After four years of warming the bench in Baltimore, quarterback Tyrod Taylor finally earned an opportunity to compete for a starting job on the back of an effective training camp and a solid performance in the Buffalo Bills' first preseason game. With a professional CV only 35 passes long and the reputation of an athlete playing quarterback, Taylor needed to make a strong case to Buffalo's coaching staff that he has learned to play like a professional quarterback worthy of starting in the regular season. This past Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns, he did just that.
Before we dive in to each of Taylor's plays, let's remember the context for his game against the Browns:
- Taylor played three drives with Buffalo's first-string offense, but that unit was missing their top five running backs and their top four wide receivers. Midway through Taylor's second drive, he lost his fifth and sixth receivers to injury.
- He was playing against the Browns' first-team defense, minus Joe Haden and two backup cornerbacks. No. 2 corner Tramon Williams was starting, as was the talented front seven.
Going into the game, the prevailing rhetoric was that Taylor would be handcuffed by his lack of skill position players, and any modicum of success in spite of that handcuff would demonstrate that Taylor has NFL starter potential.
I've included a few highlights of some of the key plays from Taylor's start. If you are subscribed to NFL Gamepass, you can follow along to the individual play-by-play. You'll also find many of these plays in the highlights video from the game on BuffaloBills.com.
2-7, BUF18 (14:30) Tyrod Taylor pass to the left to Bronson Hill for no gain to the BUF 18. Tackled by Paul Kruger and Jordan Poyer.
Taylor's first pass was nothing fancy. The defense drops back into a zone, and Taylor checks down to his running back for no gain. He might have had Chris Hogan open for a short gain, but the pass is thrown in rhythm at the end of Taylor's drop, which is something you want to see your quarterback do.
3-7, BUF18 (14:00) Tyrod Taylor pass to the left to Deonte Thompson for 13 yards to the BUF 31. Tackled by Johnson Bademosi.
The second pass is a beauty. On third down, Taylor stays in the pocket and delivers a strike on a comeback route near the sideline. He fits it into a very tight window and moves the chains.
1-10, BUF31 (13:25) Tyrod Taylor pass to the right to Jerome Felton for 10 yards to the BUF 41. Tackled by Karlos Dansby.
This is a basic bootleg call: roll the quarterback out and let the fullback grab an easy five yards. Taylor does a passable effort selling the playfake, and his pass to Felton is accurate and on time.
3-8, BUF43 (11:20) Tyrod Taylor pass to the middle to Charles Clay for 11 yards to the CLE 46. Tackled by Donte Whitner.
Once again, Taylor calmly stays in the pocket, waits for separation, and delivers the ball on-target. He uses his eyes to keep the defense to its left so that Clay can complete his route. This is basic stuff, but given the Bills' quarterback play over the last few years, it's actually a major improvement to see this being done consistently on the first drive. This also converts a third down.
1-10, CLE46 (10:40) Tyrod Taylor rush to the right for 3 yards to the CLE 43. Tackled by Paul Kruger.
On Taylor's first scramble of the night, John Miller is cleanly beaten, and Taylor has to vacate the pocket before he finishes his drop. He keeps his eyes downfield and performs a pump fake, but ultimately tucks and runs out of bounds for a short gain. This is the extra dimension Taylor brings to the offense that Matt Cassel can't offer, and EJ Manuel does not offer to the same level.
3-4, CLE40 (9:30) Tyrod Taylor pass to the right to Marquise Goodwin for 5 yards to the CLE 35. Tackled by Tramon Williams.
Taylor converts on third down for the third time on this drive. Again, he stands in the pocket, reaches the end of his drop, and decisively delivers the ball into a tight window. The cornerback is draped all over the 5'9" Marquise Goodwin, but the ball still reaches him and moves the chains.
2-8, CLE33 (8:20) Tyrod Taylor rush to the left for 10 yards to the CLE 23. Tackled by Scott Solomon.
This is a broken screen play. In the video, you can see Richie Incognito and Eric Wood heading downfield, but Ricky Seale either forgets his pass-catching responsibility, or just finds himself tangled up blocking. Once again, Taylor's improvisation created a positive play out of nothing. I do not believe either Cassel or Manuel would run with the ball here; I'd expect a throw in the dirt, which is definitely acceptable when the play breaks down, but won't produce as helpful a result.
3-6, CLE19 (6:20) Tyrod Taylor sacked at CLE 28 for a loss of 9 yards by Paul Kruger.
Of course, this is where Taylor's tendencies can come back to haunt him. No one is open after his drop, and Wood and John Miller can't sustain their blocks. Taylor tries too late to scramble when it just isn't working. The end zone angle shows Hogan barely coming open as Taylor pulls the ball down. The only thing he should have done on this play was throw it away, and I'm sure the coaches laid into him for that. Was it a bad play? Yes. Does it cancel out the good of the entire drive? I don't think so.
1-10, BUF24 (3:01) Tyrod Taylor incomplete pass to the right intended for Marquise Goodwin.
Taylor's first pass attempt begins with two unblocked edge rushers. He evades the first, and then just throws the ball away rather than taking a sack. Look! He can be taught!
3-6, BUF28 (2:40) Tyrod Taylor pass to the right to Deonte Thompson for 22 yards to the BUF 50.
My absolute favorite pass of the night, from any quarterback. With Miller beaten again and Hill looking like a participant in the running of the bulls, Taylor calmly steps up in the pocket and delivers a pass on the money, in stride to his receiver for a 22-yard third-down conversion. A-plus.
2-19, BUF41 (1:40) Tyrod Taylor pass to the left to Chris Hogan for 4 yards to the BUF 45. Tackled by Johnson Bademosi.
After a nine-yard loss (which resulted in Goodwin's injury), Taylor plays it safe and checks down to Hogan (who is then injured). I believe this was a designed presnap read for Taylor, because he shows no hesitation throwing to Hogan once he finishes his drop. Desmond Bryant is giving Wood the business, and if Taylor waited for another guy to come open, I think he's sacked (or at least flushed from the pocket).
3-15, BUF45 (1:23) Tyrod Taylor incomplete pass to the right intended for Deonte Thompson.
The drive is basically over on third-and-long outside of field goal range. Taylor stands in the pocket and looks off the safety to yield one-on-one coverage on the outside. His throw doesn't connect with Thompson. I believe that the throw is placed where it should have been, but Thompson wasn't able to run out his route due to strong coverage. Watching the tape, one can see that the corner (Charles Gaines, I believe) is running with inside position on Thompson, and is perfectly placed on the route. Given the game situation, I chalk this up to one of those shots downfield you take, knowing you won't always connect.
1-10, BUF43 (12:40) Tyrod Taylor rush to the left for 7 yards to the BUF 50. Tackled by Ibraheim Campbell.
Here's another instance where Taylor's athleticism helps him out. He's under pressure as soon as he finishes his drop. Taylor resets, stepping up in the pocket, but a delayed blitzer comes unblocked up the middle. Taylor evades and hurries out of bounds for a medium gain on the ground. Also, watch Taylor's head swivel once he's in space, to check his blind side for defenders.
1-10, CLE40 (11:35) Tyrod Taylor rush to the left for 21 yards to the CLE 19. Tackled by Scott Solomon.
Here, Taylor unleashes a textbook zone read for an easy first down. He finishes the play like a knucklehead by leading with his throwing shoulder, and I'm sure the coaches yelled at him for that one, too.
3-9, CLE18 (9:45) Tyrod Taylor incomplete pass to the right intended for Deonte Thompson defensed by Johnson Bademosi.
After two runs for a total of one yard gained, Taylor faces a nine-yard third down in field goal range. He takes a shot toward one-on-one coverage in the end zone, which is a good call, since the team can still take the lead with a field goal if he doesn't connect. Ultimately, this ball is underthrown, allowing the defender to defend it. It's in the right neighborhood, and a more talented receiver might win the catch. But it could have been better placed, outside the reach of the defender.
Taylor had another strong game, even if the score didn't reflect it. The skill talent circumstances were tilted against his favor, and he still drove the team down the field for drives of 57, 21, and 57 yards, which is pretty solid. (Per Football Outsiders, the best offense in the league averaged 39.38 yards gained per drive last year, and the Bills averaged 45 with Taylor in the game.) Let's debunk some myths about Taylor, shall we?
- He is not a run-first quarterback. As you can see in the above plays, Taylor is perfectly comfortable standing in the pocket and throwing the ball around the field. He's not a Pat White or Tim Tebow that need to be contained in a special personnel package. He has pocket-passing ability.
- Taylor is not injury-prone, no more than Cassel or Manuel are. He's hit by plenty of defenders and jumps right back into the fray, even after being tackled on a run. You don't need to look at him and wonder how you might have to replace him any more than you'd have to wonder that for Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick.
- Taylor is not an scattergun, 50-percent completion rate passer. While he's not going to fire lasers like the elites, Taylor is capable of putting the ball into tight windows, and most of the time his passes are going where his receivers need them. It's a massive improvement from what we've seen under center for Buffalo recently.
If you're wondering if Taylor can be the answer at quarterback for the Bills, my opinion is a resounding yes. He plays with maturity in his game, he throws a great pass, and he adds a new dimension of running and pocket presence to Buffalo's offense. Playing with Buffalo's makeshift offensive line and a talented group of receivers, Taylor should be more than capable of putting enough points on the board to drive Buffalo into the playoffs this year.