The Bills have surprised most with their 5-3 start this season, and they have a legitimate chance of finally ending the longest playoff drought in professional sports. However, their passing game continues to hold them back, and Buffalo’s inconsistencies through the air were on full display on Thursday night against the Jets.
We’ve all seen Tyrod Taylor’s play-making ability over the last 2 1/2 seasons. Throughout his 37 career starts, he’s also shown a knack for avoiding interceptions. Taylor’s numbers as the Bills starting quarterback are surprisingly efficient. This season, he has completed a career-high 65.3% of his passes for 10 touchdowns with only 2 interceptions. Yet Taylor is far from a polished passer, and his inadequacies have prevented the Bills from being a consistent force on offense.
The quarterback position is not just about touchdown passes and game-winning drives. It’s about doing all of the little things right. It’s about taking 5 yards on 1st-and-10. It’s about avoiding negative plays. It’s about good ball placement, operating within the framework of each playcall, and being ready to deliver the right throw at the right time. Tyrod Taylor, for all his athleticism and physical gifts, has not shown the ability to be the precise quarterback that any consistent offense needs. The below plays are prime examples.
This was a 3rd down against the Jets on Thursday night. You can see that the Bills had to get to the 41-yard line for the first down. The Jets were playing man-to-man coverage, a Todd Bowles staple. The Bills saw this coverage all night. Here, Taylor would end up targeting Deonte Thompson on a whip route out of the slot.
With the other receivers on the left side of the formation clearing out the area, Taylor had a clean 1-on-1 matchup. Thompson would end up winning this matchup.
The end zone angle shows just how open Thompson was.
This was an easy throw that should have led to a first down. Had Taylor put the ball on his receiver’s right shoulder, Thompson would have been able to turn upfield as he caught the pass. Instead, Taylor threw it behind Thompson. While the pass was completed, the poor ball placement gave the cornerback ample time to catch Thompson and make the tackle shy of the first down. You can see below that Thompson had to gear down and stop his feet to catch the ball.
The Bills were forced to punt instead of keeping their drive alive in Jets territory.
Later in the game, it was first down, and the Jets were once again playing man coverage. Tyrod Taylor had his tight end, Nick O’Leary, on a quick out-route. As you can see below, at the top of his drop, Taylor had O’Leary open. The defender to the outside was not a factor since the Jets were in man coverage and he was going with his receiver to the flat.
Taylor didn’t pull the trigger here, though. He was not ready to get rid of the ball at the top of his drop, and he ended up getting sacked. Instead of Facing 2nd-and-short, the Bills faced 2nd-and-19.
These two plays were not cherry picked. Taylor has poor ball placement and frequently takes extra unneeded steps to gather himself at the top of his drop. The extra steps put him out of rhythm with the timing of his receivers’ routes. He is often not ready to throw when he should be, and this leads to fewer open passing windows.
The two examples shown above illustrate how Taylor’s lack of precision on seemingly small plays can lead to a significant impact on the outcome of the game. Poor precision doesn’t always translate to massive mistakes. It does, however, contribute to plays being left on the field.
For the Bills to make the playoffs, and then to do any damage in the playoffs, Taylor will have to be more precise. On Thursday night, the Jets were not worried at all about the Bills’ passing attack. They brought 8 men in the box versus any conventional running formation and had no problem leaving their defenders in 1-on-1 coverage. The Bills couldn’t consistently win those 1-on-1 matchups, and the few times they did, Taylor did not make them pay. The Bills will continue to see teams sell out to stop Buffalo’s ground game. Hopefully for Buffalo, the addition of Kelvin Benjamin will give Taylor the ability to make defenses pay if they overplay the run. However, Benjamin’s impact won’t necessarily be felt if Taylor does not become more precise with some of the subtleties of the quarterback position.