The Buffalo Bills are riding high, having won their last four games. The last time that happened, people still knew Donald Trump as that guy with the famous line “You’re fired” on The Apprentice.
Interestingly, the Bills haven’t lost since they fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and new coordinator Anthony Lynn, a running back coach by trade, has gotten his offense back to basics of running the ball with the team’s best offensive weapon: LeSean McCoy.
As much optimism as there is in Buffalo for the team’s first four-game winning streak since 2008, if the Bills are going to be serious contenders, they still need their passing attack to improve, though.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor hasn’t been bad by any means. He’s completed 62.4 percent of his passes and has eight touchdowns versus just two interceptions in six games. During the team’s winning streak, he has six total touchdowns, including five through the air and only one interception. McCoy and the Bills defense are proving to be good enough to beat most opponents as long as Taylor doesn’t make any major mistakes.
But if the Bills are going to continue to make noise in the AFC East and eventually the playoffs, Taylor is going to have to prove he can win games on his own.
Although Buffalo has always liked his arm strength and his accuracy is getting better, he still misses on deep passes. According to Pro Football Reference, Taylor is 12-of-30 on passes the website considers to be long.
If the Bills can’t run the ball on a particular day because the opposing defense is stacking eight men in the box, Taylor hasn’t shown yet that he can consistently take advantage downfield. He has three completions of over 30 yards this season, and two of them were against the Jets poor secondary.
Of course, Buffalo doesn’t necessarily need the deep ball to win. If the Bills even have the threat to go deep, opposing defenses will have to prepare for the vertical pass, and things should be open for McCoy in the running game. But not only is Taylor inaccurate at times down field, the Bills don’t take very many deep shots. The 27-year-old signal caller is ranked just 17th in air yards per attempt among quarterbacks with at least two starts this season. Air yards is a great measurement to determine how often a quarterback throws the ball downfield and, in some sense, how much confidence the team has in their signal caller’s ability to throw deep.
Taylor’s 4.08 air yards per attempt put him just in front of Trevor Siemian, Ryan Tannehill, Derek Carr, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler. With perhaps the exception of Carr, that’s not exactly a group of quarterbacks Taylor wants to be a part of.
Although it can be skewed from receiving yards after the catch, yards per attempt is another good measure of how often quarterbacks throw deep and complete a long pass. Taylor’s yards per attempt average is 6.52, 25th-best in the NFL.
And for as little as he tries to go down field, the Bills are giving up far too many sacks. Taylor has been sacked 13 times on 165 pass attempts, giving him a 7.3 sack percentage, which is sixth-highest in the league.
If he isn’t going deep with much regularity, the ball should be coming out quickly due the shorter routes. His sack percentage is down from last year, but Taylor still needs to do a better job of getting rid of the ball. The last thing Buffalo needs is obvious third-down passing situations.
Part of these problems stem from the fact wide receiver Sammy Watkins is out with a foot injury. Any team would go deep less often without their best speed receiver.
Having said that, there’s going to come a time this season where Buffalo is playing an important game, and the opposition’s defense will take away McCoy or the Bills’ star running back is going to be banged up and can’t carry the load.
If Buffalo is to be a legitimate threat to New England in the AFC East, the Bills must get more out of their passing attack. That’s on Taylor.