is Taylor isn’t able to diagnose it and make them pay for it. Just another play I need Taylor to make with his eyes and arm and he comes up short once again.
This season has turned into the plays left out on the field for the offense. This week they’ll play an explosive Raiders offense that doesn’t consistently leave huge plays on the field. Instead they score points and take advantage of breaks downs from their opponent.
I will personally guarantee that if Taylor leaves plays on the field like he did against the Jaguars last week, the Raiders offense will outscore the Bills and the Bills will find themselves on the outside looking in once again in their chase for a wild card spot.