Tyrod Taylor has shown he’s not afraid to let it fly.
The Buffalo Bills’ quarterback’s willingness – and ability – to take shots down the field in his first 10 career starts has led to several big plays for the offense.
“He’s seeing the top of the coverage really well, he’s trusting our guys and putting it out there for them, and they’re making plays on the ball,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said this week. “He’s definitely hitting all his marks and I doubt there’s anybody out there throwing it deep, better. If there are, they’re probably pretty darn good quarterbacks that have played in this league a long time.”
Taylor’s nine completions of 40-plus yards ranks tied for eighth in the NFL, and as Roman alluded to, the list ahead of him is impressive. Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger leads the league with 15 such completions. Nobody else in the league has more than the 11 of Arizona’s Carson Palmer and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton. Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Eli Manning are among those with 10 such completions.
In other words, pretty exclusive company.
“For a guy that’s playing his first year, that’s pretty good,” Roman said.
Taylor has the luxury of being able to throw deep to a receiver like Sammy Watkins, who’s blessed with the speed to get to just about any pass. But Roman stressed there’s more to it than just the sand-lot call of “go long.”
“I think there’s certain plays you might want to do that,” he said, “but there’s certain plays down the field where you don’t, because the last thing you want is an overthrown ball. You’d rather have an underthrown ball. The receiver can stop and make a play on the ball while the” defensive back’s “momentum is carrying him past the play. … You gotta be real careful about what plays you want to throw as far as you can.”
As a team, the Bills have 10 completions of 40-plus yards, with nine of those coming from Taylor. That team total ranks tied for sixth in the NFL. Led by Roethlisberger, the Steelers have 19 such passes, while Arizona, Cincinnati, Cleveland and San Francisco are in a four-way tie for second place with 11 40-plus completions.
“It’s definitely one of the strengths of my game,” Taylor said of throwing the deep ball. “I think that I’ve shown that I can throw a deep ball, but it’s something to speak for our offense. Big plays are definitely part of our offense and whenever we get a chance to make those plays, we have to be on it.”
They’re not coming from just the passing game, either. The Bills are tied for the league lead with 15 runs of 20-plus yards, so the rushing attack is also providing chunks of yardage. But Taylor’s ability to connect deep is one of the more promising developments on offense this season.
“I think that’s one of the best traits of his that people really don’t look at,” said wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who has been on the receiving end of six of Taylor’s 10 longest completions this season, including the top three. “Yeah, he’s athletic, he can run the ball, but he can throw the deep ball. He can throw it 65 or 70 yards down the field.”
That was on display Sunday against Houston, when Taylor completed a pair of 53-yard completions to Watkins, both of which traveled basically the entire way in the air.
“We’re getting the right looks, and I think now, everybody trusts each other with making plays and going up for the ball and protecting the ball,” Watkins said. “I just tell him ‘throw it as far as you can – I’m going to go get it.’ That’s what he’s been doing. He’s just been looking the safety off, doing great with following through his reads and really just launching the ball, giving us a chance.”
Watkins’ six catches of 39-plus yards accounts for 300 of his 635 receiving yards on the year, nearly half his total.
“We’ve built some chemistry and definitely when he’s one-on-one, in my mind, he’s either going to make the play or he’s going to protect the ball from getting in the defender’s hands,” Taylor said. “I like those odds and he’s done a good job of tracking the ball once it gets in the air.”
The analytics website Pro Football Focus ranks Taylor as the sixth-most accurate quarterback when it comes to deep passing, which it defines as throws that travel at least 20 yards in the air. He is 21 of 47 for 784 yards and two interceptions on such throws, which account for 17.3 percent of all his passes. Two of Taylor’s passes have been dropped, according to PFF, giving him an accuracy percentage of 48.9. That trails only Oakland’s Derek Carr (53.2 percent), Roethlisberger, Brees, Indianapolis’ Matt Hasselbeck and Palmer. Hasselbeck, it should be noted, has only 20 such attempts, while all the rest have at least matched Taylor’s 47.
Taylor’s nine touchdowns on PFF deep passes are tied with Palmer and Seattle’s Russell Wilson for the most in the league. More than a third – 36 percent, to be exact – of Taylor’s 2,171 passing yards have come via the deep ball.
“Guys, I think he’s legit,” coach Rex Ryan said after the Bills beat the Texans. “I think he’s real and I think people are starting to realize that.”