Tyrod Taylor is in some elite company when it comes to running the football.
The Buffalo Bills’ quarterback is third in the NFL in both rushing attempts and yards at his position, trailing only Carolina’s Cam Newton and Seattle’s Russell Wilson.
Taylor has carried the ball 94 times for 517 yards in 13 games this season, averaging 39.8 rushing yards per game. Newton is the only quarterback to average more per game, with 126 rushes for 626 yards in 15 starts – an average of 41.7 yards per game.
Wilson has rushed 98 times for 541 yards in 15 starts.
Taylor’s running ability has helped give the Bills the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL, but it’s come at a price. The sprained knee that knocked him out for two games in the middle of the season – both Buffalo losses – came at the end of a rushing attempt.
Every time Taylor takes off – whether it’s a designed run or scramble – has got to give offensive coordinator Greg Roman an additional grey hair.
“You got to protect yourself,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said. “That’s running out of bounds, sliding and all that. There were times where … you could tell, the competitor in him, he’s going to try and get the first, but he’s more valuable to us than that. So I think he needs to understand that, I need to tell him.”
It is indeed a balancing act for the Bills. Directing Taylor not to run takes away one of the things he does best and hurts the offense. But subjecting him to the amount of hits he took during Sunday’s 16-6 win over the Dallas Cowboys at Ralph Wilson Stadium greatly increases Taylor’s risk of injury.
“We don’t want to major with our quarterback being our leading ball carrier. We get that,” Ryan said, “but at the same time you don’t want to limit him too much to where he is not a threat to carry the football. I know how hard it is to defend against a running quarterback and I think you always want to have that ability.”
Taylor carried the ball a season-high 14 times for 67 yards against the Cowboys, a number of attempts Ryan said was too high. In the process, he set the Bills’ single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback, breaking the mark of 476 by Doug Flutie in 1999. In Week 15 against Washington, Taylor set the Bills’ single-game record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 79, topping the 76 he had against the Titans.
No play better illustrates what Taylor can do with his feet than a third-down play in the fourth quarter. With the Bills protecting a 9-6 lead, the offense faced third and 6 from the Bills’ 12-yard line with just 5ø minutes to play. Taylor spun to his left to avoid the first wave of pressure, stepped back up into the pocket to elude Cowboys pass rusher Greg Hardy, got past Tyrone Crawford’s attempted tackle and then outraced cornerback Terrance Mitchell to the first-down marker.
It’s a play maybe only Newton and Wilson can make.
“That’s what you never want to lose,” Ryan said. “Quite honestly, I think that play” is “one of the reasons we won the game. It was a huge play at that time of the game.”
The Bills went on to score a much-needed touchdown after Taylor extended the drive.
“You never want to take that out of his game because that will take away from really some of the special things that he can do,” Ryan said. “Maybe we don’t want to have quite as many quarterback runs, but on the scrambles, for sure, he’s got to sometimes throw it away, sometimes take what you can get. Protect yourself.”
Ryan has made it clear Taylor is the unquestioned starter looking ahead to next season, and therefore knows his best chance to win comes with keeping him upright.
“We want him to be the long-term solution at the spot, so he’s got to learn to protect himself and understand that we need him to be that,” Ryan said.