LOS ANGELES – Rex Ryan went to great lengths after Sunday’s win to affirm his faith in Tyrod Taylor. He said Taylor had a good game, which was true if you consider it a successful outing when a modern NFL quarterback throws for 124 yards and completes one pass of at least 10 yards to a wide receiver.
“Well, there’s a couple of things, a couple of issues with everything out there,” Ryan said after the Bills’ 30-19 win over the Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum. “But I believe he is a franchise quarterback. We’ll see moving forward. I’m confident. I can tell you that much.
“There isn’t anybody in our locker room who doesn’t believe in Tyrod,” he said, “and, as a matter of fact, EJ Manuel. So we think we’re in good shape.”
Well, I hate to rain on anyone’s parade, especially during hurricane season. That was a nice team win, a gut-wrenching test of survival that gave the Bills their first three-game win streak since 2011 and kept them a game behind the Patriots in the AFC East – and two games clear of the pathetic Dolphins and Jets.
The defense didn’t play the way it had in its two previous wins over Arizona and New England, allowing the Rams to pile up 23 first downs. But they came up with the big stops when they needed to, holding them to four field goals and getting a crucial pick-six from Nickell Robey-Coleman with the score tied at 16.
LeSean McCoy, who said on Wednesday that he was starting to feel like the guy who led the league in rushing three years ago, had his finest game as a Bill, rushing for 154 yards on just 18 carries. The Bills piled up 196 yards rushing, which could fulfill McCoy’s prediction that they would soon be top five in the NFL.
But from my perspective, Taylor did not play very well. He made a couple of fabulous plays with his legs, as he seems to do in every Bills win. He scrambled for a first down on third and 19 on the Bills’ opening possession.
Later in the opening drive, Taylor wriggled out of trouble to find Charles Clay for 29 yards, his only pass of more than 17 yards on the day. He kept a play alive with his legs and found Justin Hunter, playing his first game as a Bill,
for a 4-yard touchdown that finished the opening drive.
Taylor is a difficult player to evaluate, I have to admit. As Ryan said, his contributions don’t always show up on the stat sheet. You sit and marvel at some of his athletic feats. There’s no stat for avoiding sacks or not making dumb throws down the field that get intercepted.
Still, this was yet another game where I came away unconvinced, feeling that while Taylor is a phenomenal athlete and a smart, committed team player, he simply doesn’t fit the model of the modern NFL quarterback. That’s an issue when you’re trying to decide whether to kick in a five-year, $90 million contract.
Taylor finished 12 of 23 passing for 124 yards against an L.A. team that was missing three members of its starting defensive front. Imagine how rough a day he’d have had if those regulars had been playing. He completed five passes to wide receivers for a grand total of 43 yards.
If Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or even a rookie like Dak Prescott had a day like that, the critics would be howling and wondering what had gone wrong with the offense. But in Ryan’s world, it constitutes a good game. Hey, it was also his first three-game winning streak since 2011. So why quibble?
“We’re kind of built old-school,” said left guard Richie Incognito. “We’re built to run it and win. Ground and pound. We’ll win however we have to.”
The prevailing sentiment in NFL circles is that it’s an outdated blueprint, that you can’t win in the league nowadays with a determined running game and a limited passing game. But don’t tell that to Ryan.
“Yeah, Rex loves that,” Incognito said. “That’s why I’m here. Rex loves to ground and pound and that’s why we’re all here.”
They were lucky to get out of L.A. with their third win, though. They grounded and pounded their way to an early 13-3 lead, with McCoy carrying most of the load. Then the offense went to sleep and let the Rams get back in the game.
“They made some adjustments in the second half,” Taylor said. “Some things that we had to out on the sidelines. Hats off to them. They played a great game. It was back and forth for awhile. We were able to move the ball early on in the game. Later in the game, we had to finish those drives. It was a good team victory, but there were definitely some plays we left out there on the field.”
The passing game was uninspiring overall. The offensive line had problems with a weakened Rams defensive front. Taylor didn’t make many throws over the middle of the field (what happened to those slants form a week ago?). The Rams kept him from gaining the edge on a number of scrambles and was solid in coverage.
Ryan was quick to praise Taylor, but he admitted the passing game needs to be better in the future.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Ryan said. “We missed a couple of throws. We had some drops. Tyrod had a good football game. It doesn’t show up statistically, but I thought he had a good game. The protection, we knew it would be a challenge. Those guys ruffled our feathers a little bit. We have to do a better job.”
After taking a 13-3 lead early in the second quarter, the Bills went three-and-out on three of their next four possessions. They ran six and five plays on their two possessions surrounding Robey-Coleman’s game-winning TD and went three-and-out again to give the Rams the ball back, down 23-19, with 4:42 to play.
The Rams’ mediocre offense wasn’t up to the task. They failed on a fake field goal and Taylor hit Marquise Goodwin for a 6-yard insurance TD with 2:37 to play.
Again, it’s a win, one that makes the Bills look like a legitimate playoff contender. But the Bills have to be concerned about Taylor’s continued lack of development as a pocket passer. That was the key to the season, right? Not whether they could sneak by teams with his scrambling ability.
This game was eerily reminiscent of the win over the Cardinals two weeks earlier in Buffalo. In the Arizona game, Taylor was 14-25 for 119 yards. Against the Rams, he was 12-23 for 124 yards. Against the Cards, he completed two passes of more than 10 yards to wideouts. Against L.A., he completed one.
When Ryan talked about a “couple of issues” and praised his “gritty group” of wide receivers, it was clear that he was referring to the absence of Sammy Watkins. The Bills have won three in a row without Watkins, which is a testament to Anthony Lynn’s ability to game plan with a limited offensive arsenal.
But they miss Watkins desperately, and you wonder how far they can go with a marginal cast of wide receivers and an emphasis on the run. It could be a big problem if Taylor doesn’t improve appreciably.
“That’s our recipe of winning,” said Incognito. “That’s what we were built for. Shady’s a talented back. It’s fun blocking for him and that’s our recipe for success right now.”
Sure, but in the long run, if you make hard decisions about franchise quarterbacks based on wins like this, it’s a recipe for failure.