NFL1000 Week 11 Notebook: Why Doesn't the NFL Like Tyrod Taylor?
In Week 11, Sunday's action seemed to be about which teams wanted to separate themselves from the middle of the pack.
The Vikings brought the Rams' high-octane offense back down to Earth, working their way to an 8-2 mark on the season and confirming their status as a team no other team wants to face right now.
The Patriots did what they tend to do with monotonous consistency, taking the Raiders apart to move to their own 8-2 mark.
The Jaguars had to claw through a tight one with a game Browns team, but with their 19-7 win, they stand at 7-3 and are a tough out as long as Blake Bortles can avoid mistakes.
But perhaps the most impressive team in the NFL right now is the Saints, who proved in their thrilling win over the Redskins that they may be the league's most complete team. This week, it was Drew Brees bailing the defense out, whereas it had been the defense covering up Brees' surprising inconsistencies over the last few weeks.
New Orleans is the only team in league history to go on an eight-game winning streak after an 0-2 start, and it's worth remembering that the last two teams that even won six games in a row after an 0-2 start—the 1993 Cowboys and the 2007 Giants—won the Super Bowl. We will have to wait and see if correlation and causation meet up once again.
Such stories of excellence are a balm after watching things like the Bills' mismanaging their quarterback situation at a historic level, or the Chiefs' sudden and startling offensive collapse, or the Broncos' looking like a mess on both sides of the ball throughout most of their six-game losing streak.
It was a fascinating Sunday—both good and bad—and B/R's NFL1000 scouts were all over the tape.
Lead Scout: Doug Farrar; Quarterbacks: Mark Schofield; Running backs/Fullbacks: Mark Bullock; Receivers/Tight Ends: Marcus Mosher; Offensive Line: Ethan Young; Defensive Line: Justis Mosqueda; Linebackers: Derrik Klassen; Secondary: Ian Wharton
Why Doesn’t the NFL Like Tyrod Taylor?
In three seasons as a starter for the Buffalo Bills after four seasons as Joe Flacco's backup for the Baltimore Ravens, Tyrod Taylor came into Sunday's abject disaster against the Los Angeles Chargers with not-all-that-bad stats: 693 completions in 1,105 passes (a 62.7 completion rate) for 7,941 yards, 47 passing touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
Add in his 279 rushes for 1,521 yards and 13 touchdowns, and it would seem that Taylor has the kind of skill set you'd want if you were building a team around a young quarterback.
In 2017 under new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, Taylor has still played well for the most part—but not well enough for the Bills' coaching staff, who benched him in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman.
Peterman, of course, threw five picks in his first NFL start Sunday before he was pulled. After the disaster, head coach Sean McDermott said he would review Peterman's performance before naming a starter going forward, per Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, which leads to the inevitable question: What's there to review?
Another, larger question: Why is Taylor considered to be a below-average starter? Based on Buffalo's response to his skill set through multiple offensive coordinators, that seems to be its view. The Bills have refused to make a long-term commitment to him even after a 2016 season in which the offense was in disarray with the coordinator switch from Greg Roman to current Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn.
The team re-signed him to a two-year, $30.5 million contract with $15.5 million guaranteed, which is a holdover deal for any quarterback. Clearly, the Bills see Taylor as disposable, though they haven't exactly been aces in the quarterback evaluation process since the Jim Kelly days.
Is that a fair assessment of Taylor's ultimate potential? His performance against the Saints' outstanding defense in Week 10—Taylor completed nine of 18 passes for 56 yards and an interception—is the obvious talking point for those who had enough of Taylor and wanted a change.
He was not at all good in that game—Taylor failed to find a rhythm with new receiver Kelvin Benjamin, and he both underthrew and overthrew his receivers. Taylor is not always a comfortable quarterback in the pocket, a situation that is exacerbated by Buffalo's failures to protect him, and Taylor's own tendencies at times lead him to run into pressure.
He's also still learning to match his field reads with accurate throws. At this point in his career, Taylor needs receivers who can get separation from defenders. He's not an ideal tight-window thrower, especially to intermediate distances (think 8-15 yards downfield).
Where Taylor wins is in the short passing game and on deep balls where his receivers either get open on the designed route, or move outside of structure and coverage as Taylor moves out of the pocket. Right now, the Bills don't have receivers who can consistently win throughout the stems of route concepts.
Did we say "pocket"? Because that's a big part of Taylor's regression this season—it's one of the main reasons he got his brains beaten in against the Jets on November 2 in a 34-21 loss, and it's a contributing factor to his bad game against the Saints. It's clear that the Bills have decided to turn Taylor into a pocket passer, and that's not what he is on an every-down basis.
Moreover, by eliminating the designed runs that helped him set defenses on edge, and the run-pass options that better aligned him with his receivers, Dennison and his cohorts appear to be trying to fit Taylor into a schematic suit for which he was never designed. That he was able to throw for a touchdown and run for another when he was asked to come into the Chargers game and clean up the mess his coaches created speaks to his toughness and resolve.
Ideally, Taylor would be in an offense that let him use his functional mobility as a positive. He would be with a play-designing unit that schemed its receivers open. And he would learn more about the subtleties of the position from a coaching staff that believed in him and tailored the playbook to what makes him comfortable.
Just this season, we've seen this "phenomenon" from the Los Angeles Rams with Sean McVay and Jared Goff, and with the Houston Texans with Bill O'Brien and Deshaun Watson before Watson's season-ending ACL injury.
It's now become clear that the Buffalo Bills have no use for Taylor, and they should allow him by trade or release to work with a staff that sees him as more than a negative. He's far from a perfect quarterback, but he deserves far better than this.
— NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar
What Happened to the Rams' Explosive Offense?
Coming into their Sunday game against the Minnesota Vikings, the Los Angeles Rams had enjoyed one of the most explosive and effective offenses in the NFL. That may seem like a weird statement for those used to so many years under former head coach Jeff Fisher, but with new head man Sean McVay at the helm, everything has changed. An offensive line with new parts has been outstanding, and second-year quarterback Jared Goff has been on time and and target with a redefined receiver corps.
That came to a screeching halt in a 24-7 loss to the Vikings—a defeat that has the Rams scoreboard-watching on Monday night. Now, if the Seattle Seahawks beat the Atlanta Falcons, Seattle will overtake the Rams in the NFC West.
What happened to that vaunted Rams offense? We know the Vikings have one of the NFL's best defenses—it's the primary reason they're 8-2 despite the injury loss of rookie running back Dalvin Cook and having Case Keenum at quarterback. But what Mike Zimmer's defense did to the Rams set the Vikings, not the Rams, as the NFC team to beat behind the Philadelphia Eagles.
It wasn't that Goff was horrible—he completed 23 of 37 passes for 225 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. He threw well with anticipation at times, and he made a few throws into tight windows, which was a major issue for him in his rookie season. But the explosive plays were missing from the passing game because of the Vikings' ability to bring pressure with four and their outstanding coverage.
Goff had trouble playing catch-up with deep passes, and when the Rams did get in the red zone, they had trouble capitalizing—the most grievous example of that was receiver Cooper Kupp's fumble at the Minnesota 1-yard line with 4:03 left in the first half. Had Kupp scored, the Rams would have gone up 14-7 with the extra point, and we might be telling a different story.
Outside of a nice post-route throw to Robert Woods, Goff wasn't able to keep the Rams in the game with passes that would have taken up chunks of yardage, and Minnesota's defense wasn't going to help him out.
And this is where McVay, a first-year coach I admire for his ability to tailor his schemes to his players, can fall under a bit of criticism. When watching the Rams offense in this game, I didn't see as many of the diverse route concepts and easy openings as it usually has.
It's possible that, playing against a tremendous defense, McVay hedged his bets and went with a more conservative game plan that involved constricted formations in the passing game. As much as Goff has improved this season, he's still a quarterback who must be managed with scheme.
However, I don't think this is a sign of bad things to come, or any kind of long-term offensive regression. The Rams have an offense under development, and they will be vulnerable against better defenses. When McVay's team beat the Jaguars on October 15, Goff threw for just 124 yards, and it was special teams scores that made the difference.
This loss is more about the greatness of Minnesota's defense than any emblematic point of concern for the Rams.
— NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar
Brett Hundley Bottoms Out in Shutout Loss in Green Bay
The Green Bay offense hit a new low Sunday as the Packers were shut out at home by the Baltimore Ravens, 23-0. Brett Hundley completed 21 of 36 passes for 239 yards, but also threw three interceptions and turned the football over on a strip-sack by Terrell Suggs.
As we saw a few weeks ago against the Detroit Lions on Monday night, Hundley and the offense looked OK on their opening drive when they were running the scripted plays. Hundley hit Davante Adams on a vertical route early to get Green Bay into a 1st-and-goal situation.
But on second down Hundley tried to hit Randall Cobb on the corner route in a Smash concept, and he failed to see Jimmy Smith drop off his assignment (Adams) on the outside, and the pass was intercepted. Foregoing the short slant route to force the deeper throw burned Hundley and the offense.
On Hundley's second interception, he once again showed his hesitation from the pocket. He did a good job of sliding in the pocket, but he was slow with his reads. While it is true that the receiver slipped as well, speeding up his process in the pocket is a must for Hundley going forward. This was an issue on the strip-sack as well.
With the loss, the Packers dropped three games behind the Minnesota Vikings in the division, and with the way this offense is playing right now, a late-season charge seems unlikely. The biggest ingredient missing from Hundley is the play-speed element. He needs to be quicker with his reads and decisions. Until that happens, this offense will struggle with him at the helm.
— NFL1000 QB Scout, Mark Schofield
Samaje Perine Impresses as Washington Lead Back
When the Redskins lost starting running back Rob Kelley for the season last week, the big question in Washington was if rookie Samaje Perine could deliver.
Perine has been used sparingly, with his only significant work coming when Kelley went down in Week 2 and was unable to return in Week 3. In those two games, Perine ran for a combined 116 yards on 40 carries. Since then, he's not had more than nine carries in a game.
With Kelley out again, Perine was tasked with picking up the slack against the Saints. Head coach Jay Gruden said last week he was looking for better contact balance from Perine. Perine is a big, powerful back at 236 pounds, but so far he's been too easy for defenders to tackle, even with arm tackles.
Perine responded with a career-best performance, rushing for 117 yards and a touchdown on 23 attempts. He did a much better job staying balanced through contact to pick up extra yards and finish off runs. He looked like the back he was in college who consistently was able to run over defenders.
The Redskins run a mix of zone and power schemes, and it can take a while for a rookie to adapt. But it appears Perine has managed to settle in. Getting more carries helped, as he was able to wear down the Saints defenders. He picked up 40 yards in the fourth quarter alone, though he couldn't come up with a key 3rd-and-1 conversion as the Redskins were trying to ice the game.
He's given himself a solid foundation to build off for the rest of the season. Washington also lost its star running back Chris Thompson to a horrific leg injury against the Saints, leaving Perine as the only remaining back who started the season on the roster. That will leave him with a much higher workload and a huge opportunity.
— NFL1000 RB Scout, Mark Bullock
Do the Minnesota Vikings Have the Best WR Duo in the NFL?
Heading into the season, the Vikings offense held the team out of preseason Super Bowl talks. And when Sam Bradford went down after Week 1, that seemed even more true. It has not been the case in 2017, and a big reason why has been the play of their receivers.
Around the league, the belief was the Vikings had one of the more underrated wide receiver corps before the season began. After 10 games, that narrative has changed. In Week 11, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs put on another fine display against the Rams, catching 10 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown.
This week it was a "Thielen game," as he made the game-changing play early in the fourth quarter. He caught a short comeback route and quickly got upfield for a 65-yard touchdown to put the Vikings up 21-7. He's a bigger receiver who can contort his body to make spectacular grabs, but this catch-and-run showed off his speed and why he's such a tough one-on-one cover.
The beauty of the Vikings offense is that Diggs and Thielen complement each other so well, but they are both dynamic receivers by themselves. Both can be No. 1 options, but their versatility and skill sets allows them to work as a tandem. Each thrives on the outside and can beat man-to-man coverage with ease, and both can move down into the slot and win with quickness.
Over the past three weeks (since Diggs returned from a groin injury), the two have combined for 524 receiving yards on 31 receptions and four touchdowns. As long as these two can stay healthy, the Vikings will be one of the toughest teams to knock off.
There hasn't been a better wide receiver duo in the league.
— NFL1000 WR Scout, Marcus Mosher
Saints Offensive Line Playing Key Role in Team's Success
Not many expected the Saints to become a team led by a dynamic run game and playmaking defense, but that has become their identity this year. The offensive line has been a big part of this new-look unit, opening up monster holes in the run game.
Its ability to create clean lanes for the Saints' stable of backs not only helps keep this offense on schedule, but it also churns clock and allows their defense to rest up between drives and pick on impatient opposing offenses.
Not many teams could handle losing a tackle like Zach Strief for the season and then have two other Pro Bowl-caliber starters in Terron Armstead and Larry Warford battle injuries through the year. The depth and versatility of this unit isn't an accident, though.
The Saints have heavily invested in their front over the last few seasons. Between sizable contracts to Armstead and Warford, getting Max Unger in the Jimmy Graham trade, and spending two first-round picks on the line, the Saints have put an emphasis on their front and protecting Drew Brees as he ages.
The latest first-round pick this year, Ryan Ramczyk, was a fantastic value, but few thought the Saints would address tackle with Armstead and Strief on the roster. Yet as Sean Payton has learned from experience, offensive line attrition should be anticipated, if not expected, in today's NFL.
Having Ramczyk ready to slide in has been huge for what the Saints have done this year.
— NFL1000 OL Scout, Ethan Young
QB Woes Aside, Bills Defensive Line Not Getting Its Job Done
A few weeks ago, the Bills were the little engine that could with a 5-2 record, tied with the reigning Super Bowl champion Patriots for the top spot in the AFC East. Since then, the Bills have been outscored 135-55 in three straight losses to the Jets, Saints and Chargers.
While the quarterback switch from Tyrod Taylor to Nathan Peterman (and back to Taylor) will be noted as one reason for the Bills' failure, they're also imploding defensively.
Buffalo has allowed 607 passing yards on 83 dropbacks for three touchdowns and no interceptions over the last three weeks. On the ground, the Bills have allowed 638 rushing yards on 124 attempts for 11 touchdowns.
Marcell Dareus' loss is being felt. Since the Jaguars traded for him, no running back has recorded more than 42 rushing yards against their defense. In Week 11, Cleveland quarterback DeShone Kizer, with 22 yards, was the Browns' leading rusher.
It also has impacted the Bills' top defensive linemen. Defensive end Jerry Hughes, defensive end Shaq Lawson and defensive tackle Kyle Williams recorded 22 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage in the Bills' first seven games. In the last three, they have only recorded six.
Offensive coordinators are now looking at Buffalo as a team that can be rushed on, no matter if you have a great offensive line like the Saints or if you just need a get-right game up front like the Jets and Chargers.
Look for teams to try to go all-out on the run versus Buffalo moving forward.
— NFL1000 DL Scout, Justis Mosqueda
Loss of Leonard Floyd Creates Big Hole in Bears Defense
Defense has not been an issue for the Bears this season.
Heading into this week, the unit ranked 10th in defensive DVOA, per Football Outsiders. The team's 11th-ranked pass defense and 13th-ranked run defense lent to a good-not-great, yet well-rounded defense. It was not a special unit, but it wasn't what ailed the Bears.
Disaster struck this week.
During the fourth quarter of a tight game versus division-rival Detroit, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd was carted off the field with a knee injury. Initial reports have not confirmed the severity or specificity of the injury, but the early feeling is that Floyd will miss a considerable amount of time. He left the game with a tackle for loss, in addition to being the only Bears defender with two QB hits.
On the season, Floyd is second on the team in sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (9), trailing only an under-appreciated Akiem Hicks. Floyd is also the team's most consistent pass-rusher on the edge. Pernell McPhee is effective in his own right, but he does not possess the same speed and bend that Floyd does.
Floyd's outside-inside counter moves are fantastic, too. He has the potential to ruin plays immediately.
Sam Acho and Isaiah Irving will have to perform well in Floyd's absence. Acho has recorded 14.5 sacks since entering the league in 2011. He is a compact, strong pass-rusher who lacks the twitchy athleticism to be a difference-maker on the edge.
In a pinch, Acho is not the worst guy to have, but he should not be counted on long term. Irving, on the other hand, is an undrafted rookie who played a whopping three defensive snaps prior to this week.
It's safe to say the Bears are not equipped to deal with the loss of a key pass-rusher. However, now sitting at 3-7, scrambling to find a placeholder for Floyd has little value. Hopefully Floyd's injury is not as serious as initially thought and he can return to form as soon as possible.
— NFL1000 LB Scout, Derrik Klassen
Ravens' Secondary Keeps Playoff Hopes Alive Against Green Bay
The NFL's best secondary belongs to the Ravens, and they were swarming in Green Bay against the young and battered Packers offense.
The Ravens entered the matchup allowing the lowest completion percentage and second-fewest yards per game due to the play of their veteran starters and rare consistency. Facing a stagnant and struggling Packers offense led by Brett Hundley, the unit carried the Ravens to a dominating 23-0 victory.
What makes the Ravens unit elite is the blend of talent and scheme that no other team can match. Boasting three press specialists in Jimmy Smith—who is annually underrated—Brandon Carr and rookie Marlon Humphrey, opposing receivers rarely create enough space for big-play possibilities.
As Hundley learned the hard way, the passing windows were nonexistent due to the length and physicality of the corners. Both Smith and Humphrey logged interceptions to stifle drives and flip the field.
Safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson are a special safety tandem as well.
Weddle also nabbed an interception in the form of a soaring arm-punt from Hundley, and his presence over the top takes advantage of the islands the corners create outside the numbers and hash marks. He's still able to cover enough ground to be a true ball hawk in the middle of the field, a distinction that can be applied to only a few others at the position.
Although Davante Adams managed to rack up eight receptions and 126 yards, none were back-breaking. The group shut down the rest of the Packers receivers, including Jordy Nelson.
With true superstars in Smith and Weddle anchoring the secondary, and Jefferson, Carr, Humphrey and even Lardarius Webb playing at their highest level, offenses are rolling the dice every time they challenge tight passing windows.
There's not another defense in the league that has the high-end talent and consistency this secondary has at both cornerback and safety. Their ability to play press man and Cover 3 zone without a weak link is unmatched because of Weddle cleaning up the smallest of the mistakes.
Their 5-5 record and position just outside of the final wild-card spot is in large thanks to this unit.
— NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton