You’re never quite sure what to believe when Rex Ryan is talking, but his agenda is usually clear. He’s a smooth operator, that Rex. He relishes the opportunity to slip self-serving statements into his news conferences, comments that come off like jokes but carry an element of truth.
Ryan made a point Sunday to compliment fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman after the Bills’ 33-18 victory over the Cardinals. But it sure sounded like he took a veiled poke at his former assistant coach, whom Ryan called a “tremendous coach,” when he was asked about using Tyrod Taylor’s athleticism.
“I just think if you don’t use it, it’s a mistake,” Ryan said. “We’ve got to use it. It’s something that we have that’s unique about our football team. We have a guy that’s the fastest quarterback in the league.”
The Bills deserve all the credit for their lopsided win over the Cardinals, supposedly one of the premier teams in the NFC. Buffalo showed up ready to play and grabbed a 17-0 lead. The defense made life miserable for Carson Palmer, who figured to waltz into New Era Field and pick up where Ryan Fitzpatrick left off.
Buffalo ran the ball effectively – “We were creative in some of the things we did,” Ryan said, another perceived shot at Roman – for the first time this season. They scored a touchdown on special teams and picked off Palmer four times. They also slowed Ryan’s trail to the chopping block.
As ridiculous as it sounded at the time, Ryan was right. The Cardinals were precisely the opponent the Bills needed to emerge from the misery of an 0-2 start. They won a game most expected them to lose. We’ll see how the season unfolds, but the Bills showed flashes of how they can be effective.
New offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, in his first game calling the plays, removed the harness from Taylor and turned him loose. Taylor had a 49-yard run in the first quarter, a franchise-record for a quarterback, and a 24-yard scramble for a touchdown in the third quarter.
He was the better quarterback Sunday, thanks mostly to his offensive line and the Bills’ defense. Palmer threw for 287 yards and didn’t toss a touchdown pass for only the fourth time since joining the Cards in 2013. Buffalo contained him in the pocket and sacked him five times.
Taylor was pedestrian in the passing game – 14 of 25 passing for 119 yards and one interception – but the Bills didn’t need him to win with his arm. He picked up 76 yards with his legs. The long run was a read-option play that was designed to use Taylor’s speed and put pressure on the defense.
“I was able to use my legs,” Taylor said. “Certain teams are going to give you those opportunities going into the weekend, and you know that. But that’s not going to be the formula every week.”
The Bills are the only team in the NFL with a quarterback who plays with the elusiveness of Taylor. They rolled the dice with him when they signed him to a six-year contract extension worth $90 million. The contract includes escape clauses, but they also took a gamble on his health.
Everyone understands the risks involved. Taylor is a dangerous player who puts himself in danger. The more he runs around, the more susceptible he is to injury. He missed four games last season with knee and shoulder injuries. His slight frame wasn’t made to absorb the punishment that comes with his position.
But the Bills don’t have many options. He’s ordinary when taking five- and seven-step drops. He’s not going to pick apart many teams.
In the first two games, it seemed Roman was trying to reinvent Taylor in an effort to preserve him. If the Bills are going to win this season, they need their quarterback playing to his strengths.
“Why wouldn’t you use the players you have to the best of their abilities?” LeSean McCoy said. “Tyrod, one of the things he can do, he can run the ball. He’s like a running back playing quarterback, so why wouldn’t you use his legs? That’s what makes him a special player.”
It doesn’t mean the Bills should install the triple option. Taylor is among the best deep passers in the NFL. He connected on two long touchdown passes against the Jets. The only play worth remembering against the Ravens was Taylor at his best, twisting and turning and finding Charles Clay for 33 yards on a broken play.
Taylor was salivating in the first quarter when he faked a pitch, cut inside the defensive end and found a clear path down the sideline. Last year, he likely would have made another move as the defense closed on him, but he wisely stepped out of bounds Sunday. The Bills settled for a field goal.
On the first series in the third quarter, Taylor caught the Cardinals in man coverage and nobody spying him. He bolted into the open field and danced into the end zone for a 23-7 lead. The touchdown all but crushed any fantasies the Cardinals had about coming back from a 17-7 halftime deficit.
Taylor effectively removed the pressure from himself and his head coach. It could return if the Bills stumble next weekend at New England or if they continue to struggle this season. You can count on Ryan shooting off his mouth and having it backfire. He couldn’t resist the urge Sunday in his comments about Taylor.
“I know how difficult it is to defend against a running quarterback,” Ryan said. “We have to be ready in case (Julian) Edelman is the quarterback, right? I have a funny feeling he’s not going to be (Tom) Brady back there.”
It sounded like Rex was kidding, but you never know with him. As usual, there was an element of truth.