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Jim Kubiak: Next stage for Josh Allen is more patience and situational understanding

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’s performance in the loss to the New York Jets in Week 14 was not riddled with poor plays. It was not the outing of a subpar player. His performance grade of 85 percent overall should have been enough to outlast the Sam Darnold-led Jets if not for two botched field goals.

Allen has made significant developmental progress in his recent performances. First, and most importantly he has assumed command and control of the Bills' offense. He is the unmistakable leader and most dangerous player on the offensive side of the ball. He looks poised and calm in the pocket and he is getting more aware of when to take off on his devastating quarterback scrambles.

Allen, in this game, scrambled for 101 yards on just nine carries and again was Buffalo’s leading rusher. He managed to pick up a first down or a touchdown on five of his 71 plays. He has become an offensive weapon rushing the football in passing situations where opposing defenses are deep in downfield coverage.

Allen is somehow able to find the breakdowns at the line of scrimmage, recognize linebackers dropping deep into coverage and break free down the field for huge gashing runs.

Two specific plays in the first quarter illustrate Allen’s impressive tenacity as a runner:

On the fourth play of the game, on third-and-1, from the Bills' 36-yard line, Allen staggered his feet under center indicating to everyone that he was running the quarterback sneak. The Jets were prepared and lined up in a “bear” defensive front, as they covered every offensive lineman with a defensive player. In spite of these facts, Allen relentlessly plowed into the Jets’ defensive front, kept his feet moving to gain eight yards and nearly broke free down the middle of the field for a touchdown. This is not a play that is made by any ordinary quarterback. This type of occurrence almost never happens. Yet Allen’s athletic ability nearly turned his quarterback sneak into an unthinkable, almost impossible breakaway run.

Another play on the Bills’ first scoring drive that illustrates Allen’s ability to run came at 12:32 in the first quarter as the Bills were in a “trips right” formation in a second-and-10 situation. The Jets were in “man-to-man” coverage, which Allen recognized, because they blitzed safety Jamal Adams. Allen stepped up into the pocket of the five-man rush and found a crease. Once he reached the “linebacker level,” no one else was there as the Jets’ linebackers were all in “man-to-man” responsibilities on other Buffalo players.

Allen ran for nearly 30 yards on this huge play, setting up the Bills on the Jets’ 25. This is the risk teams now have to take with Allen; if they blitz and don’t sack him immediately in the pocket, he has the tools to rip off game-changing plays with his uncanny elusiveness.

The formula for victory in the NFL begins with protecting the football and winning the “turnover ratio.”  Allen’s two interceptions and one fumble were more detrimental than any of his great throws or scrambles.

With a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, on the 14th play of the game, Allen tried to do too much on a third-and-6 play from the Buffalo 29. Allen stepped up into the pocket and tried to make another first down with his legs, only this time he did not secure the football appropriately. Jets linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis was “spying” Allen as the Jets brought a five-man pressure and played “man to man” in the secondary.

Pierre-Louis reacted to Allen’s attempt to leave the pocket and caused the fumble by hitting Allen’s arm. This is the double-edged sword of a “running” or “scrambling” quarterback. Not only is he at additional risk of injury, but he is also not adequately trained or designed to carry the football regularly through tenacious linebackers. This turnover killed the Buffalo drive and resulted in a Jets field goal.

Allen’s second turnover of the game, an interception on the ninth play of the second quarter, occurred with 4:56 remaining in the half. This play followed back-to-back penalties resulting in a first-and-25 for Buffalo. Allen dropped back against a zone defense and a four-man defensive rush. Buffalo was lined up in an “empty” formation, meaning they were sending five receivers into passing routes. This left the Bills in a five-man pass protection.

Jets linebacker Frankie Luvu lined up outside of the right defensive end, Henry Anderson. At the snap, Luvu then came inside of Anderson and flushed Allen to his right. This would have been a great time for Allen to either throw the football away or to make a safer throw. Instead, he made a late throw down the field into a host of New York Jets defenders. Jets cornerback Trumaine Johnson easily stepped in front of the lapsed throw. This too is another example of an inexperienced young quarterback making a game-deciding mistake. A wiser and more seasoned Allen would have thrown the football away in this situation, protecting the possession, field position and his team.

Allen did have four “throwaways” on the day, which indicates that Sean McDermott and Brian Daboll are educating him each day on the importance of protecting the football. These were wise, sack-saving decisions that demonstrate Allen’s increasing understanding of playing the position in the NFL.

Allen’s most impressive throw of the day, one that establishes his growing command of touch and trajectory, came on the 13th play of the fourth quarter with the game tied 20-20. Buffalo, with 4:09 remaining, was orchestrating a game-winning drive and was again lined up in an “empty” formation. They had three wide receivers to the right and two to the left.

The Jets were in a five-man pressure, playing “Cover 1” otherwise known as “man-free.” This coverage is “man to man” everywhere on the field with one deep middle safety. Allen knew the coverage and recognized the soft man-technique being played on wide receiver Robert Foster. The rule for these situations is that if the defender is ahead of the wide receiver the quarterback should recognize this positioning and throw the receiver to the open “back shoulder” reception area. This takes confidence, as well as an understanding by the quarterback to deliver the ball softer with a higher trajectory, allowing time for the receiver to see and react to the football. If Allen threw the ball too hard or too low, Foster would not have had a chance to adjust to the football. This was great recognition and high-level execution by Allen at a crucial time in the game.

As good as this play was by Allen is as troublesome as his decision was just three plays later. On third-and-5 from the Jets’ 18 yard-line, Allen rolled to his right as Buffalo put three wide receivers out into routes. Allen had everything he could have wanted in this situation. The Jets were again in “Cover 1” playing “man to man” with one deep safety. Zay Jones was lined up with Isaiah McKenzie to the right, while Foster was the back-side wide receiver. Jones ran a “corner” route, McKenzie on the same side ran a “flat” route underneath. This is a common combination that allows the quarterback to get a “high-low” read to the side he is rolling to. The final piece to this pass concept was the complimentary drag route by Foster racing across the field from his tight, back side alignment.

Allen, with his strong desire to always make big plays, took the shot to the corner. This wasn’t necessary as Jones was heavily contested and the Bills only needed five yards for the first down. Allen should have known the drag was coming across, and upon further review the film indicates that if Allen had had the patience to progress through his reads, Foster was open and may have scored. Foster would have at least picked up the first down that would have drained the game clock and potentially led to a Buffalo touchdown, rather than a field goal.

This level of patience and situational understanding is the next step of development for Allen. These situations are incredibly important and make the difference between winning and losing. Too often young quarterbacks try to always make the big throw or the big play, rather than simply taking what the defense gives or the basic plays that are there to be made.

Quarterbacks are creatures of habit. Some are great listeners and can assimilate information quickly, making necessary adjustments to their game. Allen’s leadership and performances have illustrated his impressive work ethic in practice and his desire to be the best player he can be.

He is definitely improving on a weekly basis, which is not an accident. He is shaping himself into a dangerous “dual-threat” player, but the defining factor in his ultimate success or failure will not be his running ability or even his passing ability. The defining component will be his decision-making ability and his adherence to the strict formula for success in the NFL, which is to protect the football and take what the defense gives.

It is several moments in a game, generally four or five plays, that ultimately decide outcomes.

If he can execute with more patience and situational awareness, he will give the Buffalo franchise what it desperately needs – hope.

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