Let’s take some stock inventory on the 2017 Buffalo Bills. We’re only three games into the season, but I think we can draw some conclusions about this team, even with so many unanswered questions. Let’s all think back to the middle of the summer, back when Sammy Watkins was still on the roster. What were your thoughts about the team? Did you think they were on the cusp of a playoff berth? Maybe you did, but I certainly did not. The consensus back in July was that the roster was barren and that realistic expectations should not include thoughts of January football.
Now that was back before the Bills traded Watkins. I mean you can argue that a core of Taylor-McCoy-Watkins could be dangerous enough to help the Bills stay near their top-10 total points ranking from 2016. But you also knew there were enough holes on this roster where a winning season wasn’t expected.
So let’s look at who and what the Bills are now on offense. They have Taylor, who we know is talented and has demonstrated an ability to bring average to above-average play to the position. But we also know that they have put him in a West Coast offense that doesn’t suit his talents and has forced him to try to be a pure pocket passer, which is not his strong suit. In the meantime, the Bills have removed wide receivers who can help elevate Tyrod’s play. We know about Watkins’ talents and what he can do to create separation and target footballs that have a low chance of being caught. They also cast aside the smooth Robert Woods, who was a crisp route runner and a dependable downfield blocker, as well as Marquise Goodwin, who provided the occasional explosive play when he was healthy enough to get on the field.
The Bills replaced Tyrod’s most reliable targets generic, imitation-brand receiving targets. Zay Jones has loads of talent and the college production to prove it, but can he separate from press coverage at this level? Is Andre Holmes anything more than a bigger body? Jordan Matthews is a slot receiver playing on the outside in a role that doesn’t suit him. Who is Kaelin Clay?
After the Bills’ dreadful 9-3 loss to Carolina a week ago, most of the criticism I saw went immediately to Taylor. And of course, this makes sense. What else do you expect when you only score three points and put up just 125 yards passing? But is it the right place to point the criticism?
Tyrod Taylor is not a quarterback who can make chicken salad out of chicken shit. He does many things very well, but he needs to be in an offense where he has the freedom to improvise and make plays outside the pocket. A quick drop and throw from the pocket offense doesn’t suit him. Taking away his vertical threats and replacing them with big possession receivers doesn’t help either. You’ve removed his ability to do the thing Tyrod does best – throw the deep ball.
After seeing the state of the Bills’ roster following the Watkins’ trade, performances like Week 2 are exactly what we should have been expecting from Taylor. When a team with a really good front 7 like Carolina can shut down the run game, the Bills struggle to find an option B to turn to. I think opposing defenses are just fine with making Taylor stay in the pocket and try to be a pure passer. In Carolina, the Bills’ offensive scheme played right into Ron Rivera’s hands as he was okay telling his defenders to let Jones, Matthews, and Holmes try and beat them.
So to recap, you have a bad scheme and a poor receiving corps, especially for what Tyrod’s talents are. Fans wanted to put all the criticism on Taylor for the Carolina game? That didn’t really add up to me.
This takes us to Sunday afternoon, when Tyrod had some answers for his critics. Against another stout front 7, the Bills’ run game was stifled. LeSean McCoy and Mike Tolbert combined for just 62 yards on the ground. But this time, Tyrod was able to open things up in the passing game, completing 20 of 26 passes for 213 yards. Rick Dennison used Tyrod effectively, calling a number of play-action passes and rolling Taylor out of the pocket. Taylor also executed the offense well, hitting his open receivers and dropping an absolute dime in to Nick O’Leary for a 31-yard gain that helped spark the Bills’ go-ahead drive in the third quarter. With some help from the Broncos, they never trailed again in the game.
Tyrod on Sunday played like the quarterback he’s typically been over his 32 starts as Bills’ quarterback. He wasn’t spectacular, he didn’t throw for 300 yards, but he displayed the talent he has and was the main catalyst in keeping the Bills’ offense afloat in this game. He delivered some great throws and made plays with his feet to extend drives. We have bemoaned the Bills’ lack of a downfield passing game, but did you know that through three games, Tyrod’s net yards gained per pass attempt is 5.93? Last season, it was 5.92. His adjusted net yards per pass attempt is 6.33. Last year? 6.07.
This is the Tyrod we know well. I know he might not be a great, upper-echelon quarterback, but he’s good enough to keep the Bills’ competitive, even in a season where the front office has stripped down the offense. That’s why the criticism of him after Carolina was so unwarranted, I thought.
So maybe the growing talk of turning the offense over to Nathan Peterman will die down for at least a little while. If the Bills do start losing, you can bet it will come back though and linger around like a fart in a room with no windows.
Who here honestly thinks Nathan Peterman is going to amount to anything in the NFL? Every single draft prospect report about this guy described him as a limited prospect. He has a quick release and plays well in the pocket, but he is not a smooth thrower and has a limited arm. Inaccuracy can be an issue at times. He completed 60 percent of his pass attempts in both 2015 and 2016, which at the college level is not a high mark. You don’t just all of a sudden become a highly accurate passer.
Peterman played in all four Bills’ preseason games this August and didn’t exactly impress. Now you wouldn’t know that by the way he was talked about on social media and on the radio, but no he really wasn’t that good at all. Peterman completed 43 of 79 passes (54.4%) for 453 yards (5.7 yds/att) and one touchdown. When Peterman got an extended chance to play against the Baltimore Ravens first and second team defense in the third preseason game, he went 11/23 passing for 93 yards.
If you think that is somehow a more appealing option to start at quarterback than Tyrod Taylor, I’m not sure you and I can be friends.
Also, you really want to throw a rookie quarterback (fifth-round rookie) into this offense that has those wide receivers and Jordan Mills and Dion Dawkins as the starting tackles at the moment? That would be the end of Nathan Peterman as we know him.
The question now is what the Bills will be or want to be the rest of the season. The thought many of us had (myself included) is that they were destined to be picking around the top 5 or 10 of the draft in April, even before the Watkins’ trade. But with the way the defense has come together so quickly, they appear to be too talented to be a bottom feeder. The problem is, they still have too many limitations on offense to be a true playoff contender. This will again have them in that dreaded no-man’s land where you’re not in line for a top-flight draft prospect, but you’re at best “In The Hunt” for the playoffs.
That is unless Tyrod is able to elevate his play and the Bills can actually rely on the passing game. They are still lacking the big play element, but they might be able to count on efficiency at the very least in the passing game. They can perhaps beat teams horizontally with a passing game that moves Taylor around and takes advantage of his legs and ability to throw on the run.
That’s a best-case scenario at this point. I think you can expect Tyrod to have games like Sunday and to have games like Carolina where he struggles to get the offense moving. I just don’t think the Bills have enough on offense overall to be a playoff team.
We’ll have to see how things play out, but the Bills might be in a spot where they miss out on the blue-chip quarterback prospects in the draft (Darnold, Rosen) and have to decide if a Mason Rudolph or Lamar Jackson is a better option for them going forward than Tyrod Taylor. I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that the rookie would be a better choice.