QB Tyrod Taylor has steadily regressed over the past two-plus seasons, as has the offense.
Even more surprising than the six net passing yards the Bills managed on Sunday against the Panthers was this: They had actually posted two lower first-half totals since 2001.
Here’s a discouraging reality for Bills fans: It might happen again this season.
In the immediate aftermath of the Sammy Watkins trade and Anquan Boldin’s abrupt retirement, it became evident the team’s offense would struggle.
And two weeks into coach Sean McDermott’s first season, that clearly appears to be the case, even if the Bills did produce three touchdowns in Week 1 against a Jets team that might be the league’s worst.
On the heels of Sunday’s 9-3 loss in Charlotte, where they had only 176 total yards and 10 first downs, the Bills are set to host the Broncos, one of the few teams in the league with a defense that might be better than Carolina’s.
Denver, led by first-team All-Pros Von Miller and Aqib Talib, limited the Cowboys to 10 points through three quarters Sunday in a 42-17 rout. The Broncos intercepted Dak Prescott twice and sacked him twice, and they held Ezekiel Elliott to eight rushing yards on nine carries.
It’s frightening to imagine what might happen on Sunday against Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy, who managed nine rushing yards on 12 attempts against the Panthers.
If there was a growing suspicion following Watkins’ departure that McDermott was intent on building and polishing the defensive side of the ball this season while punting the offense into the next league year, that’s only intensified over the past two weeks.
It’s now difficult to imagine a future with the team beyond this season for Taylor, who averaged 2.5 yards per completion Sunday and has shown little progress toward becoming a long-term solution in 31 starts over three seasons in Buffalo.
From 2015 through the small sampling so far this season, Taylor’s yards per attempt, yards per completion, passer rating and passing yards per game have dropped each year. He is on pace to throw 16 touchdown passes in a league in which the top 12 quarterbacks last season threw an average of 30.1.
Despite his reputation as one of the NFL’s most mobile passers, Taylor took an NFL-high 42 sacks in 2016, with critics pointing to his tendency to hold onto the ball too long or completing his progressions too slowly.
Taylor was sacked three times Sunday, and this week he’ll face perhaps the best pass rush in football.
As bleak as that sounds, there’s reason to suspect that the Bills will be within reach of the Broncos well into the second half, because as deficient as they are offensively they have so far fielded one of the league’s better defenses.
Carolina managed only 255 total yards, including 77 yards on the ground for an offense that over the past five seasons has ranked 10th, second, seventh, 11th and ninth in the league in rushing.
The Bills have yielded only 115 rushing yards over two games this season and have yet to allow a touchdown pass despite including rising cornerback Ronald Darby in the trade that brought Watkins’ replacement, Jordan Matthews, to Buffalo.
A unit lacking a true superstar has instead gotten contributions from veteran linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (eight solo tackles and one sack), veteran defensive end Jerry Hughes (two sacks), ex-Browns and Eagles safety Jordan Poyer (five pass breakups and two sacks), and second-year defensive end Shaq Lawson, who has one sack and a pass breakup and is developing quickly after an injury-plagued rookie season.
If Bills fans were counting on a quarterback change and perhaps a look at rookie Nathan Peterman from Pitt, they’ll probably have to wait at least one more week. McDermott and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison both reiterated their support for Taylor on Monday, with Dennison saying, curiously, that Taylor “kept us in the game” against Carolina.
The reality is the Bills’ defense kept them in the game, and it will have to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
John Dudley can be reached at 870-1677 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNdudley.