When is the right time to make a bold decision at quarterback?
Coaches either make a change after it’s too late or they panic or make the change too early and face the possibility of losing the locker room that supported the incumbent.
This is the tenuous place Bills coach Sean McDermott resides after benching veteran incumbent Tyrod Taylor for unknown rookie Nate Peterman this week.
“Ultimately coach McDermott has a vision for this team, what he feels is best for the team, as well as the owners and GM,” Taylor told reporters this week. “I don’t agree with the decision.’’
Nor do I.
Though Taylor has his flaws, I believe he deserves more time to get this thing right. He is, after all, the same quarterback who helped lead the Bills to five wins in their first seven games.
Buffalo hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1999, and I believe Taylor gives them their best chance to end that dubious streak this season.
The compelling backdrop to this is the fact the Bills are 5-4 and currently sit in a wild-card position with seven regular-season games remaining.
The wildly inconsistent Bills haven’t been bad this season, but they haven’t been great, either. And clearly, McDermott is seeking something better than “not bad” and closer to “great.”
Whether he’ll get it with this rookie quarterback — who’s thrown 10 NFL passes, completing seven, one for a TD — but all of that production came in the garbage time of the Bills’ eye-opening 47-10 loss to the Saints last week.
So Peterman will start for the Bills in their game at the Chargers on Sunday, and presumably beyond.
Is this residue from the shock value of that blowout loss to the Saints, the Bills’ second consecutive lopsided defeat, or truly a belief Peterman is the quarterback to take the Bills not only to the playoffs for the first time since 1999 but to lead them deep into the postseason?
“When you transition quarterbacks, I don’t know if there’s ever a right time, honestly,” McDermott told reporters this week. “As I continually evaluate our roster and our goal to become better, I’ve decided to start Nate Peterman as our quarterback this week. I remain confident in Tyrod Taylor and his ability to help our football team moving forward.”
Well, if he’s being honest, McDermott can hardly be confident in Taylor, who’s a team captain, going forward. Otherwise he wouldn’t be making the change.
“We’re here for more than five wins,” McDermott said. “That’s why I was brought here. That’s the vision. It’s nothing more than that. It’s about getting us to where we’re trying to go to win a championship. Everyone wants to get to the playoffs, I understand that, and that’s important.’’
Yet he’s risking that by making this change.
In fairness to McDermott, Taylor is a confounding player. He teases you with his physical ability and his statistics. Statistically, he looks like a top-tier quarterback in that he protects the football, having thrown 47 TDs to just 17 INTs in his 39 NFL starts. He completes 62.7 percent of his passes, which is solid. And he’s a constant threat to hurt defenses with his running ability when he scrambles.
Yet Taylor’s won-loss record is a pedestrian 19-18 since he became the starter in 2015. He was 7-6 in 2015, 7-8 last season and 5-4 this season.
The knock on Taylor, and it’s a legitimate one, is he’s not a very proficient pocket passer and relies too heavily on throwing to check-down receivers. This is where the decent completion percentage and low INT rate becomes a bit of mirage.
Sometimes, coaches need to take a chance, rely on a gut feeling. This clearly is what McDermott is doing. Only time will tell how good his timing was.