If a player isn’t asked to do something, it’s easy to assume that he can’t do whatever that something may be. Guest contributor Kyle Posey examines why this is pervasively lazy thinking among NFL analysts critiquing Tyrod Taylor’s game.
By Kyle Posey, Guest Contributor
Tyrod Taylor was benched for the season finale and the hyperbole is flying left and right. The GM says he wants to see EJ Manuel as a tryout to bring him back for next year. Logic says the Bills don’t want to risk injury to Taylor & have to pay his guaranteed salary.
Then, there are the hot takers. There’s always the hot takers. Usually, I’m all for this but there was one take in particular that struck me.
“Necessary Move. Taylor ultimately hasn’t developed field vision.”
-Andy Benoit, Sports Illustrated
I’m not here to make it seem like Taylor is without flaws. He certainly is not. He can be much more patient in the pocket.
His mechanics can get out of whack affecting his accuracy. He can be more consistent all around. Does Tyrod miss throws? Like every other quarterback, of course. However, saying he hasn’t developed field vision simply isn’t true.
You have to understand what an offense asks it’s quarterback to do before you can evaluate the player. Buffalo’s passing offense is reliant on play-action, specifically rolling Taylor to give him a run option, deep shots down the field, isolation routes outside of the numbers, and quick swing passes or stick routes to the tight end to get it out of his hands quickly.
This offense doesn’t routinely lean on him to scan the field. Before week 16, Taylor has only attempted 24 passes over the intermediate part of the field per Pro Football Focus.
RSP Publisher Matt Waldman asked if I had any good examples of Taylor throwing over the middle of the field. It would be the best way to debunk this criticism and it was a good question. Throwing in between the hashes usually requires your quarterback to make 1 additional read. Whether it’s waiting for a receiver to clear the linebacker to make the throw, hold a safety with his eyes so he can go to the opposite seam, etc etc. What you’ll see are 5 throws showing Taylor’s ability to survey the field in different aspects that involve “vision.”
Throwing between the hashes usually requires your quarterback to make one additional read. It requires a variety of skills such as waiting for a receiver to clear the linebacker to make the throw or holding a safety with his eyes so he can go to the opposite seam. Sometimes it’s awareness of where the routes are supposed to break and the ability to locate the open space after maneuvering from pressure.
Here are five throws showing Taylor’s ability to survey the field in different aspects that involve vision, knowledge, and poise.
Levels and Patience
The first route is a levels concept. The idea is to get the defense to “take the cheese” by jumping on the drag route in order to open up one of the deeper routes on the right. This requires patience from the quarterback as well as good velocity.
The Dolphins don’t hide what type of defense they’re in. With the tow-high safeties, they’re in an obvious Cover 2 shell.
Taylor gives the drag (TE working left to right) a quick look and the middle linebacker reacts just enough for Taylor to go over the top to the post route breaking inside the safety to the right.
While this may seem simple it’s easy for a young thrower to see the open route underneath, throw it, and “hope” the receiver gets the first down. Here’s the play full speed.
The best way to evaluate a quarterback is how he performs on 3rd &7 and longer—when the defense knows you have to throw it. This play was a 3rd & 10 and Taylor showed the patience it’s needed to in the pocket as well as the arm strength to convert.
Relocating Receivers After Avoiding Pressure
Perhaps the best way to get a feel for a quarterback’s vision is when the play breaks down. Whether by design or due to pressure, Taylor has left the pocket a lot this year.
It’s easy to drop your eyes and focus on the 280-pound athlete running full speed at you. Taylor has the unique ability to not only break those tackles but also keep his eyes downfield and find a receiver. These next throws will reflect that.
Below is a “Hank Concept” with a post by the No.2 receiver (the middle trips right option). Hank is essentially a curl/flat combo route by the receivers that involves a vertical threat.
Ideally, the post by the No.2 receiver clears out any safety getting nosy enough to jump the curl route. The flat route by the No.3 receiver takes away any hang defender staying in the underneath throwing lane.
Unfortunately, the right guard gets beat right away and the play is on schedule for a disastrous outcome.You wouldn’t fault Tyrod here if he threw it to the receiver right in front of him for a minimal gain or toss it out of bounds.
Neither choice would’ve been wrong especially when dealing with two pass rushers that include an athletic specimen like Jamie Collins—avoiding Collins alone is a feat.
What’s most impressive about Taylor is that his eyes never drop.
Despite the pressure, Taylor is still browsing the coverage and finds his receiver over the middle for a first down. A 3rd & 10 that would’ve been a sack for 90 percent of the throwers in the league is a first down for Taylor.
Athletic ability helps Taylor avoid the rush, reading the field allows Taylor to do something productive afterward. A good pocket passer without Taylor’s mobility might have seen this route as a possible development, but couldn’t have done anything about it.
More Downfield Awareness
Throw No.3 features more of Taylor’s athleticism and awareness.The running back gets bowled over and immediately puts Taylor in a bind.
Doing his best Houdini impression, Taylor spins out of the tackle, spins a second time for good measure to avoid the end crashing inside. All the while, his intention is to find a receiver downfield. At the end of each move, Taylor redirects his eyes downfield.
It would’ve been so easy for him to race to the sideline and gain whatever he could with his legs. Hell, a 5-yard gain out of what he just escaped is tough enough.
Despite the caricature that Taylor as primarily a runner who can throw a deep ball and scramble, these first three plays should be enough to reveal that the “lack of field vision” analysis is indeed a gross misrepresentation of Taylor’s quarterbacking abilities.
Even after the second spin, Taylor never tucks the ball. There’s nothing on this clip that displays any intention to run.
Taylor finds a receiver down the field for 33 yards. It’s another conversion of a third down where many quarterbacks in this situation are settling for a healthy ending of the play so the team can punt or attempt a long field goal.
Field Vision Includes Finding Secondary Reads
Not every throw will be a highlight. More importantly, not every throw needs to be a highlight. We can go to last week’s game for that.
When I think of what field vision means to a quarterback he needs to know where the receivers are in the event his first read isn’t there. As an offense that keeps you ahead of the chains and keeps you on schedule.
That’s how you move the ball. That’s how you become a top-10 scoring offense while being top-5 in efficiency.
Throw No.4 once again doesn’t include much disguising from Miami’s secondary—it’s an obvious Cover 2 shell. Buffalo runs another mirror concept—two pairs of receivers running the same routes on each side of the line—with the outside receivers running deep and the slot receivers running hitches.
Taylor’s initial read is to the outside receiver to the top of the screen. He’s hoping to fit a pass in between the corner and the safety in the Cover 2 hole. That plan goes awry quickly as the receiver struggled to get off press coverage.
Working his way back, it doesn’t look like he felt comfortable with the slot receiver to the top of the screen. The receiver was still coming out of his break, so Taylor goes to the opposite side of the field and hits the hitch that’s wide open.
This is the kind of poise you want to see in the pocket from your quarterback. If the initial read isn’t there, no panic, find the open receiver. Tyrod did just that.
Pre-Snap/Post-Snap Field Reads
The final throw is another throw that seems “simple” but it’s more advanced given the pre-snap read Taylor has to make. The top quarterbacks in the league excel because they have the vision to see what’s going on before the ball is snapped.
Below is a 4th & 7 and Buffalo is down four points with 1:25 left in the game. This time, the Dolphins do some pre-snap disguising of its coverage.
They’re sugaring the A-gaps with both linebackers, which gives the illusion that it’s Cover 1—man coverage by the four DBs and the safety in the middle reading and reacting to the quarterback. This Cover1 also comes with a six-man blitz.
For Buffalo, the solution is simple. Each receiver runs about 2-3 yards into the end zone and turns around. For the quarterback it’s trickier.
Taylor has to process a lot more information in 5-10 seconds. The most important factor of consideration is the location of the ball on the left hash.
Why? If the linebackers do bail, he knows that the linebacker to his right has more ground to cover than the linebacker to his left.
Digging a little deeper, take a look at the slot corner to the top of the screen. His right foot is aligned with the left foot of the receiver. That’s an outside shade. If he was in man coverage, he’d be taking away the inside and his left foot would be aligned with the receivers left.
It’s much easier to see the leverage of the corner when you’re on the field but that is how you can tell from our point of view. Anyways, this is another subtle tip that lets Taylor know where he should go with the ball.
A lot of young throwers here would lock onto their best receiver—the top of the screen— and throw a 50/50 ball. Taylor makes the correct pre-snap read and makes the would-be game-winning throw.
Tyrod Taylor has his faults as a quarterback. Seeing the field is not one of them.