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Vic Carucci: Bills still should make Allen opening-day starter

Vic Carucci

The easy conclusion is that Josh Allen is nowhere near ready to begin the regular season as the Buffalo Bills' starting quarterback.

If you're good with putting all of Sunday's first-half offensive ugliness on the rookie, then that reasoning is logical.

I'm not, which is also why I'm unwilling to change my mind about Allen still being the Bills' best choice to start in Baltimore on Sept. 9, a decision coach Sean McDermott said he was not ready to make in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's 26-13 preseason loss against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"I've got to look at the tape," McDermott said.

He'll see plenty that will probably make it unwise to do so on a full stomach. However, one of the things he's bound to determine is that far too much of what went wrong with his starting offense — and there was a lot — extended beyond Allen. Put another way, if you don't want Allen to face the Ravens, then you certainly can't bear the thought of the Bills' offensive line being in that game, either.

As bad as Allen looked, his O-line — which McDermott said was shuffled frequently as part of a plan to see how it would adjust to injuries and certain players being active and inactive on game day — was worse. Much worse.

"He didn't have a clean pocket all day," center Ryan Groy said.

That went a long way toward Allen's abysmal showing that contributed to the Bills:

  • Ending up with a fourth-and-38 with 6:09 left in the second quarter, touching off a chorus of boos from the "Kids Day" crowd at New Era Field. "Yeah, Dad, you're right. They do stink!"
  • Finding themselves with a minus-11 net passing yards on 14 pass plays at that juncture.
  • Losing yards on four of their eight first-half possessions.

Allen showed the proper level of maturity and leadership to resist any urge to point fingers. He rightfully accepted some of the blame for not always being quick enough to make throws, no doubt because he wasn't always sure of what he was seeing across the line from an accomplished and well-coached defense.

"I didn't do a good enough job getting the ball out on time, getting it to our playmakers," Allen said. "You know, holding onto the ball is not going be too great most of the time. I've got to do a better job, but there's a lot to learn from."

Allen's receivers weren't all that spectacular, either, with so-called No. 1 target Kelvin Benjamin typically unable to create separation and dropping one of the two passes thrown his way.

But the bigger issue was the line. To say it was overwhelmed by the Bengals' formidable starting defensive front, which wasn't in the game when Nathan Peterman took over at quarterback at the start of the third quarter, is being kind.

It was pummeled, manhandled and flat-out humiliated.

The game's first 30 minutes -- which included Andy Dalton showing his appreciation for the standing ovation he received for helping the Bills snap a 17-year playoff drought on New Year's Eve by finding John Ross for a 57-yard touchdown on Cincinnati's first play from scrimmage -- were too putrid for McDermott to rely on his memory to discuss it with reporters.

"We're going to have to look at the tape," the coach said, a phrase that came up three times in his postgame news conference.

The line was missing injured left tackle Dion Dawkins, who had an insufficient replacement in Marshall Newhouse, but its largest shortcomings were in the middle, where it sustained those unanticipated losses of center Eric Wood and left guard Richie Incognito. That was where the Bengals found the most success in producing the intense pressure that resulted in Allen being sacked five times for minus-39 yards through two quarters.

Right guard John Miller allowed the last two sacks on the series that helped set up fourth-and-38. He also was penalized three times.

Observations: Bills' O-line struggles, shuffles in loss to Bengals

For much of the half, Allen found himself running for his life before having to leave the game just before halftime after getting his head bounced hard off the turf in the end zone on a hit by Carlos Dunlap just as Allen launched a throw out of bounds to avoid a sack.

"There was a lot going on (while Allen was in the game)," McDermott said. "We've got to make sure we're helping him with protection and catching the football and not beating ourselves with penalties. Let's just start there and the rest we've got to look at the film."

Allen was checked for a head injury, but cleared to return in the second half. He didn't, paving the way for Peterman to finish the game.

Yes, Peterman looked far more impressive. He needed only two throws to account for more passing yards (35) than Allen had in six completions. He looked more poised and in control. Peterman also wasn't going up against pass-rushing stud Carl Lawson, who had two-and-a-half of the five sacks, or Dunlap or any of the Bengals' other front-liners.

For the record, Allen didn't see his performance as a backward step.

"No, not at all," he said. "Getting out there with the ones, obviously, it's moving really fast. To see that speed, it was eye-opening. They have a really good defense and they came out and they brought it.

"But at the same time, we had plays in place where they could have worked if I got the ball out on time. It just didn't happen enough tonight, but like I said, we'll just continue to grow."

I've heard the common reason given for keeping Allen on the sideline: It makes absolutely no sense to put the team's designated long-term answer at QB on the field in the short term behind such a horrific offensive line.

This is my answer: Exactly when is it that the line going to stop being horrific?

Based on what it has shown in the last two preseason games, it's hard to envision that happening any time soon. If the line is to show any sort of improvement this season, it will almost assuredly have to result from players on the roster making progress that, frankly, looks unlikely to show up in the coming days, weeks or months. It is unrealistic to think the Bills will manage to find a quality starter at guard or any other spot up front in the near future.

The Bills didn't address their offensive line during an offseason that was all about finding a franchise QB and fortifying the middle of the defense. They'll have to wait until next offseason to do something about pass protection.

So how long is long enough to wait before putting Allen on the field? What is the sense in allowing Peterman to take a beating in the meantime? What will that prove, other than McDermott, his coaching staff and General Manager Brandon Beane losing valuable time to get Allen experience?

Rookie quarterbacks who are premium draft picks tend to have poor supporting casts, because the teams in position to select them have more than one hole in the lineup. Despite backing into the playoffs last season, the Bills are not some sort of polished contender ready to help an immensely gifted QB such as Allen perform at his best.

They need to fix their offensive line. They need to fix their receiving corps. They need to fix a defense that has been vulnerable to big plays, on the ground and through the air.

"It's disappointing," McDermott said of what he saw Sunday. "We've got a lot to learn from it and lot to work to do, that's for sure, in all three phases."

Nathan Peterman: 'I've definitely put my best effort out there.'

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