Mike Rodak, ESPN Staff Writer 285d

Tyrod Taylor is improving despite challenging circumstances

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Not only were Tyrod Taylor's past two games some of his better performances since joining the Buffalo Bills, they were among his most improbable.

After Taylor completed 77 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and a 126.0 passer rating in a Week 3 win over the Denver Broncos, he followed up Sunday by averaging 9.1 yards per attempt and compiling a 106.7 rating in an upset victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Taylor's passer ratings in those games rank fifth and 11th among his 33 starts in Buffalo.

A terrible preseason in which Taylor completed only 48 percent of his passes for a 27.9 rating is a distant memory. An August trade that stripped Taylor of his top receiver, Sammy Watkins, and looked set him up to fail this season has thus far been overcome. Taylor had little issue with a stout Broncos defense led by formidable cornerback duo Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, and a road trip to play the undefeated Falcons did not prove too big.

Taylor is not lighting the world on fire with his passing statistics -- he threw for 213 yards versus Denver and 182 at Atlanta -- but given the circumstances, his past two games have exceeded expectations. While it is far too early to tell if Taylor will remain the Bills' quarterback next season -- and a rough afternoon in a Week 2 loss to the Panthers cannot be ignored -- the most recent signs from Taylor should be encouraging to the Bills (3-1).

The most successful aspect of Taylor's game so far this season has been play-action passing. Taylor has completed 17 of 22 attempts off play-action for 310 yards, three touchdowns and a league-best, near-perfect 158.1 passer rating. Taylor's 14.09 yards per pass attempt off play-action is the best in the league and nearly double his rate from last season (7.84).

Oddly, the Bills have been more successful off play-action this season despite their running game not performing to the same level as in 2016. LeSean McCoy has averaged 3.18 yards per carry and gained first downs on only 16.2 percent of his rushes this season. Through the first four games of last season, McCoy averaged 4.43 yards per carry and gained first downs on 22.4 percent of his carries.

"I can’t really pinpoint why that correlates to one another, but getting Shady going is definitely something that we are going to continue to be persistent about," Taylor said Wednesday as Buffalo prepared for a Week 5 visit to the Cincinnati Bengals. "As far as in the play [-action] passes, guys are making plays down the field, winning those matchups, taking those challenges and like I said, going out there and winning. We’ve been able to find some areas in the play pass."

Taylor -- and the Bills' offense as a whole -- has not turned the ball over since the first drive of the season, when Taylor threw a red-zone interception to the Jets. Since then, the 28-year-old has protected the football and done enough in the passing game to allow Buffalo's top-ranked defense to fend off opposing offenses for back-to-back victories.

If the Bills were looking for a step forward from Taylor, this could be one.

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