After watching Jason Taylor wreak havoc on his offense last Sunday, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise of the Miami Dolphins' All-Pro defensive end.
"He's the best player we've played against all year," Belichick said following the Dolphins' 21-0 win. "We haven't played against everyone, so I can't speak to if he is the best overall. . . . He makes plays every week. Everyone is looking for him, but he continues to make big plays and cause turnovers."
Taylor may not be the best player in the NFL, but with apologies to San Diego's Shawne Merriman, there is no one playing better on defense this season.
Taylor is third in the NFL with 11 1/2 sacks, the fifth time in his career and second straight season he has reached double figures in sacks. He leads the league with eight forced fumbles and ranks second on the Dolphins with 10 passes defended and 10 quarterback hurries. He also has two interceptions that he returned for touchdowns.
Belichick's high opinion of Taylor was justified after he made six tackles, knocked down Patriots quarterback Tom Brady three times, sacked him once to force a fumble and added one pass deflection.
Taylor has terrorized opposing offenses throughout his 10-year career. But at an age when players begin to decline, the 32-year-old Taylor is playing his best football right now.
"I think I'm doing some good things, and there are some things I need to work on still," Taylor said. "I feel like I am doing a good job of turning the ball over, trying to get the ball out, forcing turnovers and negative plays for the offense. My whole idea to go out on a Sunday is to be a pain in the butt for the other team. If I can be a pain in their butt and give somebody a headache, then more times than not, it's going to work out well for myself. But at the end of the day if I'm helping my team win games and making plays, then I'm happy."
The 6-foot-6 Taylor is listed at 255 pounds, but he reportedly played at 237 pounds against New England. Despite being undersized, Taylor has been remarkably durable, starting 111 consecutive games since 1999.
What Taylor lacks in size he makes up with an abundance of athletic ability and desire. He gets off the ball as quickly as any defensive end in the league and uses his long arms to keep blockers off his body. An underrated run defender, he plays with good strength and leverage.
The Buffalo Bills know they must handle Taylor to be successful Sunday. But they will have to find him first.
Taylor was strictly a defensive end in the Dolphins' old 4-3 defense. But in coach Nick Saban's 3-4 scheme, Taylor plays right and left end, both outside linebacker spots and inside 'backer in some situations. He has learned to play in pass coverage, but it's his talent for rushing the quarterback from multiple positions that concerns the Bills.
"He does create problems," Bills offensive line coach Jim McNally said. "We not only have to know where he is, but how we block him."
Taylor has taken down 55 different quarterbacks on his way to a franchise record 104 career sacks. That includes 15 sacks against five Buffalo Bills quarterbacks.
But he's failed to get J.P. Losman in two games against him. Losman hopes that doesn't change Sunday.
"He's probably the one guy in the league where you're going to have to focus your attention to and set the protections to him," Losman said. "He's definitely a presence that we're going to have to know where he is on every play."
Because offenses build their game plans around trying to stop Taylor, the Dolphins counter that by moving him around. He keeps opponents guessing by shifting from one spot to another before the snap.
Taylor was all over the field against the Patriots last week. He took 37 snaps at right end, six each at left end, right outside linebacker and left outside linebacker, and two other plays at inside linebacker.
"We've tried to do that a little bit so it makes it a little bit harder to locate where he is," Saban said. "He's a good enough athlete and has enough linebacker attributes that he's not out of place on those kinds of things. I think this year after being in this system and doing a little more dropping and understanding a little bit about coverage, he feels a lot more comfortable doing it and he's done a real good job for us."
There are several good candidates for the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher, Denver cornerback Champ Bailey and Merriman are among the leading candidates.
But if Taylor keeps playing the way he has, he could find himself at the top of the list.
"It would be a great compliment as a personal accolade I would share with my team because you don't do it by yourself," he said. "[But] I would trade all this [stuff] in to have a chance to play in January. I really would. You can have it all."
The Taylor tally
Sacks / yards 11. 5/6 2
Int./yards 2/7 1
Passes defended 10
Fumbles forced 8
Fumbles recovered 1