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10 Nov 2016

Film Room: Tyrod Taylor

by Cian Fahey

Tyrod Taylor has to prove himself again.

It has been the hallmark of his career to this point. When the Baltimore Ravens selected him in the sixth round of the 2011 draft, he wasn't promised a roster spot. Taylor had to beat out Hunter Cantwell directly, and the potential return of Marc Bulger indirectly, during his first NFL training camp. He managed to win that competition and fended off other competitors over the course of his rookie contract in Baltimore. When Taylor left the Ravens, he was again dropped into a competition for a roster spot, but this time he had an opportunity to also earn a starting job. Taylor beat out EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel to become the full-time starter of the Buffalo Bills in 2015.

Twelve months later, Taylor signed a contract extension. That should have been the culmination of his work. That should have changed his career so that he was no longer entering every season fighting for his spot. It didn't though. It wasn't really a contract extension -- it was more like a trade. The Bills traded Taylor a $7 million pay raise in 2016, while Taylor traded the Bills the option to keep him at a cut price for six seasons. If the Bills decide they don't want to keep him, they can release him after the 2016 season without paying him anything more than what he has already earned. Taylor got more short-term security but he sacrificed his chance at hitting free agency as a prize. The only way he hits free agency now is if the Bills don't deem him worthy of their starting job.

Over the first month of the season, it looked like Taylor's hedging was a smart move. He endured major accuracy issues and the Bills passing game suffered because of him. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman was fired after Week 2. By Week 4, Taylor was averaging 6.6 yards per attempt and had thrown for four touchdowns with two interceptions. He had thrown for less than 120 yards in two games, and three of his touchdowns came in one outing, a loss to the New York Jets in Week 2. Taylor wasn't completely to blame, but he was a hindrance more than he was a help.

While the numbers haven't changed dramatically, Taylor's performances pivoted after Week 4. He stopped missing open receivers with the same consistency, and he wasn't making bad decisions as often or forcing receivers to constantly (unnecessarily) adjust at the catch point. Taylor went from holding his teammates back to elevating them. He covered for blown blocks, created time for his receivers to get open, and threw the ball with much greater precision.

His peak performance of the year came on Monday night against the Seahawks in Seattle.

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Taylor ran for a touchdown on the Bills' first snap of the game. It was a read-option run where he was able to beat the linebacker to the outside for an easy score. Early on the second drive of the game, Taylor made a more difficult play to convert a third-and-5. Cliff Avril is a major problem. The Bills found that out late in this game, but his ability to disrupt an offense on every drive is a constant reminder for those who take their eyes off the ball.

On this play, Avril easily sweeps past Jordan Mills' inside shoulder. Avril essentially gets a clean run at Taylor in the pocket. Because of how fast Avril gets penetration, Taylor has no time to spare with his process in the pocket.

Taylor's first read is on the opposite side of the field from where Avril is coming. Taylor has two curl routes, an 8-yard curl and a 15-yarder. The 8-yard curl begins from the slot and is where Taylor wants to go with the ball initially. However, the outside linebacker to that side of the field doesn't follow through with his threat to blitz. That leaves him in position to pick off any throw that Taylor makes towards that curl route. Taylor recognizes this as he is dropping back, and he does it so quickly that he turns his eyes towards the middle of the field in time to see Avril.

Recognizing the coverage and reacting instantly saved Taylor from a sack and a potential fumble with Avril coming from his blind side. Or rather, it gave him the opportunity to avoid the sack.

Even after locating the arriving defensive end, Taylor needs to use his quick feet and acceleration to make his escape. Importantly, Taylor drops his eyes and squares to the defender before making a sharp movement at the last possible moment. This gives Avril less time to react and prevents him from changing direction as Taylor leaves the pocket past his outside shoulder.

As soon as Taylor breaks the pocket, his eyes return to the coverage downfield. This is a reflection of his poise. Taylor hasn't panicked. He understands that he gives himself a better chance of getting a first down if he doesn't ignore his options downfield. Eye level is a typical issue for athletic quarterbacks because they know they can create yards running. Taylor has never had that problem. He has always been comfortable enough and smart enough to prioritize passing the ball over running.

His poise and athleticism set him up to throw the ball to Marquise Goodwin on the right sideline. Goodwin had found a soft spot in the Seahawks' Cover-3 defense and was given even more space when the linebackers were drawn to Taylor once he broke the pocket.

Taylor runs himself into sacks on occasion. He's far from perfect in that regard. However, his negative plays are overshadowed by the consistency of his positive plays. A lot of pocket presence is about finding a balance between knowing when to get rid of the ball and knowing when to hold it. On this drive, Taylor followed up his initial third-down conversion with one play that showed off his patience, and another that showed off his sharpness.

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A few plays after his initial third down conversion, Taylor faced a third-and-10. The play began with excellent pass protection. The Bills kept six blockers in and the Seahawks only rushed four defenders after the quarterback. Taylor understood this and felt the space he was given in the pocket. That allowed him to wait for his receiver to come open before connecting with him for a 13-yard gain and a first down.

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It's difficult for defenses to play man coverage across the board against Taylor, even in the red zone. With his athleticism and elusiveness, you don't want all of your second-level defenders taking their eyes away from the quarterback to focus on the receivers. Taylor knows this. Therefore, he expects zone coverage or for teams to spy him with a linebacker or safety. That information helped him diagnose the defense in the red zone on this play. Before the ball is snapped, the Seahawks are showing man coverage across the board. The alignment of both safeties tips that it's man coverage. Both are outside the tackle box, each in position to drop zones or drop down to cover a receiver one-on-one. Taylor needs to figure out which linebacker underneath is responsible for him. He initially looks to the left and sees the linebacker take his tight end while the safety drops behind the receivers.

Taylor knows that he can't throw the ball to that side of the field immediately. That brings him back to the right slot, where the linebacker had initially lined up inside the receiver with the safety to that side directly in line with the slot receiver. The linebacker's eyes are always on Taylor, so the quarterback knows he can throw the ball.

Had the linebacker focused on the receiver, Taylor would have quickly switched to his third option on the play: scrambling. He would have easily run in a touchdown in that scenario.

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Taylor was able to repeatedly convert third downs while showing off different elements of his skill set. His ability to remain calm and function in unfavorable situations, behind the down-and-distance, remains one of his greatest strengths. His arm talent also allows him to throw on the run and attack tighter windows when he needs to. From a skill set point of view, Taylor is clearly one of the better starting quarterbacks in the NFL. His problem remains consistency.

If Taylor's season continues to go in the direction it has been over the last month, the Bills will have no decision to make in the offseason. He will represent great value as their starting quarterback in 2017 and beyond. If his accuracy becomes problematic again, that is when the Bills will have to make a difficult decision. With a top-20 pick in the draft, would there be a quarterback who would not only be cheaper but possibly better than Taylor?

That's a question for another day.

For now, Taylor is doing what he can do. He's again proving himself and doing so without Sammy Watkins -- doing so with an improving offensive line and a still effective LeSean McCoy, but not in a situation that is capable of carrying him.

Posted by: Cian Fahey on 10 Nov 2016

5 comments, Last at 11 Nov 2016, 9:28am by Aaron Brooks Good Twin

Comments

1
by gomer_rs :: Thu, 11/10/2016 - 4:51pm

The person the Bills need to hire is Darrel Bevell. As much as I dislike Bevell sometimes, the Bills need an OC/HC that is 100% willing to build around Taylor rather than someone who will ask Taylor to drop for 30-40 passes a game.
_______

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

2
by commissionerleaf :: Thu, 11/10/2016 - 5:11pm

I hear Norv Turner is available.

3
by gomer_rs :: Fri, 11/11/2016 - 12:55am

"I believe it is, how do you ruin a Quarterbacks most productive years, Alex."
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I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

4
by Mike B. In Va :: Fri, 11/11/2016 - 8:26am

I actually agree - I wished they had interviewed him when they hired Rex.

Having said that, Lynn seems *very* serious about building an offense around Taylor's strengths. This will be the second straight season that the offense is good enough to win and the defense isn't, so it may cost Ryan his job.

I have me doubts about Taylor, but he seems to be growing despite the fact that he's throwing to a bunch of nobodies.

5
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 11/11/2016 - 9:28am

He has experience with an occasionally over-rated D, decent RBs, nobody receivers, and an occasionally sieve-like O-line. His years at VT were basically a carbon copy of that.