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Jim Kubiak: How tight formations helped Bills' Josh Allen succeed against Jaguars

Jim Kubiak will be analyzing the play of the Buffalo Bills quarterbacks throughout the season for Kubiak is the all-time leading passer at Navy, has played in the NFL, NFL Europe and the Arena Football League, and has been a coach and executive in the AFL. He spent eight years as the radio analyst for the University at Buffalo and runs the Western New York Quarterback Academy to help develop the next generation of quarterbacks.

Quarterbacks are graded each quarter using a “Doing Your Job” grading system for every play. Josh Allen returned to the Buffalo Bills’ starting lineup in style, completing 8 of 19 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown through the air, while rushing for 99 yards and one touchdown. His overall quarterback performance grade was 90.5 percent, marking the third time this season he performed at better than 90 percent. All three of these high-grade performances resulted in Buffalo victories.

He was aggressive, tough and in control of the game from the first play when he faked a run, rolled left and decisively ran the football. It was only a 5-yard gain, but that play demonstrated his tenacious, physical leadership as he went plowing into defenders without hesitation or fear. After contact, he popped up and had a few emphatic words for the Jaguars' defenders.

This first play from the line of scrimmage set the tone for the Bills as they took down the physical Jaguars, 24-21.

Allen’s unconventional quarterback demeanor as well as his leadership have Bills fans excited about his development. There aren’t many players with the physical tools to do the things that Allen was able to do to beat Jacksonville.

Take for example Allen’s scrambling ability, and his physical power running the football. Ben Roethlisberger is the only other player who comes to mind who is willing to run with such reckless abandon.

In 54 plays, Allen athletically improvised 20 percent of the time. Whether you are a fan of this style or not, it was effective, as he was able to make things happen with his legs to the tune of 99 yards and a touchdown.

This kind of decisive running action makes Allen very difficult to defend, and puts defenses in a bind when they play man-to-man
coverage. If teams blitz, they better sack the quarterback or account for Allen with a spy, otherwise they risk giving up huge plays.

Allen also did not throw an interception and was not sacked, an achievement for an offense that had struggled to protect the quarterback earlier in the year. Allen demonstrated growth and maturity as well, throwing the ball away twice when Buffalo receivers were covered. He was also able to keep his cool and keep the offensive unit running smoothly.

Early in the year, his erratic cadence hurt the Bills' offense with false starts. This wasn’t the case against the Jaguars as offensive coordinator Daboll’s preparation and ability to get quarterbacks ready to play was again on display. Allen was decisive, aggressive and consistent, taking shots down the field at the right times and scrambling without hesitation.

Allen also demonstrated incredible toughness from the pocket, delivering throws on several occasions under extreme duress. This was Jim Kelly-like tenacity and grit as he was willing to hold onto the football until the very last second with little regard for his own well-being.

Daboll’s offense mustered 327 total yards and averaged 6.1 yards per play in a very balanced performance. He continued to keep defenses guessing with his use of “endarounds,” “jet sweeps,” “flea flickers”, quarterback runs, and this week in particular “tight” formations.

It was Daboll’s use of these “tight” formations that was most intriguing, and perhaps most effective. Generally, cornerbacks like to be out wide and in space. They feel most comfortable and do their best work coverage-wise adjusting their defensive technique and alignments where they play most often. When Daboll tightened his formational “splits,” he took the Jacksonville defensive backs out of their comfort zone, enabling the Bills’ receivers to cross the field quicker.

Additionally, this concept of tight alignment enhanced the “jet sweep” success of Isaiah McKenzie as he scored on the Bills’ 11th play from the 6-yard line.

Another point worth making about Daboll’s choice of “tight” formations came again in the first quarter on Allen’s 75-yard touchdown pass to Robert Foster. The “tight” formation enabled Foster, who was lined up on the left side, to get across the face of free safety Barry Church more quickly than if he was lined up wider. The receiver on the right side of the formation, Zay Jones, ran a “curl” route at 10 yards that put the cornerback to his side in conflict. Allen’s job on this play was to read the corner over Jones.

If the corner dropped deep,  Jones would be open and if the corner jumped the curl, Foster would be open on the cross behind him. This was a unique “flood” type concept whereby Daboll was able to put more offensive players in one zone area than Jacksonville could defend. This was simplicity and genius at its finest, and perfectly thrown by Allen who was engulfed as he released the football.

The combination of Daboll’s creativity and Allen’s execution were the difference offensively for Buffalo.

Daboll gave Allen good concepts, protection and balance, while Allen gave the Buffalo offense a chance by protecting the football and making the plays that were there to be made. Successful quarterbacks can recognize what the defense is trying to take away as well as the weakness that same coverage presents, and take advantage of it.

In this game he made the plays that made the difference. He fought, he executed, he found a way to win, and at end of the day that is all that really matters to anyone in the NFL.

The unusual skill set of Josh Allen is not what we typically observe in a league driven by statistics and efficiency. He is a throwback type of player who is not concerned about completion percentages or checking the football down to underneath receivers. He is focused on and driven by only one thing, getting the job done and winning games.

One question remains – can he continue to flourish as a dual threat player in a league that historically challenges the long-term success of this style of play? Only time will tell.


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