– Evan Sally
There appear to be two opposing arguments when it comes to talking about Tyrod Taylor. The “he’s getting the job done” faction vs the “he’s not good enough” side. Some fans place themselves strongly on one side or the other, while the vast majority are somewhere in between. Depending on your perspective people from each side could watch a Tyrod performance and come away with differing opinions. In reality I believe both sides are correct, however they’re both answering different questions. Tyrod is getting the job done by not turning the ball over and not costing the Bills games, something that really shouldn’t be taken for granted in the NFL. However he’s not good enough when it comes to competing at the highest level. There are very few if any fans who feel confident that in a matchup with the league’s best quarterbacks that Tyrod will have the better day.
There are two ways to have this conversation: in a vacuum or in context. In a vacuum the 2nd argument is all that matters: the Bills are in the sports business where the goal is championships and to project Taylor as a Super Bowl winning quarterback right now is tough. But in context the fact that Tyrod isn’t costing them games is important for one reason. There’s a lot of bad football being played in the NFL right now. There are quite a few teams in the NFL you can beat with a top 10 defense that gets after the passer, a good running game, and a QB that doesn’t make mistakes and also contributes to that running game. I think a lot of Bills fans have had the same moment that I’ve had recently. Looking at the schedule for the 1000th time this season, I realized it had changed quite a bit from August to now. The teams that seemed easier to beat have not played well and some of those games look even easier now than they did 5 weeks ago (looking at you Miami). And teams that looked difficult to beat have looked more vulnerable, especially Cincinnati, the Jets, and even Seattle whose offensive line is terrible. Is it safe to expect the Bills to win to many more of their difficult games? No of course not. But the odds have improved. And having a QB who does the least to mess those odds up from a game to game basis and has the potential to make a big play or two to tilt the game in your favor is huge.
Of course Tyrod leaves a lot to be desired in his game at the moment. Despite a solid outing in New England, he has regressed this season. His yards per attempt are down from a stellar 8 to a paltry 6.5. The deep ball touch hasn’t been there as much this season. He’s wildly inaccurate at times and will leave a ton of yards on the field. The Bills need him to get better at all of this and if he doesn’t improve they will need to look to upgrade. However 19 games into his career Tyrod has shown a penchant to be very safe with the football, which is invaluable. With only 8 interceptions in 19 starts it is starting to get to the point where it may not be a fluke but perhaps is a skill. Also of incredible value is the athleticism he shows every week. The way he can make people miss and turn 5 yard gains into 20 yard gains is unique. It’s these two factors that make him special, even when he’s not playing well. How many quarterbacks have we had in Buffalo that when they start to play poorly they become useless or worse, interception machines. It may come off as faint praise, but the level of dynamism combined with ball security he brings even when the passing offense isn’t clicking can keep the team afloat while the Bills defense batters a bad offense on the other side and hopefully can create short fields through turnovers. The point being, Tyrod is useful even when he’s not playing well.
Tyrod Taylor’s contract also weighs heavily into the conversation, which is something I don’t totally understand. There’s quite a bit of concern about him not living up to the $27 million the Bills will owe him if they decide bring him back next season. However to toss around that number is incorrect. His cap hit next year is for $16 million, which would rank 20th amongst starting QB salaries in the league. The $27 million number is only important to the Pegulas’ pocket book. Perhaps Tyrod could play poorly enough where the Pegulas decide they don’t want to pay him that money, but if the front office tells them the smart play is to bring Tyrod back at a $16 million cap hit then I’m sure they gladly pay him that amount. Also it’s important not to forget the Bills have another out in his contract at the end of the 2017 season, essentially making this a 2 year try out period. They wouldn’t be locking themselves into anything long-term by bringing him back next season.
The tangible worries that come with giving a big money contract to a quarterback that you have questions about is the cap space he takes up and the opportunity cost of not trying to improve at the position because you think you’re set at quarterback. For that first point I understand thinking that Tyrod’s current level of play and production makes paying him $16 million seem expensive. Tyrod still has to make big improvements with converting 3rd downs and with his accuracy play to play. But you have to consider the context. We’re already paying average starter money for Tyrod. To pay any less for a starter would mean starting a rookie or a career backup/journey man out of free agency. And if you’re worried about them passing on QBs because they’re too focused on Tyrod those fears are understandable. However they just drafted a QB in the 4th round because they liked Cardale Jones’s value and while it remains to be seen what they will do going forward I don’t know why they wouldn’t do it again if it’s a good value at that draft pick.
I understand that Tyrod conversation and why it’s happening. The team appears to be pretty good and the only thing stopping them from being really good may be Tyrod Taylor. That’s frustrating. The numbers being talked about in his contract are huge, it’s the most money the Bills have ever paid a quarterback. Wanting the Bills to get better play at that position is the most understandable thing in the world. But all these things and can be true and you can still be OK with what Tyrod brings to the table while reducing your level of anxiety about the future of the position.
Bad Teams Beat Themselves
The Bills didn’t play their best game on Sunday. Tyrod left yards on the field, and Case Keenum was able to make a few plays on the defense. However it didn’t matter because the Bills didn’t beat themselves and the Rams did. No turnovers once again for the Bills meant the Rams weren’t able to take advantage of short fields to help their anemic offense. Case Keenum wasn’t able to be good enough to beat the Bills in the red zone and when he started pressing he gave the ball to the Bills twice, one resulting in a pick-six. And of course when it comes to bad teams nothing stands out like bad coaching. Late in the game, the Rams could’ve absolutely stolen that game from the Bills if Rams coach Jeff Fisher chooses his spots a little better. Jeff Fisher wanted to be aggressive. But not when he had a 4th and goal down by 7 with 5 minutes left. At that point he chooses to kick a field goal to go down by 4 instead. Instead the time to be aggressive in Jeff Fisher’s mind is when his team is punting inside their own 30. That fake punt was one of the worst decisions I’ve seen in quite sometime and not just because it didn’t work. First of all, if you’re going to run a fake punt make it of the home run variety. Sneak a guy on the edge of the field and try to get a 30+ yard gain with a pass. Even if the fake punt the Rams attempted works they will gain at best 8 to 10 yards and still have to drive most of the field for a touchdown. Second, if you want to go for it on 4th down, why not keep your offense on the field? And third, why not just punt the ball in that scenario? The Bills offense had been lifeless, why give them any spark, let alone a short field? Just a mind boggling decision. And remember the Bills have 5 to 6 more games against teams like this on the schedule. Bad teams will beat themselves, you just have to give them the opportunity.
We’ve reached a brave new world Bills fans. The Bills are one of the biggest point spread favorites in the league this week, favored by 7.5 points over the Niners. FiveThirtyEight.com, an analytics website, has a formula that calculates the percentage chances of a team winning a game and they have the Bills as a 81% chance of winning this week, the heaviest favorite in the league. Go back in your mind to the days after the Jets loss. Could you imagine the Bills being 7.5 point favorites over anybody? The times, they are changing. Not only is Vegas backing the Bills but a couple of very important stats are as well. Through 5 games the Bills have a point differential of +30, good for 4th best in the AFC behind only Pittsburgh (+46), New England and Denver (+40). That’s some rarified air. The Bills also rank 6th in the NFL in something called toxic differential, which measures a team’s turnover differential, and the amount of big plays they make offensively vs big plays they give up defensively. Basically toxic differential tells you if your teams is making the kind of plays that tilt the odds in their favor or against them. The Bills are starting to build a profile of a good team.
This week’s game against San Francisco at New Era Field offers an opportunity to build on that. The Niners have given up 4 100 yard rushers in a row, and if you watched any of their game last Thursday against Arizona some of the efforts you saw trying to stop David Johnson were downright pathetic. LeSean McCoy should run wild again. Colin Kaepernick making his first start of the season could make the Niners a tad more dangerous. He is a high variance player capable of playing at a really high level. However he has not played at that level in a long time. If the defense continues what they’ve been doing and finally get a returning Marcell Dareus, the Bills should dominate and be on their way to 4-2.
– Evan Sally (Twitter)