The Buffalo Bills’ record sits at 3-2 and the team can thank its defense and field goal units for that. The offense and its quarterback, by contrast, have been under fire going into the bye week.
The quarterback being under heat is nothing new for Taylor. He is used to being critiqued on a weekly basis. This season is a little different, however, because he hasn’t been able to lean on LeSean McCoy and the running game. At times Taylor has looked spectacular in the passing game, mostly coming off of play action and bootlegs.
This was expected; it’s why I and many others thought he was a great fit for this scheme, which uses stretch fakes and naked bootlegs to get its QB on the perimeter and in a position to complete easy passes or run, if needed. According to Pro Football Focus, Taylor has run play action 26.9% of the time, which ranks him 4th behind Trevor Siemian, Jacoby Brissett, and Jay Cutler. But what stands out the most is the differential in completion percentage between play action passes and non play action passes. Taylor has completed +13% (#1) or 71.8% of his passes when throwing from play action. Additionally, his yards per attempt is the sixth-highest at 10.1 but the third lowest YPA (5.3), when no play fake is executed. In short, this offense relies on the play action game to generate big plays down the field without an abundance of top tier receiving talent.
Taylor has struggled in the drop back game, registering a 58.8 completion percentage and a 74.5 NFL QB rating, which is the 4th-lowest in the NFL. His struggles from the pocket are mainly due to his tendency to hold the ball and, ultimately, not pull the trigger. That tendency has led to him to take 18 sacks in 5 games! That is the 2nd-most in the NFL prior to week six. Now, not all of them are on Taylor. Pro Football Focus (PFF) charged Taylor with five thus far, which is still a lot compared to the first five games last season, in which he only accounted for one. Sure, there are many factors as to why he took fewer last season, but I am not going to focus on them. I want to focus on the context of each of the sacks that I believe were on him.
When watching the following clips, pay attention to a few things: down and distance, shotgun vs under center, the defensive pre-snap and post-snap picture. Is it a single or two-high safety look? Depth of the QB’s drop (3-5-7 steps), where are the QB’s eyes from snap to sack? Was it a straight drop back or play action (this affects the depth of the drop AND how long he is holding onto the ball). Is he working right-to-left or left-to-right? The route concepts and depth of the routes; is the QB reading high-to-low or low-to-high? Man or zone coverage?
Then from the tight camera angle focus on the protection. Which side does the center slide to? Did they have enough guys to block each defender? Depth of the pocket (remember, the interior offensive line sets the depth of the pocket, and the tackles and tight ends manage the width of the pocket). Did he have enough space to climb or slide in the pocket? How much time did he have from the time he hit the top of his drop?
Here are the NFL’s average throw times through five games, thanks to Pro Football Focus:
Snap to throw=2.65 seconds (Taylor: 3.13, 2nd-highest)
Snap to attempt=2.50 seconds (Taylor: 2.73, 5th-highest)
Snap to sack=3.35 seconds (Taylor: 3.98, 3rd-highest)
Most of the sacks this season have been due to lack of execution by linemen and tight ends, receivers having trouble separating, and, of course, sometimes the play design.
But there were also some really bad plays by Taylor — plays that cost his team big plays and drives, which ultimately is part of the equation that leads to losses.
The offense has taken six sacks on 1st down, four on 2nd down, and eight on third down. Three of the five sacks I put on Taylor’s shoulders were on first down and two were on third down. Of the two debatable plays, one was on first down and one on third down.
These are the plays he needs to learn from and minimize in order to keep the offense on schedule.
1st-and-5 13:58 3rd Quarter vs. Carolina Panthers
For example, let’s flashback to the Panthers game. It was a game in which Taylor completed 68% of his passes, but was sacked three times. This play was completely on Taylor. The Bills trot out 22 personnel and motion McCoy out wide. The defense appears to be in cover 3 or cover 3 match. The Bills run a smash concept with McCoy to the flats, and WR Zay Jones runs the deep corner. The spacing by the receivers is bad and, when Taylor hits the top of his drop, neither one of them is open. Instead of moving on in his progression, he bails from a clean pocket after approximately 2.033 seconds. That is far too soon. If he had remained poised in the pocket, held it for another tenth of a second or so, then he most likely would’ve been able to complete it to one of those targets.
1st-and-10 14:54 3rd Quarter vs. Denver Broncos
Of the 18 sacks that Taylor has taken, six have come on first down. Generally, this may not carry as much value as taking a sack on third down, but to THIS offense THIS season it’s almost worse, because it puts the offense behind schedule. Taking a sack or failing to throw it away on first down leads to predictability on second down and, more than likely, 3rd-and-long situations. That is why this play by Taylor is inexcusable. On the first play out of the half the Bills try to steal a big play, but the coverage isn’t bad, and he decides to play it safe by pulling it down after approximately 3.517 seconds. The decision to pull it down isn’t my issue; it’s the fact that he didn’t throw it away. Instead, he took a two yard loss. Those two yard loss eventually lead to 3rd-and-9, on which Miller was called for a hold. Then, on 3rd and 19, with the offense completely off schedule, they were relegated to running a draw to Mike Tolbert, followed by a punt.
3rd-and-8 12:45 4th Quarter vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Taylor had quite possibly his worst game as a starter in week five versus the Bengals. He was sacked six times, went 20/37 for 166 yards, and averaged 4.5 yards per attempt. The Bengals forced Taylor to ‘play from the pocket’, and he struggled mightily. On 3rd-and-8 at the beginning of the 4th quarter the Bills put him in shotgun and have him take a 5 step drop. This is a super deep drop, but a great call. It gets him deep, which will help his field vision and allow the routes to develop downfield. Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, and Vladimir Ducasse block the interior two defenders, who are barely rushing. Those blocks help keep the ‘depth of the pocket’, again, which helps Taylor. But it leaves rookie tackle Dion Dawkins and right tackle Jordan Mills on islands against two very good pass rushers in Carl Lawson and Carlos Dunlap, and that is not so good for Taylor. But, Taylor should know this. Taylor should sense this and climb the pocket. If he had fully hitched up 1-2 times into the pocket, then he may have found a platform to throw from in order to hit tight end Nick O’Leary. But I do have to also give credit to Lawson. He strung together a nice chop-rip to beat Dawkins.
3rd-and-6 9:34 1st Quarter vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Taylor blows off his progressions on one of the few manageable 3rd downs in the Bengals game. Instead of holding it too long and staring guys down, he speeds through his progressions, doesn’t throw it, and takes a sack. On the snap, Taylor takes his drop and finds the deep safety. It’s a single high look, and it appears that he is targeting Charles Clay on the crossing route. As he is about to hit the top of his drop he locks eyes with LB Vontaze Burfict. He notices that Burfict is out in front of the route by Clay and that safety Jon Shaw is in trail mode, so Clay is eliminated. He climbs the pocket well, but instead of hitching to hit WR Zay Jones in his progression, he blows past him to throw to WR Clay on the deep comeback. Now, the depth of the route and route itself by K. Clay are good against a single-high look, but Taylor is unable to get the throw off because DT Geno Atkins smothers him. If Taylor had remained patient in his progressions, listened to his feet, then he would have had Jones for the easy first down and probably more.
*Disclaimer-There is a good chance that the route to K. Clay was an alert call due to the single high pre-snap look. The coaches could have told Taylor that if the play to Charles Clay isn’t there, then move onto K. Clay, which is something we can’t determine from All-22.
1st-and-10 3:33 4th Quarter vs. Cincinnati Bengals
On to probably the most egregious sack that has occurred all season. Another first down, another play during which Taylor took a bafflingly long amount of time to make a decision. As I mentioned earlier, this play cost them a drive and ultimately ended any hope of the Bills making a comeback. Pre-snap, Taylor should see the single-high safety and immediately know that the dig to Kaelin Clay is the throw. Taylor fakes the run to McCoy, and it gives him a nice deep drop to help his field vision and give his linemen a better opportunity to pass block. Taylor is passive, moves on in his progression to Thomas, Jones, and finally McCoy. Defensive end Michael Johnson brings him down for the sack after a whopping 5.283 seconds. At the very least, he should’ve escaped the pocket and/or thrown it away. The 5-yard loss put them into a 3rd-and-15 situation two plays later. With no Charles Clay, Taylor sailed the pass high, and it was picked off, all but sealing the game for the Bengals.
1st-and-10 7:01 1st Quarter vs. Atlanta Falcons
As you can see, I believe there were five sacks that were completely on Taylor, but there is one that I believe is debatable. Another first down play action pass, and this time Taylor appears to be targeting Jones on the deep curl just inside the numbers. Taylor should have an idea that the fast flowing linebackers of the Falcons are going to come downhill as he fakes it to Tolbert. As he hits the top of his drop Zay Jones has a defensive back over the top, and LB Deion Jones takes away the passing lane. Taylor moves on to his outlet RB Mike Tolbert, but he is covered. For some reason, he never even looked to TE Logan Thomas. Given the pre and post-snap picture and the depth of the routes (deep) paired with play action, one would think that Taylor would’ve known that Thomas was in play. But it appears that he never even looked his way. Whether he was coached into just working the two routes into the boundary we will never know. I just find it odd, given all of the factors. This is all in hindsight, of course.
3rd and 15 14:49 Second Quarter vs. Falcons
Another play from the Falcons game. A very difficult situation for Taylor to be in. Third and long, standing in the end zone. But there is a window that Taylor misses on the ‘bang 8’ route to Zay Jones. Taylor needs to throw this on time, he just lacked the confidence to do so. Am I surprised? No, given who he is as a passer, the down and distance, area of the field and of course his defense. One of those plays where it shows the fine line between smart, turnover free football and a big play. This is a play that a coach won’t necessarily ding the QB for. But it is a debatable play.
Taking 5-7 sacks on his own is only going to hurt Tyrod Taylor and the offense later in drives. Taylor has to minimize the sacks he takes, but he needs to especially eliminate them on early downs. Holding the ball, not throwing it away, or taking a sack really sets the offense back, and it’s a double edged sword because some of the biggest plays the Bills have had this year have been on play action calls on 1st down.
As I have said on our Locked On Bills podcast, the Bills’ average distance on third down is 3rd-and-8.6. Their passing success rate on those plays is 23%, which is ranked 15th. With the injuries and talent pool at the receiving positions, the Bills can not afford to be in those 3rd-and-longs consistently. They don’t have the talent or scheme to overcome it.
Hopefully, Buffalo gets tackle Cordy Glenn back soon, and the staff makes some adjustments coming out of the bye.
As always, the pressure is on Taylor. How do you think he’ll handle it?
For plays that I did not pin on Taylor check out the link below:
⚡️ “Sacks surrendered by the offense”https://t.co/cdPeUecJi6
— Locked on Bills (@lockedonbills) October 15, 2017
For a breakdown of the run game issues check out our self-scouting evaluation: