Without Tyrod Taylor, will Bills improve in 2018 NFL season?


The Buffalo Bills managed to end their 17-year playoff drought last season and with training camp approaching, the team is hoping to repeat that success in the 2018 NFL season. After the dramatic roster overhaul seen in just a short time, year two of Sean McDermott’s “Process” appears to be one that allows the team to build upon that success. The biggest obstacle facing Buffalo is whether or not rookie quarterback Josh Allen can replicate the success Tyrod Taylor enjoyed. The biggest question facing the 2018 Buffalo Bills is if the team will be better or worse without Taylor under center.

The team traded Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns after an up-and-down tenure as the Bills’ starter. They traded up in the NFL draft to select Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. Allen was underwhelming during his collegiate career but has rare physical tools that make him an intriguing developmental prospect.

With the rookie being brought along slowly, the coaching staff has no intentions of rushing him into a starting role until he’s ready. Former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback A.J. McCarron, who was signed during 2018 NFL free agency and second-year passer Nathan Peterman are expected to battle for the starting job until Allen is ready to see the field.

The Bills are approaching the situation properly in a long-term view, but what about 2018, a season in which the Bills for a team looking to make the postseason for the second consecutive season, can they still be competitive enough to content in a transition year?

Let’s take a look at the numbers of three players to find answers – Tyrod Taylor, Kyle Orton – the previous starter and A.J. McCarron, the most recently signed quarterback.

First their raw numbers, per Pro Football Focus:

Tyrod Taylor: 529 dropbacks, 269/436 (61.7%) for 3023 yards, 17 TDs and 6 INTs. 89.7 passer rating.

Kyle Orton: 484 dropbacks, 286/446 (64.1%) for 3016 yards, 18 TDs and 10 INTs. 87.8 passer rating.

A.J. McCarron: 186 dropbacks, 102/160 (63.8%) for 1066 yards, 7 TDs and 3 INTs, 89.7 passer rating.

tyrod taylor, buffalo bills, nfl

Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Few quick notes:

  • I used 2016 Taylor’s stats for a pair of reasons. In 2015, he put up his best numbers in his first year as the starter and in 2017 his worst numbers with an offensive coordinator that clearly could never adjust his scheme to take advantage of Taylor’s strengths. It was fair to utilize the balanced 2016 numbers as a parameter in my opinion.
  • 2014 was Kyle Orton’s only season with Buffalo and he finished with a 9-7 record, just like last year.
  • Making a McCarron projection to elevate his attempts to Tyrod’s and Orton’s level, I got a stat line of 502 dropbacks, 275/432 (63.6%) for 2878 yards, 19TDs and 8 INTs – pretty similar to his counterparts.

Looking at their stats we can see a lot of similarities despite different playing styles. It somewhat surprised me since I thought Orton’s passing volume would blow away Taylor’s, so I felt the need to dive deeper into their numbers and found interesting things. Orton, the more natural pocket passer, produced 251.5 passing yards-per-game, against Taylor’s 201.5, but averaged 38.7 rushing yards-per-game while Orton managed just 1.2.

Orton had the more dominant defense on his side, a unit that led the league in sacks and fewest passing TDs allowed, and was ranked Top-5 in several others important statistics like total yards, passing yards, takeaways, points allowed per game and first downs allowed.

Taylor never had a defense playing anywhere near this level, but on the other hand, the Bills finished #1, #1 and #6 in the rushing offense rankings during the three-year Taylor tenure as the starting QB. Orton had a struggling #25 ranked rushing offense on his side, not making his life any easier, but we can’t ignore the quarterbacks impact in this area too. Taylor surely helped the running game more than Orton, while both had few to no existent impact on how their defenses performed. For comparison, McCarron’s 2015 season fits right in the middle of this scenario, having had a solid rushing offense (18 rush TDs, tied 4th in the league) and a very good defense (17.4 PPG, ranked 2nd in the league) helping him.

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With all those stats on the books, I  decided to look at the Pro Football Focus ratings on those players and the biggest discrepancy appeared. PFF’s system loves Tyrod Taylor and despite very similar stats, hates Kyle Orton. Taylor received a +5.8 overall raw grade (raw grade then converted to their 0-100 scale) in 2016 and it was his lowest rating in his three seasons with the Bills. Orton received a poor -17.5 (!) overall grade in 2014. It really surprised me and I asked some questions to PFF’s Ian Wolf and Austin Gayle. Here’s what’s Gayle had to say about the topic:

In a nutshell, our 0-100 Player Grades take a closer look at what actually happened rather than the statistical results or box score production. The easiest way for us to see this is in his grade distribution. Tyrod’s frequency of big-time throws and turnover-worthy plays was much better than Orton’s, but not all of Orton’s turnover-worthy plays actually resulted in turnovers. Orton had more than twice as many turnover-worthy plays in 2014 at more than twice the rate of Taylor in 2017. Orton put the ball in harm’s way A LOT, while Taylor was a much better decision-maker and safer with the football. Austin Gayle – PFF’s Membership Manager

After reading this, it became easier to understand Tyrod made the bigger plays, sometimes taking advantage of his elite mobility to buy time in or outside the pocket while taking care of the football and avoiding to thrown turnover-risky passes. Orton, with more of a gunslinger mentality, trusted his WRs more, sometimes way too much, risking more turnovers.

He took more chances consistently but lacked Tyrod’s mobility and arm strength to make the big plays at the same rate. On the eye test he surely looked like the most advanced passer, but despite being able to throw with more anticipation, the risks he took summed up to his lack of physical traits made his playing style more dangerous and less successful than Tyrod’s. Bigger risk with lesser reward.

Josh Allen’s potential outweighs Tyrod Taylor’s ceiling

Taking into the account all this research, I have an answer to our question. No, the Bills will not be better without Tyrod Taylor in 2018. He offered a solid and reliable floor to the QB position and I don’t believe McCarron or Peterman can replicate that. Both, like Kyle Orton, probably are going to take more chances on intermediate passes but they lack the mobility and arm strength Tyrod has to create big plays and surely aren’t going to take care of the ball like TT does. The turnover numbers tends to go up and being put in a worst situation, the defense will need to look a lot more like the dominant 2014 version than last season’s opportunistic bend-but-not-break one.

With those guys under center, we can also expect more problems to the rushing attack, since Taylor was a big part of the success of the offense at this department. Defenses were afraid of his rushing ability and the split second they hesitated to recognize if Tyrod was keeping the ball on a zone-read, option or play-action play was enough to open up big rushing lanes for LeSean McCoy.

The only way the Bills can be better without Tyrod Taylor this season is if Josh Allen impresses early and is ready to play before everyone expects. Allen isn’t fast as Taylor, but he has the size and mobility to be a threat on the ground, especially in the red-zone. He has the arm talent to make the big plays and all the tools to be a top-notch QB in the league. But it’s very unrealistic and unfair to expect a raw rookie coming to the NFL with good decision making to avoid costly mistakes. Allen will need time, playing early or not and it doesn’t helps the 2018 team’s record.

Assuming McCarron starts early, the offense will be more balanced and a new breathe to Bills fans tired of the ultra-conservative playing style of the previous starter, but unfortunately this doesn’t mean this offense will be better. With the probable improvement on the defensive side and a new creative, run-first mentality OC in Brian Daboll, Tyrod would have everything in place to led the team back to the playoffs this season.

But the Bills brass have bigger plans than failing short in the playoffs and to become a Super Bowl caliber team they need more than what Tyrod could offer. They made the decision to move on even if it costs their chances in the 2018 season and hopefully Allen will be ready sooner rather than later to make “the process” successful.