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Jerry Sullivan's Hot Read: Defense collapses, so Taylor takes the fall

Jerry Sullivan

When Sean McDermott dropped the bombshell Wednesday morning, announcing that Nathan Peterman was replacing Tyrod Taylor as his starting quarterback, my mind flashed back to similar events a little more than a year ago.

Remember that one? One day after seeing his defense torn apart by Ryan Fitzpatrick on a Thursday night, Rex Ryan fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Now, three days after an historic meltdown by his defense, first-year coach McDermott changes quarterbacks.

There are certainly a lot of layers to this move. My feelings on Tyrod Taylor are well-established. I felt McDermott should have cut Taylor when he took the job in January, rather than continue the charade that Taylor might be a franchise QB worthy of a long contract extension.

But the timing, once again, makes McDermott look like a head coach trying to deflect attention from his own area of expertise – the defense. He was facing his first major crisis as a rookie head coach, and when the going got tough, he made it about the offense.

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I'll give him credit for guts. This move will not play well with many of the players in the Bills' locker room – though most will no doubt mouth the company line. Coming on the heels of the Sammy Watkins and Marcell Dareus trades, it's another indication that the new regime is willing to compromise this year's team to build for the future.

"I get that," McDermott said. "I understand that. Really, it's about becoming a better team. That's what we're here for. We are 5-4. I understand that, and we are in the playoff hunt at this point. It is always and forever will be about becoming the best team we can possibly become."

McDermott continued to sing the company song about "winning now" while building for the future. But this one will be harder to sell. Whatever his shortcomings – and they are many – Taylor got them to 5-4. A year ago, he led them to their most points since the first Flutie team.

I asked McDermott what he saw in nine games that wasn't evident when he took the job. At the time, I said I would respect him more if he parted ways with Taylor, because any defensive coordinator could understand Tyrod's limitations and how easy he was for defenses to prepare for.

"Again, this is about becoming a better team," McDermott said. "Tyrod has made improvements. He's made a significant contribution to our team, and I remain confident in Tyrod moving forward. This is not an indictment of Tyrod."

Well, it certainly seems that way. If McDermott believes that Peterman gives him a better chance to win, he must believe that an untested rookie will be better than Taylor at moving the offense with a struggling offensive line and diminished running game.

It's true that Taylor's lack of ability as a pocket passer was hurting the run game, but he was the quarterback when they led the league in rushing the last two years. Kelvin Benjamin was supposed to give him a chance to prove himself, then they pull the plug after one game? Taylor didn't fit Rick Dennison's offense, which required the QB to get the ball out quick. That came as some surprise to them?

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McDermott and Beane have been middling this all along. They've moved out nine first- or second-round draft picks, but insisted they were still looking to win now, and they're sitting in sixth in the AFC. This is a classic case of playing it down the middle. They can make a playoff push while allowing Peterman to audition for next season.

The question is, if they're confident enough in Peterman to stick him in the middle of a playoff chase, might they be giving serious thought to making him the franchise quarterback?

I see Brandon Beane's hand in this. They're looking ahead, as McDermott said. It's not about being 5-4, but winning the Super Bowl some day. So this next draft will be critical, and how Peterman performs as a starter will inform what they do about a quarterback in the next draft. If they believe Peterman is the answer, they can use their draft capital to fill their many other roster holes.

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So there's justification for the move. But the timing is curious. Instead of answering questions about his defense's collapse, and how it suddenly looks a lot like Ryan's defense at its worst, McDermott was talking about a quarterback change.

Beane and McDermott likely made up their minds on Taylor well before this. They probably figured he would be a useful bridge quarterback, a placeholder they could move on from at some point. I suspect they were as surprised as anyone by the 5-2 start. Maybe they were worried that the team would actually make the playoffs with Taylor, complicating the decision about keeping him.

The last two games provided a good excuse to change quarterbacks, while turning people's attention away from the defense's collapse. A classic case of middling it, you have to admit.

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