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Statistical analysis: Tyrod Taylor’s performance history against good and bad defenses

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Buffalo Bills v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills opened the season with a win over the supposedly hapless New York Jets before the offense took the week off in Carolina. Victories over Denver and in Atlanta were followed by a loss in Cincinnati. A chicken-or-egg conversation ensued when it was pointed out that the Bills struggling offense had faced a murders’ row of defenses. One side of the argument, knocked down by Dan Lavoie, was that the defenses Buffalo faced were highly rated because they had the luxury of playing a bad Bills offense. The other side of the argument got a boost when Dan showed that the opposing defenses would be ranked right about where they are without the Bills game included in their stats, but it left the lingering issue of whether the Bills might do better offensively with weaker defenses on tap for most of the rest of the season.

Essentially, the offense is the run game and Tyrod Taylor in varying measures depending on the week. Because there is a lot of variability in the run game, I reduced that to a very simple stat: yards in each game. For Taylor, while there is a lot of variability in terms of receivers and blockers, I looked at his rating, attempts, completions, completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions. I took a look at how the offense fared over each of Taylor’s games as Buffalo’s quarterback. He missed 2 games in 2015 and the final game of 2016 so those games were discounted.

I then looked at the defensive rankings of the opposing teams in each of those games. I broke it down to four tiers. Teams ranked 1-8 are in an elite category, 9-16 good, 17-24 are not good, and 25-32 are bad. Let’s start with the bad.

Tyrod Taylor vs. “Bad” defenses

Year Team Overall Def. Rank Bills Point Diff. Rush Yds. QB Rate Comp. Att. Comp % Pass Yds. Pass TD INT
Year Team Overall Def. Rank Bills Point Diff. Rush Yds. QB Rate Comp. Att. Comp % Pass Yds. Pass TD INT
2015 Dolphins 25 27 151 138 21 29 72 277 3 0
2015 Dolphins 25 16 266 146 11 12 92 181 1 0
2015 Colts 26 13 147 124 14 19 74 195 1 0
2015 Redskins 28 -10 240 112 16 27 59 235 2 0
2015 Eagles 30 -3 152 75 19 36 53 268 1 1
2015 Giants 32 -14 55 83 28 42 67 274 1 1
2016 Raiders 26 -12 212 56 18 35 51 191 0 1
2016 Dolphins 29 -3 67 89 14 28 50 221 1 0
2016 Dolphins 29 -3 272 118 26 39 67 329 3 0
2016 Browns 31 20 280 105 17 24 71 174 1 0
2016 49ers 32 29 313 112 16 25 64 179 2 0
2017 Jets 25 9 190 92 16 28 57 224 2 1
Avg. 28.2 0.5 195.4 104.2 18 28.7 64.8 229 1.5 0.3

The Taylor-led Bills have faced twelve “bad” defenses; six in 2015, five in 2016 and one in 2017. Oddly enough, the Bills are 6-6 in those games. Buffalo ranged from 55 to 313 rushing yards in those games and averaged 195 rushing yards. Losing a trio of games with 200+ rushing yards certainly stings. Taylor’s QB rating ranged from 75 to 146 with an average of 104. The Bills lost all four games in which Taylor’s rating was below 100 and a pair of games where he was above that line (112, 118). While he left the first Miami game of 2015 early, he completed fewer than 20 passes in eight more of those games…of which the Bills won four. Taylor attempted, discounting the abbreviated Miami game, between 19 and 42 passes with an average of 29. A point in the anti-Taylor camp’s argument is that he attempted 30+ passes in four games and the Bills lost each of them, never mind that he completed 67% of those passes in two of those four contests. His completion percentage ranged from 50% to 72% (not counting the 2015 game in Miami) and his average was 65%. Taylor had between 174 and 329 yards in those dozen games with an average of 229. He was held without a TD once and threw for 3 in a pair of those games with an average of 1.5. He had no INTs in eight of them and never threw for more than 1 in any game against bad defenses. It’s odd that the Bills were 4-1 in games in which Taylor threw for fewer than 200 yards and managed to squander his most productive performance never mind that the team had nearly 600 yards in offense. Against “bad” defenses, we can expect Taylor’s stat line to be in the general ballpark of 18-of-29 (65%) for 229 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, and a rating of 104.

The Bills have games against New Jersey (25), Chiefs (27), Saints (29), Tampa Bay (30), Colts (31), and a pair of games against the Patriots (32). If Taylor is around his average stat line the Bills may wind up going 4-3 or 3-4 because the Patriots, Chiefs, Bucs and Saints are all in the top 10 offensively. Barring another Herculean effort from the defense, the Taylor-led Bills will be hard pressed to keep up on the scoreboard.

Tyrod Taylor vs. “Not Good” Defenses

Year Team Overall Def. Rank Bills Point Diff. Rush Yds. QB Rate Comp. Att. Comp % Pass Yds. Pass TD INT
Year Team Overall Def. Rank Bills Point Diff. Rush Yds. QB Rate Comp. Att. Comp % Pass Yds. Pass TD INT
2015 Cowboys 17 10 236 81 13 18 72 179 0 1
2016 Bengals 17 4 183 80 19 27 70 166 0 1
Avg. 17 1 209.5 80.5 16 22.5 71 172.5 0 1

In a weird quirk, the Bills have only faced a pair of “not good” defenses over the past few seasons. The Cowboys and Bengals were each ranked 17th in the years the Bills played them. Buffalo won both of those contests, in part due to excellent outings on the ground. Taylor was consistent in both games so his average of 16 completions on 22 attempts (70%) for 173 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT and a rating of 80% is representative of both of those games. Will that be enough if it holds true against the Raiders (23) and Chargers (24)?

Tyrod Taylor vs. “Good” Defenses

Year Team Overall Def. Rank Bills Point Diff. Rush Yds. QB Rate Comp. Att. Comp % Pass Yds. Pass TD INT
Year Team Overall Def. Rank Bills Point Diff. Rush Yds. QB Rate Comp. Att. Comp % Pass Yds. Pass TD INT
2015 Patriots 9 -8 160 93 23 30 77 242 3 3
2015 Patriots 9 -7 94 75 20 36 56 233 0 0
2015 Titans 12 1 127 97 10 17 59 109 1 0
2016 Rams 9 11 193 97 12 23 52 124 2 0
2016 Jets 11 -6 86 113 18 30 60 297 3 1
2016 Steelers 12 -7 67 100 15 25 60 228 2 1
2017 Atlanta 10 6 117 107 12 20 60 182 1 0
Avg. 10.3 0.3 120.6 97.4 15.7 25.9 60.6 202.1 1.7 0.7

The Bills have squared off against 7 “good” defenses under Taylor and are 3-4 in those games. The Bills ran for under 100 yards in each of those 4 losses. One of the wins (Titans) saw Taylor carry the team to a 1-point victory while the other 3 wins saw the running backs go north of 100 yards. In those seven games, Taylor’s rating ranged from 75 to 113. The Bills won two of Taylor’s sub-100 rating outings while losing one of his 100+ ratings. He completed between 10-23 passes, winning three of five games where Taylor completed fewer than 20 throws. He attempted between 17-36, and the Bills lost the three games where he threw for 30 or more passes. The Bills have no games remaining in 2017 against teams with “good” defenses.

Tyrod Taylor vs. “Elite” Defenses

Year Team Overall Def. Rank Bills Point Diff. Rush Yds. QB Rate Comp. Att. Comp % Pass Yds. Pass TD INT
Year Team Overall Def. Rank Bills Point Diff. Rush Yds. QB Rate Comp. Att. Comp % Pass Yds. Pass TD INT
2015 Texans 3 9 187 127 10 17 59 109 1 0
2015 Jets 4 5 148 71 28 42 67 274 1 1
2015 Jets 4 5 113 83 18 28 64 182 0 0
2015 Chiefs 7 -8 129 106 21 38 55 291 3 0
2016 Cardinals 2 15 208 52 14 25 56 119 0 1
2016 Seahawks 5 -6 162 91 27 38 71 289 1 1
2016 Jaguars 6 7 153 115 12 18 67 166 1 0
2016 Ravens 7 -6 65 80 15 22 68 111 0 0
2016 Patriots 8 16 134 95 27 39 69 246 1 0
2016 Patriots 8 -16 167 64 19 38 50 183 0 0
2017 Broncos 1 10 75 126 20 26 77 213 2 0
2017 Bengals 2 -4 82 64 20 37 54 166 1 1
2017 Panthers 4 -6 69 80 17 25 68 125 0 0
Avg. 4.7 0.5 130.6 88.8 19.1 30.2 63.5 190.3 0.8 0.3

Perhaps contributing to the playoff drought, the Bills faced more teams with “elite” defenses (13) over Taylor’s tenure than “good,” “not good,” or “bad”. Buffalo is 7-6 against elite defenses. In those games, the Bills have averaged 130 rushing yards, with a low of 65 to a high of 208. The Bills lost three of the four games in which the offense had fewer than 100 yards rushing. Taylor’s QB rating ranges from an awful 52 to a respectable 127. Buffalo is 4-5 in games in which Taylor’s rating was sub-100 and 3-1 when he is above that line. He has completed as few as 10 passes and as many as 28 (both wins) with an average of 19. He threw between 17 and 42 passes (both wins—same game as his low and high completion numbers) with an average of 30. The Bills were 2-4 in games where Taylor threw 30+ passes. His completion percentage ranged from 50% to 77% with an average of 63%. Taylor threw for as little as 109 yards (win) and as many as 289 (loss—the hosing in Seattle) with an average of 190 yards. He had a single 3-TD game and five in which he threw no touchdowns. He had four single-interception games. Buffalo has a pair of games against defenses currently rated in the top 8, both against Miami.

Here are Taylor’s averages against:

  • “Bad” defenses: 18/29 (65%) for 229 yards 1 TD 0 INT and a rating of 104.
  • “Not good” defenses: 16/23 (71%) for 173 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT and a rating of 81.
  • “Good” defenses: 16/26 (61%) for 202 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT and a rating of 97.
  • “Elite” defenses: 19/30 (63%) for 190 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT and a rating of 89.

Taylor’s performances against the two “not good” defenses interrupt what is otherwise a pretty clean line. They could be outliers due to the small sample size (2 games) so for the moment set them aside. Taylor’s yardage (229-202-190) and rating (104-97-89) track nicely from bad to good to elite defenses. He has been more productive against each step down in defensive quality (or less productive going the other direction) in those categories. His TD and INT numbers look similar as does his completion percentage regardless of the level of quality of defense.

With Buffalo facing seven “bad” defenses and two “not good” defenses over the next 11 games, Taylor’s entire history suggests that he will do better than he has over the past month. It’s worth keeping in mind that a 20% boost in Taylor’s yardage over the Denver, Carolina, and Cincinnati games would only boost that 168 to about 200 or so. Assuming that Taylor finds himself on the happy side of 100 in the QB rating (which was the case in the 12 games against “bad” defenses over his career) the Bills should win most of those games—they were 5-2 against bad defenses when Taylor was 100+ in QB rating. And those 2 losses were games in which Buffalo’s offense put up 500 and 600 yards. With Buffalo’s defense this season, the Bills shouldn’t be finding ways to lose when the offense is tremendously productive.