The Buffalo Bills benched incumbent starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor today, choosing to go with rookie Nathan Peterman for the team’s Week 11 game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Taylor was atrocious on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, completing 9-of-18 passes for 56 yards and an interception. Peterman was 7-of-10 for 79 yards and a touchdown during mop-up duty, but he looked solid enough that the coaching staff felt fit to name him the starter. There are multiple ways which this decision could go for the Bills, so we assembled a pro-con list to discuss the decision.
Pro: Nathan Peterman is a better fit for the offense
With offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s scheme, Tyrod Taylor was a bit like a fish out of water. Yes, there was talk about how he would be a solid fit in the offense that came from the organization. Yes, we reported on it and took it to heart at the time. No, it doesn’t seem like that report was anything other than the organization trying to spin its decision to keep Taylor this offseason. Peterman throws with anticipation, something that Taylor has struggled to do (or, perhaps more accurately, just has never done) throughout his career. While Peterman doesn’t necessarily have the same arm strength that Taylor has, his accuracy and timing are better suited for the Mike Shannahan/Gary Kubiak offense that Rick Dennison runs.
Con: Buffalo is throwing a fifth-round rookie into a playoff race
Most teams that sit in playoff position don’t switch quarterbacks mid-season. There are some examples where it has shown to be successful in the short-term. The 2012 San Francisco 49ers went to Colin Kaepernick after starter Alex Smith suffered a concussion in the team’s ninth game, and they went on to the Super Bowl that season. The 2004 New York Giants were 5-4 with veteran Kurt Warner as the starter before turning things over to Eli Manning for the rest of the season. They finished 6-10, and both NFC wildcard teams that year were 8-8. With the 2017 AFC looking similar to that 2004 NFC, it’s possible that a 9-7 team, or potentially an 8-8 team, makes the playoffs this season. If Peterman comes in and plays like a rookie, similar to Eli Manning’s 2004 season (49.7% completion rate, 6 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 5.3 yards per attempt), then it’s possible that the Bills are throwing away a shot at their first playoff berth since the Clinton administration. If Peterman comes in and plays like Kaepernick (62.4% completion rate, 10 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 8.3 yards per attempt), all will be well. The risk involved in throwing an unknown quantity on the field in this situation is a calculated one.
Pro: This gives Buffalo a look at its 2018 NFL Draft needs
It’s absurd to talk about the NFL draft while the Bills are in the playoff hunt. However, if the possibility exists that Peterman is a Kirk Cousins-type who was under-drafted, then what better way to find out than giving him meaningful reps during the season? If the rookie can come in and light a fire under what has been an inefficient passing game all season, then the Bills may not have to draft a quarterback with a high pick next season, if even at all. If Peterman fails, then the Bills know that they have to upgrade the position next season, which they seemed ready to do anyway even with Taylor as the starting quarterback.
Con: This potentially creates a rift in the locker room
This is the big question. What if the pro-Tyrod sect of the locker room feels burned badly enough that they tune out Sean McDermott’s message? As Kyle Williams said earlier this season, everyone seems to be expendable with this regime, and while McDermott disagreed, it isn’t hard to see the turnover occurring making current players feel mistrusting of their employer. It’s one thing to keep players on their toes, and another entirely to dismantle a locker room. The leadership within the player ranks will be tested with this, as it was when EJ Manuel was benched for Kyle Orton, and when Trent Edwards was benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick, and when J.P. Losman was benched for Edwards, and Losman was benched for Kelly Holcomb before returning to the starting lineup only to be benched again, and on into what seems like perpetuity for the Buffalo Bills.
Pro: Peterman gains quality, meaningful reps as a rookie
What better way to give a rookie exposure than to play him in a game situation? Throw in the fact that the Bills are still right in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt, and it makes Peterman’s first game experience the kind that could lead to tremendous growth as a player. The Giants gave Eli Manning those reps in 2004, and we all know that he grew into one of the better quarterbacks in the league, leading the Giants to two Super Bowl victories. Even if Buffalo misses the playoffs again in 2017, giving Peterman the opportunity to grow at an early stage of his career could be the catalyst for bigger and better things.
Con: This doesn’t fix the defense
As poorly as Taylor played last week, he didn’t miss 15 tackles. He didn’t give up 298 yards rushing. He didn’t allow 6 rushing touchdowns. True, he led an offense that went three and out so many times that it made the defense’s job much more difficult, but the Bills aren’t going to beat anybody giving up 246 rushing yards per game, which is their average allowed over the past two weeks. No team is going to win when it is that pathetic against the run. If Peterman can help keep the ball in Buffalo’s possession, it will help the defense to remain fresher, but Buffalo’s defense has looked more like a sieve than a stop unit for two weeks now, and a change at quarterback doesn’t do anything to change the defensive personnel.