In his third season as a starter, and third with the Buffalo Bills, quarterback Tyrod Taylor has led the team to an AFC East-best 3-1 record. The Bills find themselves in a position that they haven’t been in a quite awhile, so unsurprisingly, a lot of folks are having a hard time grappling with the notion of the Bills actually being one of the NFL’s top teams.
In a recent article, Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated’s MMQB, who describes himself as a “film nerd” in his Twitter profile, gives the Bills credit for their wins they’ve achieved thus far, but doesn’t seem to believe that the team’s success is sustainable because “they were achieved via stingy defense and an ultra-controlled offense.”
The second point of his argument is the one that Benoit is hanging his hat on, which more specifically refers to his issues with Taylor as a quarter. Spoiler: the MMQB writer has quite a few issues with Taylor.
“With Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, the Bills must run a limited, highly specified offense that carries a thin margin for error. To put it bluntly, there are parts of Taylor’s game they must hide. Taylor is not a progression-read pocket passer. His vision is iffy and he doesn’t anticipate throwing windows, which forces a play-caller to use simpler route combinations. Taylor relies heavily on his mobility. When his initial reads don’t show open, he quickly assumes a runner’s mentality, breaking himself down in the pocket regardless of the pass rush. Occasionally, he’ll do this even before an early read unfolds. Open receivers go untargeted every game.”
Taylor has taken a lot of criticism during his tenure in Buffalo, most of which have seemed unwarranted. Taylor isn’t the kind of quarterback that will blow your socks off with his stats, but that isn’t necessarily all his fault. To be honest, aside from Charles Clay, even the most diehard Bills fans couldn't pretend to be aware of the team’s receiving options entering the season other than maybe Jordan Matthews. Zay Jones, who the Bills traded up for in the second round of this year’s draft to get, has been a huge disappointment thus far. But nonetheless, Taylor, whose play has been solid in his first two seasons as a starting quarterback, perpetually seems to receive the majority of the gripes with the Bills offense.
Benoit mentions several things that he believes Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison does to set up Taylor for success while failing to give the coordinator any of the blame for team's shortcomings.
“Designed QB runs are not part of Dennison’s foundation, but designed movement is built into the passing game. Dennison’s Bills have run the ball more than every team except Jaguars. They’re averaging just 3.4 yards a carry— the sixth worst in the league—but the commitment to the run augments a first down play-action game that aids Taylor. Dennison is frequently putting Taylor on bootlegs and rollouts, where Taylor’s limited field vision and pocket poise are nonfactors. “
Why only briefly mention the Bills struggles in the run game, a category in which the Bills led the league in the past two seasons? Sure, the coordinator has a Super Bowl win on his resume, but that year he orchestrated a middle of the pack Broncos offense led by Peyton Manning and supported by a strong defense not all that unlike the one the Bills have this season. But other than that, the coach hasn’t accomplished much else in his nine previous seasons as an offensive coordinator. He’s only twice overseen an offense that has ranked in the top 10 in scoring and he’s never called the plays on those teams.
Avoiding turnovers is an element of his game that Taylor has excelled in upon becoming a starter — he’s thrown just 12 interceptions the last two seasons. In 2017, Taylor and the Bills offense have combined for just one giveaway, yet, Benoit credits this to Dennison and head coach Sean McDermott, the latter of which he says is “known to be almost obnoxious in stressing turnover prevention.”
Benoit says the success of the Bills hinges on the defense continuing to play at an exceptional level and he’s probably right, but he’s definitely not giving Taylor enough credit. I’ll take the Bills quarterback with his cannon for an arm and the intelligence to avoid turnovers over a lot of other starting QBs in the league.