We’re only in the second week of the preseason and things are already going terribly for the Bills. It seems only natural that when hopes are high in Buffalo that they immediately begin to come crashing down in a fury of fire. A team with a great defense has already lost 2 key pieces to their depth. On the offensive side of the ball, a unit that has talent galore is thinning out at the hamstring. And in a year in which Rex Ryan and Greg Roman hope to implement their ground and pound philosophy, the Bills are currently down to 3 running backs who have a combined 3 carries at the NFL level; 2 being undrafted free agents in 2015.
Sure, the preseason doesn’t matter all that much, and now isn’t the time to panic by any means. We’re fortunate enough that at this point, none of the injuries to the 5 Buffalo running backs appear to be serious, but the fact that some of them have yet to see any action at all will make things difficult for the personnel at One Bills Drive to decide which of them will remain with the team. Regardless of who will be suiting up week 1 out of this group, the important thing is that they’ll be presumably healthy when the games start to matter.
But the main question remains: Who will be their quarterback? At this point, most of us are tired of the quarterback narrative, but unfortunately we once again find ourselves stuck in this vortex of false hope and hot takes; anything that allows us to justify in our own minds exactly how bad the team has been at developing a decent signal caller. This year, it has come down to a battle between the veteran Matt Cassel, who has looked decent while playing it safe thus far, and Tyrod Taylor, who enters his fifth year, and has the best opportunity he’s ever had at a starting job since coming into the league.
You could argue the point that this is the biggest start of Tyrod Taylor’s life. After a solid showing against Carolina last week, Taylor has earned himself the start tonight in Cleveland as the Bills take on the Browns on ESPN, a national stage for Taylor to show us exactly what he has. Up to this point in his career, Taylor has never started an NFL game due to the fact that he has been stuck behind Joe Flacco, and has just 35 career regular season attempts as an NFL quarterback. Aside from his collegiate years at Virginia Tech, Taylor has never had an opportunity like this to show exactly what it is he brings to the table. This start, as ridiculous as this may sound, could make or break his career as an NFL quarterback.
When was the last time a preseason game meant this much to someone’s career? You could argue the case for just about any player that finds himself on a roster bubble during the preseason, as many players will be playing for their NFL livelihoods in the next couple of weeks, but Tyrod’s situation is a completely different animal. We are talking about an exclusive club of 32. These job opportunities don’t just grow on trees. It’s one thing for a player on the bubble to be fighting for a chance to just contribute in any way they can, whether that be on special teams or carrying a clipboard, but to actually be in the running for a starting quarterback gig in this league is an opportunity usually reserved for elite caliber players or guys who come out of college surrounded with hype. Taylor doesn’t fit under either of these umbrellas, and his potential as a starting quarterback in this league at this point in time is undistinguished.
What we do know is that he brings a tremendous amount of athleticism. In recent weeks, Taylor himself stated that he doesn’t consider himself to be a running quarterback, but he feels that he can do so if necessary. I think most of us would agree after seeing flashes of his playmaking abilities. Taylor showed he has the ability to escape pressure and extend the play, and on top of that he possesses the ability to take off for positive yardage if necessary. He even showed us a glimpse of his on field awareness, as he escaped for a first down, extending the ball just far enough to get the first down before landing out of bounds. All of these things we saw are indeed positive attributes, and aspects of his game we can truly get excited about.
With all that being said however, he still needs to show us more. It would be great to see Taylor connect on a deep ball or two, or even get a better rhythm going in the passing game early on against the Browns. It would certainly help his case if the receivers could catch the passes he throws to them, as Bills receivers had a total of 5 dropped passes in their first preseason game. The biggest misfortune of it all though is that in this immensely important showing for him, Taylor will be without many weapons at his disposal, so he will definitely need to get creative while the opportunity to win this job stares him directly in the face.
With all of the injuries the Bills have on the offensive side of the ball, it will be tough for the Bills to evaluate the quarterbacks tonight, unless of course one of the two has a clear cut better game than the other, but everything needs to be taken into consideration. Without an effective run game, it will make things difficult for Cassel and Taylor to give the coaching staff an idea of what it is they can do when the team is at full strength and opposing defenses are at full speed. Neither of these guys need to have Hall Of Fame performances tonight, but one of the two must stand out over the other, or this competition will carry itself well into the third game against Pittsburgh.
From a fans perspective, tonight’s game will actually be interesting, and this is probably the most interested I’ve ever been in a preseason game in my life. Even though the Bills do not have many of their offensive weapons, watching the offense work throughout the night will be something we will surely be looking forward to. Every snap will have huge implications. Every decision will be over-examined through our respective microscopes. We are most likely going to be too harsh on both of these guys given the circumstances at hand, but that’s what happens when a preseason game matters this much. This game is everything for both of these quarterbacks, and the results of tonight’s performances will have a huge impact on the 2015 Buffalo Bills.