There’s no denying the Buffalo Bills’ decision to start Josh Allen on Sunday in the third preseason game is significant.
Determining just how significant, though, is a bit more complicated.
The third preseason game is traditionally known as the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. It’s the game that the starters play the most – sometimes into the third quarter. With that in mind, it’s easy to follow a line of thinking that starting Allen is a sign of things to come. Before the first two preseason games, Bills coach Sean McDermott delayed making an announcement on his starting quarterback until shortly before kickoff. Not so this time.
So why the change in philosophy? Here’s my theory:
Before the announcement came Monday night, McDermott said the rest of this week would “move into a little bit of a blend of a normal week as we prepare.”
“Our players can get acclimated to the routine of a normal, regular-season week,” the coach said. “We’ve got some new players who haven’t been around us in terms of that routine, so we try and expose them to that.”
Allen headlines that list. Announcing him as the starter now gives the team a chance to see how he handles a week of preparation as the starter.
It does not, at least from this corner, guarantee that Allen will be under center against the Ravens on Sept. 9.
“The competition … that stays, that remains,” McDermott said Monday morning. “The competitions are still open and will be until they’re not, basically, as training camp unfolds.”
Basically, what the Bills have done is given Allen a very real chance to prove he deserves to be the starter when the games start to count. With a week to prepare, they will get a good idea of what he can do against a starting defense.
Through the first two preseason games, Allen has completed 18-of-32 for 176 yards and two touchdowns. He has a passer rating of 92.7. Interestingly enough, Allen’s 56.2 completion percentage is exactly the same as it was in college (shout out to ESPN’s Mike Rodak for pointing out that juicy statistical nugget). There was much consternation about that before the draft.
“So far, I would say he’s been pretty steady, and that’s a great quality,” McDermott said after Friday’s game against Cleveland. “Mentally, he’s pretty steady. I think the guys appreciate that. For a rookie to have that quality is important. The mental toughness element, if you will, is something important to manage the highs and lows of life in the NFL.”
As the seventh overall pick in the draft, Bills fans understandably want to see Allen in the starting lineup. And they will – at some point. McDermott and Co. just have to decide when that time is, and there is plenty to consider.
Can the offensive line protect him? We’ve already seen quarterback AJ McCarron injured while playing with the starters.
Is the Bills’ opening schedule, which features five of the first seven games on the road, more than Allen can handle as a rookie?
Does Nathan Peterman give the Bills the best chance to win right now? Peterman’s stats in two preseason performances have been stellar. He has completed 17-of-20 passes this preseason for 231 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (that hit his intended receiver in the hands).
Those are just a few of the questions the coaching staff has to answer before declaring a winner of this competition.