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Analysis: Tyrod Taylor was not the problem in Thursday’s Buffalo Bills loss

And I will fight you if you want to argue otherwise

The Buffalo Bills dropped to 5-3 on the season with a disheartening 34-21 loss to the New York Jets. Buffalo never found a rhythm on offense and the defense didn’t do its job to keep the score close. The best thing we can say about this one is that Buffalo has ten days to get healthier and practice before its next game.

The reflexive action might be to put the blame squarely on Buffalo’s signal caller. You can do that if you want, but you’re wrong. Tyrod Taylor played well given his circumstances, and his teammates let him down.

Defensive letdown

Before we start talking about Taylor’s performance, let’s talk about the defense. After playing outstanding through the first half of the season, the unit began to show leaks when starters like E.J. Gaines went out with injury. Then the Jets had their way with this team.

The Bills defense missed 22 tackles against the Jets. 22! One of every three plays, the Jets broke a tackle. Jets runners dominated Buffalo on the ground to the tune of 194 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns (even 38-year-old Josh McCown scored one), and 4.73 yards per carry. Buffalo only sacked McCown once, and the defense failed to generate a turnover for the first time in forever.

Offensive drives

The Bills played 11 drives until the score reached 34-7, at which point the Jets had sewn up a victory and switched to a prevent defense. The outcomes of those drives: one touchdown, six punts, two lost fumbles, and a failed fourth down conversion. Let’s look at these drives and understand how each one ended where it did.

Drive 1 - 0-0

On Buffalo’s very first offensive play, Jordan Jenkins comes in unblocked and sacks Taylor for a twelve yard loss. The Jets had schemed up the perfect counter to Buffalo’s offensive script, and Logan Thomas, who was coming across the formation as the primary receiver on the play, didn’t chip the defender to buy some time for Taylor to avoid a negative play.

Last season, there were 1,118 sacks in the NFL. Only 16 percent of drives were able to sustain for even a single extra set of downs after a sack. They’re universal drive-killers. Following an illegal shift penalty, the Bills faced a 3rd and long at their own goalline, and they punted after a safe run.

Drive 2 - 7-0 Jets

The box score for this drive begins with “Tyrod Taylor pass complete short right to Jordan Matthews for 11 yards” and “LeSean McCoy for 13 yards.” Circumstances were much more dire than that. Taylor had to make one of his textbook Houdini escapes to convert that first down:

My (least) favorite part is the two Bills receivers who ran into each other at the bottom-left of the screen.

Buffalo swapped in Mike Tolbert, who ran twice for one yard each. On 3rd and 8, Taylor hits Deonte Thompson, but he’s tackled short of the sticks.

Thought exercise time! Who would you pin that play on?

  • Jordan Matthews appears to be open beyond the first down line, but Taylor doesn’t throw to him and instead takes the shorter route with Thompson.
  • Taylor’s throw to Thompson looked like it was placed too far to the inside. If he’d led Thompson forward, it would’ve given him more room to get the first down.
  • Thompson gets the ball, but if he ran further west toward the sideline, he might’ve outrun his defender and turned the corner for the first down.
  • Or is the issue that Cordy Glenn is walked backward so far that he essentially tackles Taylor, who can’t step up to make his throw?

I thought about this play, and my opinion is that Taylor couldn’t progress beyond his first read (Thompson) because directly in front of him, he sees his left tackle getting beat. Taylor knows he has to pull the trigger immediately. He throws to Thompson, but can’t step into the throw because he’s about to be spooning Glenn, so the throw is off-target. Thompson doesn’t expect the throw to be so inside, and can’t run fast enough to get the first down. Ultimately, I put this drive-killing play on Glenn.

Drive 3 - 7-0 Jets

After a false start and a 2 yard Tolbert run gave Buffalo a 2nd and 13, Taylor hit Zay Jones for seven yards, and a defensive offsides and an 18 yard scramble extended the drive. Buffalo worked down the field, and Taylor found Zay Jones in the end zone for the rookie’s first career touchdown.

Drive 4 - 10-7 Jets

The Jets had responded with a field goal to re-take the lead on their last drive. To begin this drive, McCoy delivered a pair of two-yard runs. He had a rough game, with no help from his blockers, and I’m wondering if he was feeling less than 100 percent, as the announcers alluded to a possible injury tweak.

Taylor converted a first down with a 13 yard pass to Thompson. Then came a pair of drive-killing sacks. Here’s a look at the first one - Vladimir Ducasse is solidly beaten, forcing Taylor out of the pocket.

I also want to point out that this was only a three man route, and a seven man protection. There are two receivers downfield and McCoy comes out to the right side after chipping up the middle. You can see that both receivers are blanketed, and McCoy’s not an option because Ducasse’s defender forces Taylor to move to the left.

On the next play the pocket again closes around Taylor, who tries to escape and run for positive yardage, but is tripped up and gains nothing.

After those two sacks, Buffalo faced a 3rd and 13. The pass was incomplete, but I don’t put this one on Taylor:

Again the pocket closes around him instantly. This time, Taylor escapes and moves to the right. Speedy linebacker Darron Lee is chasing him. Taylor throws and hits Andre Holmes with his pass. Holmes drops the ball when he’s hit by the defender, and he also didn’t run his comeback route to a far-enough depth to ensure a first down.

Drive 5 - 10-7 Jets

With a little more than three minutes remaining in the half, the Bills had one more chance to tie the game (or take the lead), knowing they’d be able to open up a lead with their first possession of the third quarter.

The drive started off well enough. Taylor hit Jones (who had a great game) for 11 yards, then McCoy picked up five. On second and five, Taylor tried hitting Jones deep downfield, but he was tripped by Buster Skrine and injured his leg. The penalty gave Buffalo a first down.

The next play, Taylor was again under duress, sacked for a nine yard loss. Then Logan Thomas committed a false start penalty. At the two minute warning, it was second and 24. Drive killed? Not exactly. Taylor hit Thompson for 12 yards, then found Holmes for the first down. On the next play, bad blocking hit Taylor with another sack. Then he found Matthews for twelve yards. Facing a third and seven, Taylor found Matthews crossing the middle and hit him in stride. And then, this:

C’mon, man! Stephen Hauschka is your kicker! You’re down by three! Take the fourth and two outcome and get some points on the board! Instead, Matthews forces his own fumble and kills that drive.

Drive 6 - 10-7 Jets

The first drive of the second half began with a decent run from McCoy. Then Matthews forgot to block DeMario Davis on second down, and McCoy was tackled for a loss of two. On third and nine, Taylor is immediately under duress at the end of his drop. He tries drifting left and throwing, but he’s hit as he throws, and the pass wobbles to no man’s land. Mills is the main culprit on that play.

Drive 7 - 17-7 Jets

When the Jets opened up a ten point lead at the start of the second half, the Meadowlands was absolutely rocking. Taylor started by hitting Jones (who had returned from his injury scare) for nine yards. On second down, with the ball given to McCoy, Glenn (who had an awful game) was walked backward into McCoy, blowing up the run for a four yard loss. Glenn weighs 345 pounds. Jenkins weighs 259. Thursday night, that didn’t seem to matter. Jenkins had a hell of a game for the Jets.

On third down, Richie Incognito was instantly beat, as was Glenn. The receivers were blanketed. Taylor escaped the pocket to the right, but in doing so was now being chased by Jordan Mills’s man, preventing him from running for the first down. Taylor attempts an off-balance throw to Matthews, but it’s too far out of bounds for a catch.

This is one of maybe three bad plays I’ve seen from Taylor at this point in the game. And it’s only “bad” because he didn’t place the ball inbounds. He still escaped a sack.

Drive 8 - 17-7 Jets

The Bills began this drive backed up to their own eight yard line. On first down, McCoy ran into a mass of bodies for no gain. Thompson committed a false start, backing the team up four more yards. On second and 14, Muhammad Wilkerson swatted down Taylor’s pass attempt, which had to be hurried because Kony Ealy was winning around the edge against Glenn.

On third and 14, Taylor escapes the pocket. It’s perhaps the first time all game where I’ve felt he abandoned the pocket too quickly. He can’t see any open receivers and scrambles to the left, gaining seven. If he hung in the pocket, maybe Nick O’Leary or another receiver would’ve come open.

Now, you might feel inclined to criticize Taylor because, at that point in the game, he didn’t “elevate” his teammates to continue the drive. My argument is this: Elevating his teammates is what he’s been doing for all eight drives. Everyone else not named Zay Jones (and maybe Deonte Thompson) has played like dirt. If he didn’t do what he was doing, the score gap would’ve been even larger.

It’s third and 14 at the four yard line. What the hell are you supposed to do? Maybe Tom Brady finds a guy. Aaron Rodgers, sure. Does Eli Manning? Russell Wilson? This is one play out of an entire game. You can’t exist in a constant state of ice in your veins. You’d freeze to death.

Drive 9 - 24-7 Jets

Finally, on this drive, we see Buffalo’s first screen pass of the night. It’s a tight end bubble screen to Nick O’Leary, who gets twelve yards. Taylor has already thrown over twenty times before this play, and this is a clear failure from Rick Dennison, who needed to do more to mitigate his offensive line’s crappy blocking ruining Buffalo drives. On the next play Taylor throws from within the pocket. It’s a little off-target, but he hits Thompson for seven yards.

On the next play, Eric Wood snaps for a shotgun play even though Taylor’s hands are between his legs, and the fumbled snap leads to a seven yard loss. On third and 10, Taylor manages to find O’Leary for a first down, who does another stupid-fumble:

Again, notice Glenn giving his best Cordaro Howard impression. Drive killed.

Drive 10 - 24-7 Jets

It’s now the fourth quarter, with the Bills still trailing by 17. Taylor hits Tolbert for a gain of seven, then finds Jones for a first down. On the next play, Glenn completely whiffs his block, and the lineman crosses over his face to tackle Tolbert for a loss of one (why Buffalo was running Tolbert up the middle down seventeen points in the fourth quarter, I couldn’t tell you). On the next play, Taylor throws a swing pass to... Tolbert. (Where was McCoy?) Tolbert is swiftly tackled after only gaining one yard.

On third and ten, Taylor is again pressured in the pocket immediately. He tries escaping and running for the first down, but Jordan Jenkins (whom I unfairly called out on a podcast Wednesday for having an underwhelming season) had another great play, knocking the ball out from behind and forcing Buffalo’s third lost fumble of the game. Probably Taylor’s worst play of the game, from a very small group of bad plays.

Drive 11 - 31-7 Jets

Thanks to excellent field position, the Jets had no problem punching in a touchdown to seal the win. The Bills still weren’t abandoning the run, but McCoy dances behind a lack of blocking and gets tackled for a loss of one. Taylor hits O’Leary for a gain of eight. He tries to hit Thompson on third down, but the pass is high and goes through his hands. On fourth and three, Taylor tries to connect with Matthews, but the pass is a bit out in front and Matthews drops it.

In summary

The Buffalo Bills, on a short week against a motivated rival, needed to avoid making mistakes and play to their talent level against the Jets. They did the exact opposite. Cordy Glenn had one of the worst games of his life, and every other Bills lineman was beaten on multiple occasions. Jordan Matthews dropped passes, fumbled a catch, and failed to block when it was needed. Nick O’Leary had the worst fumble in recent memory, and neither Bills running back found any kind of rhythm on the day.

Rick Dennison called a lousy game from a strategy standpoint. His individual plays were fine, but he didn’t adjust when it was clear that the Jets were controlling the line of scrimmage, and the offense only developed a rhythm at the very end against a prevent defense.

The defense was a sieve against a not especially talented offense. This game was essentially the inverse of last week’s game against the Oakland Raiders. The Bills committed multiple untimely turnovers, played badly across the board on offense, and allowed the opposing offense, not well-known for its productivity, to run rampant.

The best thing the Bills can say after this one: their signal-caller played well through the adversity, and they have ten days to prepare for their next opponent, with key players like E.J. Gaines, Charles Clay, and Kelvin Benjamin joining the fray.