At least once a game, Tyrod Taylor eludes what looks to be a sure sack in some magical way.
The Buffalo Bills’ quarterback can get out of trouble in a way that must leave defenders asking, “how did I miss him?”
Given that escapability, it comes as a surprise that the Bills rank 31st in the NFL in sacks per pass attempt. Buffalo has given up a sack on 9.7 percent of its passing attempts, which is better than only the 0-12 Cleveland Browns, who are getting sacked every 10.2 percent of the time. Taylor has taken 30 of Buffalo’s 31 sacks, the fourth-highest total in the league behind the Colts’ Andrew Luck (35), Bengals’ Andy Dalton (32) and Cardinals’ Carson Palmer (32).
Taylor has been sacked 12 times in the last three games, including five in a 28-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
“I was disappointed in our protection,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said Monday after reviewing film of the game. “Obviously they had five sacks in the game and pressured us a lot.”
Of course, not all sacks are created equal. Certainly, the offensive line is to blame for some. But other times it could be the quarterback holding the ball too long, a running back blowing a block, or wide receivers not getting open, leading to “coverage” sacks.
The analytics website Pro Football Focus assigns responsibility for sacks. It has blamed Taylor for 12 of the 30 he’s taken this year. That’s double the amount of any other quarterback in the NFL. Taylor has had an average time to throw of 3.01 seconds this season, which leads the league. That speaks highly of the job being done by the line, and poorly of either Taylor for not throwing the ball sooner to open receivers – or the receivers themselves for not getting open.
Additionally, PFF has charged the Bills’ offensive line with only 11 sacks – which ranks eighth best in the league – and 124 total pressures, which is 14th.
Here’s a look at each of the five sacks against Jacksonville, and an attempt at assigning responsibility, keeping in mind that it’s impossible to know what every player’s job is on a specific play without knowing the call.
• First quarter, 7:04 remaining, third and 4 from the Bills’ 30-yard line: This can be called a coverage sack. Taylor hangs in the pocket with his eyes down field, then drifts right and back left before taking off and being forced out of bounds for a 2-yard loss. There simply wasn’t anyone open on the play until the very end, when Marquise Goodwin got some separation. By that point, though, Taylor was running for his life.
• First quarter, 3:18 remaining, third and 7 from the Bills’ 17-yard line: This one’s on left tackle Cordy Glenn, who gets beaten around the edge by Jaguars rookie Yannick Ngakoue.
• Second quarter, 11:18 remaining, second and 12 at the Bills’ 38-yard line. Taylor faked a handoff to LeSean McCoy, but didn’t have much time as Jacksonville’s Malik Jackson looped around John Miller.
• Second quarter, 4:48 remaining, 1st and 18 at the Bills’ 34-yard line. Taylor bails out of the pocket early on this play. Although no receivers appear to be open, the pocket was clean and there was time for Taylor to let things unfold. Instead, he tucked the ball and ran.
• Third quarter, 8:00 remaining, third and 2 at the Bills’ 33-yard line. This looks like another coverage sack. Taylor hangs in the pocket as long as he can with his eyes downfield, but eventually is forced to scramble left and goes out of bounds for a 2-yard loss.
Ryan was asked Monday if there are times Taylor bails from the pocket too soon instead of letting the play develop.
“I think Tyrod’s got a great feel for the protection,” the coach said. “He can sense it. Most of your really good quarterbacks have that feel. I think he knows when to escape and when to stay in there.”
Ryan also commended Taylor on how the quarterback looks down field as he drops back, instead of at the rush.
“He feels it and … if he has to escape, that’s what he does,” he said. “I’m pleased with the way Tyrod handles it.”
Would the Bills’ passing attack benefit if Taylor hung in the pocket a tick longer to try and get the ball down field more? That’s almost certainly the case, although it could come at a price. The longer Taylor hangs in the pocket or the more contested throws he makes, the likelihood of a turnover – either an interception or sack-fumble – increases.
That’s clearly something Ryan wants to avoid.
“Something we don’t talk about is how we protect the football,” he said. “I think it’s an NFL record now, through 11 games, the least amount of turnovers (six). That bodes well for us. I know our record is not great right now, 6-5, but, if you continue to play like this and we’re able to get some turnovers on defense, I think that’s obviously how you win in this league.
“So as much as Tyrod will maybe escape the pocket or whatever, we still protect the football. Sometimes that doesn’t happen with mobile quarterbacks.”