Contradictory perceptions aside, the Buffalo Bills will likely have chances for some big pass plays in Sunday's wild-card playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Yes, that would be the same Bills team whose offense was far from great during the regular season and doesn't exactly have as its calling card the ability to consistently make big plays through the air. In fact, the Bills' passing offense ranked next-to-last in the NFL with an average of 176.6 yards per game.
And, yes, that would be the same Jaguars team whose defense was superb during the regular season and counts among its impressive statistical accomplishments leading the league with fewest passing yards allowed (169.9 per game).
For all of the Jags' gaudy defensive numbers, though, here's one that has no doubt grabbed the Bills' attention during video review this week: they've allowed 12 pass plays of 40-plus yards.
Suffice it to say the Bills will be waiting to pounce on such opportunities.
"I think you have to be patient with your approach," quarterback Tyrod Taylor said Wednesday. "Their defense, you have to be able to take what they give you, but at the same time, be able to take advantage of the big plays with the different coverages that you get."
In many ways, the Jaguars' defense uses the same basic template employed by the Seattle Seahawks, with whom Jags defensive coordinator Todd Wash spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons as a defensive line coach. The Seahawks' defensive philosophy, which coach Pete Carroll has implemented since joining the team in 2010, calls for putting more trust in the skills and athleticism of players and less in the structure of a scheme.
The Jaguars certainly have enough talent in their secondary to take such an approach, although it does create some vulnerability when it comes to leaving large openings for opponents to exploit. As with the Seahawks, one of the Jags' tendencies is to have a cornerback follow an outside wide receiver on a deep route, and allowing the offense to have an uncovered tight end or running back trailing on the same route from the same side of the field.
Boom! There's a big play.
Go back to the Bills' Oct. 1 game at Atlanta, which also uses the Seahawks' defensive template because former Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is the Falcons' coach. It is hardly a coincidence that Taylor was able to connect with tight end Charles Clay for a 44-yard completion that set up the QB's nine-yard scoring throw to Jordan Matthews on the way to a 23-17 victory.
Go back to 2016, when the Bills faced the Seahawks on Monday Night Football in Seattle. Although the Bills lost, 31-25, Taylor had one of his better games as a pro, throwing for 289 yards and a touchdown.
"Like every week, it boils down to execution for us, staying ahead of the chains," Taylor said. "We have to be good at that on early downs to give ourselves a good shot on third downs to be able to move the chains."
The Bills' ability to have success on first and second down could very well be compromised because of the uncertain status of running back LeSean McCoy, who missed Wednesday's practice and who coach Sean McDermott called "day-to-day" with an ankle injury suffered last Sunday against Miami.
Additionally, there will be the enormous challenge of facing a Jaguars defensive line that has largely been responsible for the team that ranked second in the NFL with 55 sacks. One of the defensive ends, Calais Campbell, set a franchise record for sacks in a season with 14.5, while the other, Yannick Ngakoue, had 12. One defensive tackle, Malik Jackson, had eight sacks, while the other, former Bill Marcell Dareus, has only had one of his two on the season with Jacksonville but does a good job of getting penetration and tying up blockers.
Still, the Bills will be leaning on Taylor's ability to escape pressure and make plays on the move with his arm or his legs. After McCoy, Taylor is the Bills' most dangerous rushing threat with 427 yards and four touchdowns.
"You have to be able to, of course, step up in the pocket," Taylor said. "They have a bunch of guys that push the pocket. Their ends are definitely fast, long-armed guys, so me stepping up in the pocket helps the offensive linemen. But, of course, being able to pick and choose when I use my feet is definitely critical. There's definitely going to be opportunities throughout a game. I just have to take advantage of it at the right time."
"A mobile quarterback can help at times against a good pass rush," center Eric Wood said. "Now, sometimes they get you in trouble. You try and escape and you can take some bigger losses, but at times, it can keep people in certain looks. You can't leave an exposed edge or he can take it for 40 yards. And a good day at the office on offense is 400 yards probably, and you get 10 percent on one missed assignment outside, so he'll generally keep guys in rush lanes and keep them out of maybe some unorthodox concepts. But as talented as they are, they don't have to be very goofy up front. They can say our four or our five are going to beat you."
Taylor's receivers are always mindful of his ability to scramble. They know that, in those circumstances, they have the ability to shake free for a deep reception.