The Buffalo Bills entered the 2015 season with a question mark under center. In their week 10 match up with the New York Jets, Tyrod Taylor took another step in his progression as an NFL quarterback. Mark Schofield examines his key third down touchdown pass.
One of the intriguing story-lines this NFL preseason was the question of who would emerge as the starting quarterback in Buffalo. In a surprise decision, coach Rex Ryan named Tyrod Taylor the team’s QB in the weeks before the season-opener, over veteran Matt Cassel and former first-round selection E.J. Manuel. Taylor was impressive in Buffalo’s Week 1 victory over the Indianapolis Colts and produced decent numbers for the Bills through the first five weeks of the year. But after suffering an MCL sprain, he was put on the shelf until Week 9 against the Dolphins. Now back in the lineup, Buffalo has tallied two-straight division wins, and look for a third this coming Sunday against the Patriots. While Taylor’s numbers were not overwhelming against the Jets on Thursday night, one play stands out as evidence of his continued development as a passer.
Early in the third quarter the Bills enjoy a nine-point lead and face 2nd and 10 at the New York 26-yard line. Taylor stands in the shotgun with 22 personnel on the field and slot formation to the right. The quarterback is flanked by dual running backs in the backfield, with fullback Jerome Felton (#42) on his left and RB Karlos Williams (#29) to his right. Tight end Charles Clay (#85) is in a tight wing on the right with Sammy Watkins (#14) split wide. The Jets have a base 3-4 defense in the game, and they show Cover 6 with weakside cornerback Marcus Williams (#20) down in the box over Matthew Mulligan (#82), the weakside TE:
Clay runs a post route from his tight alignment while Watkins runs a straight go route. Williams runs a vertical route out of the backfield, making sure to establish inside leverage and work back toward the middle of the field. The Jets stay with Cover 6 on the play, setting up this look:
Watkins is covered well by Darrelle Revis (#24) on the vertical route. On the post route, Clay is surrounded by the other three defensive backs, any of whom could make a play on a potential throw. But just underneath is Williams, who is racing vertically and has established inside positioning on linebacker Demario Davis (#56). But if Taylor tries to lead the RB vertically up the top of the numbers, playside safety Marcus Gilchrist (#21), as well as Revis, are both in position to make a play on the pass. So what does the QB do?
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Taylor places his throw to the inside, toward the hashmark, trusting that his running back will be able to read and react to the throw in time. That is exactly what happens, as Williams cuts toward the inside to make the reception. The placement of the throw has another benefit. If you watch the movements of Gilchrist, he expects this play to keep Williams vertical. Once the safety recognizes the route from the RB, he widens himself toward the numbers. But when the throw brings Williams to the inside, the safety is out of position to make the tackle. This allows the rookie RB to cut into the endzone with the eventual game-winning score.
The slight adjustment of Taylor pays dividends for the offense, and illustrates anticipation, wise ball-placement, and trust. Putting this throw to the inside not only puts the receiver in a better position to secure the reception, it also gives him an opportunity to generate additional yardage after the catch. But he needs to trust that Williams will react as expected. Should the rookie stay vertical, there is a chance this pass falls incomplete, or is even intercepted. But the two players are on exactly the same page, and the result is a touchdown for the Bills.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.