On Wednesday, the Buffalo Bills announced they had decided to bench starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor in favor of fifth-round rookie Nathan Peterman. It’s a surprise move given the Bills have a winning 5-4 record and are in the hunt for the playoffs. On the season, Taylor has completed 64 percent of his passes for 1684 yards, 10 touchdowns, and just three interceptions. He’s also contributed 237 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.
The Bills are undoubtedly hurting after an embarrassing 47-10 home loss to the Saints last weekend, but Taylor isn’t the one to blame for that performance. Sure, his stats for the game look bad, completing nine of 18 passes for just 56 yards and one interception. But Taylor actually didn’t do a lot wrong in the game. For large portions of the game, he had nobody open to throw to.
Here, the Bills run a concept many know as ‘hoss’, meaning hitches outside, slot seams. It’s a scheme that can be very effective against cover-three, trying to bait the outside corners with deep coverage responsibilities into biting up on the outside hitches. However, in this game, the Saints ran a lot of Tampa-2 coverage.
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Tampa-2 negates this route combination well. The outside corners cover the hitch routes on the outside, while the safeties and the Mike (middle) linebacker drop to take care of the seam routes from the slot. The Saints even drop a defensive lineman into coverage to cover the underneath hole in the middle of the field, taking away the checkdown option to the tight end. Taylor has nobody to throw to and actually does a good job scrambling to his right to avoid pressure and extend the play, but even after that he still has nobody open.
Taylor’s scrambling ability actually benefited the Bills throughout this game. The offensive line struggled to pick up the different blitzes the Saints sent at them, but Taylor was often able to scramble to bail out his linemen.
On this play, the Bills run a simple double stick concept to the right. The Saints, however, send their slot corner on a blitz off the edge.
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As Taylor looks to his right he spots the slot corner blitzing free off the edge. He thinks about trying to throw the ball, but knows the defender could jump and deflect his pass. So Taylor baits him in and then takes off scrambling to his right, running away from the free rusher and picking up seven yards before stepping out of bounds.
Taylor didn’t get much help from his receivers, either. In the first half, the Bills looked to take a shot down the field.
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The Bills line up in a bunch formation to the left. They send the receiver at the top of the bunch set up the seam. Taylor drops back and checks the rotation of the safety in the middle of the field. The deep safety stays put, so Taylor knows he has his receiver running deep. He quickly works to his left and pulls the trigger. The throw takes the receiver away from the deep safety and is thrown perfectly over the corner in coverage, but his receiver fails to hang on and the ball ends up incomplete.
The interception Taylor threw wasn’t on him either.
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Taylor drops back and looks to hit his tight end underneath. There’s nothing wrong with the throw, but the tight end bobbles the pass and ends up tipping it up in the air for the Saints to intercept and complete the turnover.
The main criticism I’ve seen of Taylor this season is that he’s missed too many open receivers down the field. As we’ve already seen, in this game, certainly, the Bills struggled to get many receivers open down the field, and when they did, the receiver dropped the pass. But there was one play in the second half on which Taylor did perhaps miss an opportunity.
Here, the Bills combine a post route from the outside with an out-and-up from the slot. The post route is designed to draw the attention of the safety inside, leaving the out-and-up wide open down the sideline.
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As Taylor reaches the top of his drop, he feels pressure coming off the edge and starts to step up in the pocket. Taylor could have perhaps taken a hitch step or two to step up away from the edge rushers, but then reset in the pocket. Instead, Taylor sees a running lane and begins to scramble, thus never seeing the wide open out-and-up.
However, the Bills came back to that very same look on the next series.
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Like before, Taylor feels the pressure off the edge as he reaches the top of his drop, but this time he stays in the pocket while taking a couple of hitch steps to allow his tackles to run the edge defenders by him. He waits for the out-and-up route to develop and, just as he releases his pass, Taylor gets hit by a defensive lineman. That causes Taylor’s throw to just miss the receiver by a couple of feet.
I don’t believe Tyrod Taylor deserved to be benched. Yes, the Bills’ offense did struggle against the Saints, but those struggles weren’t his fault. It took far too long for the Bills to catch on to the coverages the Saints were running, and to find route combinations that could exploit those coverages. When Peterman entered the game for Taylor late in the fourth quarter, one of his first plays was a dagger concept, a good idea against Tampa-2.
The dagger concept asks the slot receiver to run straight up the seam, while the outside receiver runs a deep dig route. The seam route is designed to vacate space behind it for the dig on the outside. The Saints run Tampa-2 again, with the deep safety and the Mike linebacker both working to stay on top of the seam route from the slot. That clears plenty of space for Kelvin Benjamin’s dig route from the outside. Peterman makes a good throw, but it’s the first time in the game the Bills ran that concept, despite the Saints using Tampa-2 coverage throughout the contest.
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If the Bills had perhaps called more Tampa-2-beating concepts and had better protection up front, then Taylor might have had a better chance to succeed. Instead, they struggled, and Taylor is now the one forced to take the blame for the loss, despite the defense giving up 298 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns at 6.2 yards per carry.