Quarterback Roulette Ends In Buffalo

There are often questions that NFL teams look to answer through preseason games. In the case of the Buffalo Bills, it was the uncertainty of which quarterback would start under center when Week 1 of the regular season rolled around.

The multitude of changes within the organization and roster during the offseason gave the franchise a fresh look of renewed confidence, a feeling the team had not enjoyed in some time.

The hiring of head coach Rex Ryan alone changed the culture of the group, as he has a completely unique style and specializes in defense. Ryan will make sure this defensive group reaches its potential. The franchise also made a huge splash by trading for LeSean McCoy, losing Kiko Alonso, as well as signing Percy Harvin.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY

However, the Bills still had a major question mark at the most important position on the field: quarterback. Rex Ryan decided to enter the preseason without naming a starter, giving EJ Manuel, Tyrod Taylor and Matt Cassel a chance to win the job. 

It seemed as if EJ Manuel would be the pick to at least start the season, since he is the only one with experience in the offense along with being their first round pick from only two years ago. However, Tyrod Taylor edged towards the spot as he impressed in training camp, per reports. Matt Cassel was considered the safest option, being someone who has had success as a starter in both New England and Kansas City.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The competition ensued for the first three preseason games, each QB with the opportunity to prove that he was the right choice to start the season, though Taylor and Manuel were the clear favorites. In these games, the coaching staff and fan base were given an encouraging surprise: all of them played well, as Matt Simms even threw for a touchdown in the third game.

EJ Manuel played as expected or even better, throwing for 358 yards with a 66.7 completion percentage. Taylor also played well, with 77.4% completion and 236 yards. Matt Cassel was solid, but got half the reps of the other two, showing that he was no longer legitimately being considered for the job. 

Both Manuel and Taylor have their unique upsides, with Manuel being more experienced both in the NFL and in the Bills' offense, while Taylor shows more athletic ability and potential. EJ Manuel was also sacked 5 times during the three preseason games, while Taylor was only sacked once, adding another element to the equation. What once seemed to be a huge problem turned into a difficult decision for the coach because of the success at the position, not the deficiencies.

He had three completely different options to go with to start the season.  One choice was Cassel, the safest pick, who lacked the risk-taking and athletic ability of the others. Another was Taylor, the most mobile and daring, with a question mark when it comes to consistency. Right between them was Manuel, who is not as safe as Cassel, but is the most experienced.

With Rex Ryan at the helm, it is understandable that after the dress rehearsal he decided to name Tyrod Taylor the Week 1 starter. Ryan always seems to make "outside the box" football decisions and this is another one, but I would be encouraged if I was a Bills fan.

The coach decided to forego the more prototypical, experienced signal caller for one that has much more to offer with a larger risk. That choice indicates that he is looking to win now, as Taylor has the chance to quickly develop into a better starter than Manuel.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The speedy quarterback brings the offense to another level when it comes to quickness and electrifying plays, with better ability as a runner than Manuel along with the willingness to take risks, something Ryan seemingly wanted but could not find in his other two options.

Any Rex Ryan led team is built on defense, therefore if he can make this unit elite, Taylor will have a much easier job. He will have to focus on taking care of the ball and finding some way to score points, as opposed to trying to find his way on top during a shootout. He will surely pump up the crowd and his team with his play style, but his spot atop the depth chart is not as secure as it seems.

If the Bills dominate on defense, continue to hold opponents to low point totals, and Taylor turns the ball over at a high rate, Ryan may even turn to Cassel, the safest, most consistent option to allow his defense to work and be guaranteed less turnovers instead of continuing to roll the dice with his inexperienced starter.

He has shown extreme potential in the preseason, and Rex Ryan knows that if the Bills want to get into the playoffs and succeed there, Taylor is the future. Only time will tell if he is ready to take advantage of his opportunity, but for the sake of the city and his team, Ryan hopes his quarterback is ready to adopt the "all-in" approach.

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