News & Analysis

The statistical case for Tyrod Taylor to remain Buffalo's starting QB

By Sam Monson
Nov 20, 2017

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Nov 19, 2017; Carson, CA, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) looks to pass before the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at StubHub Center. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The decision the Buffalo Bills made to bench starting QB Tyrod Taylor after a couple of sub-par performances ultimately went array, quickly. In fact, Taylor found himself back in the lineup after half time of the Bills game against the Chargers this week, and in a 30-point hole.

Rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman had managed to throw five interceptions in just 25 snaps, only 15 of which were passing plays. Not all of those interceptions were Peterman’s fault, but anytime you’re splitting hairs over how many of the five interceptions were actually on the quarterback or not, things have not gone well.

Peterman ended that game with an overall PFF grade of just 32.0, eight points lower than the worst game Taylor has posted in 39 games starting for Buffalo.

That brings us to the Tyrod Taylor question. In her fantastic piece on the subject, ESPN’s Mina Kimes dives headlong into the enigma that is Tyrod Taylor the quarterback. Despite playing well pretty much since he stumbled into a starting opportunity, Taylor has always had a target on his back from a large section of Bills fans, because he isn’t a conventional NFL quarterback.

In three years of starting for the Bills, Taylor has topped 300 passing yards just once, but he has 16 games with a passer rating of 100.0 or more in the same span, or 41 percent of his games.

Those headline box score numbers encapsulate Tyrod Taylor in a nutshell. He’s not a prolific passer, but he is efficient, and that dynamic simply doesn’t sit well with some people in this era of endless passing and cheap yardage.

Buffalo Bills QB Tyrod Taylor

On the season, Taylor has a turnover worthy play percentage of just 1.07 percent, second-best in the league. He has put the ball in harm’s way less often than Tom Brady has this year. Obviously Brady has made more big plays to offset that, but it’s important to appreciate just how reliable and careful Taylor is with the football, and there was no greater reminder of that than this Sunday.

On 25 plays, Peterman had a TWP percentage of 12.5, and actually has the same number of total TWPs as Taylor has all season in just one half of football.

In effect, Taylor is the ultimate game manager at the quarterback position, but unlike most of those players, he has an extra dimension to his game, the ability to make plays with his legs. Since becoming starter in Buffalo, Taylor has 1,416 rushing yards, but 999 of them have been on passing plays, taking off from the pocket and scrambling for positive yardage.

This trait is a delicate balance, because any time a quarterback abandons the pocket he is potentially leaving a big passing play on the table, but Taylor accounts for an additional thousand yards as a starter than he gets credit for as a passer in most people’s eyes. He has scrambled for positive yardage 127 times over the past two and a half years, breaking 40 tackles on those plays.

This is part of the reason that Taylor grades significantly higher than he appears in box score numbers at PFF, where his play is broken down play by play compared with the rest of the league.

Buffalo Bills QB Tyrod Taylor

Taylor has graded in the top 15 in each of the past three seasons, never posting a grade lower than 83.2 over a season. To put that into some context, Ben Roethlisberger, and an Alex Smith in the midst of a career-year are two quarterbacks currently with an overall PFF grade of 83.0.

He definitely has limitations as a passer, and isn’t as accurate or as aggressive as you would like to see, but not being a great quarterback doesn’t mean you aren’t a good one. Despite holding the ball longer than any other quarterback on average (Taylor averaged 3.11 seconds per play this season, one of just three passers over three seconds), he has a passer rating of 90.0 on plays that take 2.6 seconds or longer, and has thrown six touchdowns on those plays compared to just two picks.

This season, Taylor also showed that he could succeed in an offense that wasn’t built around his unique skillset. The Bills under their current regime haven’t run the exotic option looks or run/pass options (RPOs) they did over the past couple of years, and yet Taylor continued to grade well and be efficient.

When the defense was playing well, the team was winning games. As soon as that defense began to get gashed, Taylor isn’t the quarterback that can overcome opposing offenses in a shootout, but that’s like replacing your air conditioning unit because it can’t keep your house cool when the back wall collapses – not really addressing the root cause of the problem.

As for Peterman, as disastrous as this outing was, his preseason performances were strong and his college grades solid. He was a fifth-round pick that has some tools, but wasn’t the answer to a team struggling to find its best play. Peterman may have more to offer down the line, but he was badly exposed in this debut outing.

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