Tyrod Taylor would not be the best quarterback to run Chip Kelly's vision of a zone-read offense. He was, however, the best alternative available during an offseason in which the Eagles' coach/general manager paid a high price to bring in Sam Bradford from the St. Louis Rams.
This, of course, is hindsight and we know how clear our vision can be with that as an aide. But listen to Kelly talk about Taylor and you wonder if there's just a tinge of regret for not signing a guy who was available as a free agent at the low cost of $3.35 million over three seasons. For comparison's sake, that is less money than Eagles backup Mark Sanchez is going to make just for this season.
Kelly believes the Buffalo Bills acquired a MiniCam – a smaller version of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton – when they signed Taylor to compete for a quarterback job that he earned during the preseason.
"It's a different dynamic," Kelly said before practice Wednesday in preparation for Sunday's game against Taylor and the Bills. "It's similar to playing – not that he is the same player as Cam because Cam is obviously a different body type – but when that quarterback has the ability to run, it's different."
It is the kind of different that Kelly has rarely had at his play-calling disposal since coming to the Eagles as their head coach. We caught glimpses of it in his first season when Michael Vick opened at quarterback, but it lasted only five games. The closest thing we have seen since were those occasional zone-read keeps by Sanchez during his starts in place of Nick Foles and Bradford. There were not nearly enough of them to keep defensive coordinators up at night worrying about being beaten that way.
Extra time and reduced sleep, however, are part of the preparation for quarterbacks like Newton, Taylor and Seattle's Russell Wilson.
"It's different on how you cover," Kelly said. "If you play a lot of man under or two-deep under where the defensive backs have their backs turned to the quarterback and it's third-and-10, he can tuck the ball and run for the first down.
"It's like facing Carolina because they have designed runs for the quarterback. They'll run some zone read, where if you tackle the back, the quarterback is a threat on the perimeter. Other teams run some of that, but the quarterback is not as much of a threat, so you feel like you can tackle the back and then rally to the quarterback. It makes you play a little more assignment defense."
Told of Kelly's comparison between Taylor and Newton, Bills coach Rex Ryan perked up during his conference call with the Philadelphia media.
"Oo, I like that one," Ryan said. "Chip knows. He's had quarterbacks like that with that run ability and, man, it's tough. It's tough to defend because everything you do you have to always say, 'Well, what happens if the quarterback keeps it.' This guy is the fastest quarterback in the league. Now, are we going to run him fifty times? No. You can probably run the kid in Carolina fifty times as big as he is, but we're certainly not going to run [Taylor] that much."
Taylor, 26, has run 63 times for 318 yards this season, an average of 5.1 yards per carry. That's 45 times fewer than Newton and unquestionably wise because Taylor is listed at 6-foot and 221 pounds while Netwon is 6-6 and 260. Even with that lighter work load, he still missed two games with a knee injury earlier this season.
You could say that is the risk of having a running quarterback, but it's actually just the risk of being a quarterback of any sort.
"I think he's actually a little bit better runner than Cam is," Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. "He's a little bit more shifty and a little faster."
A year ago the Bills had the league's 25th-ranked rushing offense, but the additions of Taylor, LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams they have shot up to fourth in that department. The Eagles, meanwhile, have slipped from first in Kelly's first season to ninth last season to 11th this year.
While DeMarco Murray has become the focal point for what's ailing the offense - he earned the role by complaining about his playing time to owner Jeffrey Lurie - it would help all of the Eagles' running backs if they had a quarterback that presented some sort of zone-read running threat.
"He'd kill it," McCoy said when asked how Taylor would do in Kelly's offense.
That's slang for he'd do exceptionally well.
In order for it to truly work, the quarterback with the breakaway speed must also be able to throw and Taylor has done that far better than most people who watched him play college football at Virginia Tech ever thought he would.
The Bills' 74 big plays – runs of 10 yards or more and passes of 25 yards or more – are tied for third in the NFL with the Panthers. Taylor had only thrown the ball 35 times during his four seasons as Joe Flacco's backup in Baltimore, but this season he has posted passer ratings of 90 or better in eight of his 10 starts and 100 or better five times.
Taylor's 104.3 passer rating is fourth in the NFL and higher than Tom Brady's in New England.
The Eagles could have had Tyrod Taylor and he would have been a nice fit for their offense. Instead, they will spend Sunday trying to stop him. They know it's not going to be easy.