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Jim Kubiak: Throwaways, hard counts show Josh Allen's progress

Jim Kubiak will be analyzing the play of the 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 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 grade of 91 percent in Buffalo’s 14-13 win against the Detroit Lions was impressive on several fronts.

First, Allen did not throw an interception or commit a turnover. This critical and important factor cannot be understated as teams that win the turnover ratio win the game statistically 80-90 percent of the time. The Lions also did a fantastic job of protecting the football, not committing any turnovers either.

This game was relatively mistake-free from the quarterback perspective, which is one way we can evaluate Josh Allen’s overall growth.

Bill Parcells insisted that most games are lost and not won. The meaning of this upside-down concept is that great plays do not win games; rather, basic mistakes lose games. An assortment of many things can constitute a mistake from the quarterback position, such as taking a sack at the end of a game without a time-out or forcing an unnecessary throw on first or second down of a drive that results in an interception. Not “milking” the clock down between plays in the “four-minute offense,” subsequently taking every second away from your opponent while you have the football can also result in a loss.

Winning a game isn’t about how many great plays the team makes; it is about not making mistakes.

Allen did perhaps his very best job to date of managing the situations, leading the young troops and minimizing his own potential mishaps.

Allen threw the football away four times against Detroit. These simple plays might go unnoticed, but their relevance in a one-point victory is significant. Each of these “throwaways” occurred on first or second downs on drives ultimately resulting in Buffalo punts. The Bills were subsequently able to maintain field position, thus forcing their opponent to drive from their own territory for points. Allen’s “throwaways” were significant in the Bills’ victory and demonstrate the progress that he is making.

Here were the throwaways and what happened next:

First quarter, first-and-10 on Lions' 28. Marcus Murphy with a 1-yard run on second down, Allen sacked on third down. Bills opted to punt from the 36, rather than try a long field goal.

Second quarter, second-and-7 on Bills' 44. Incomplete pass on third down and then a punt that led to a Detroit drive starting on the 18 just before the two-minute warning.

Third quarter, second-and-6 on the Lions' 48. Incomplete pass on third down and then a punt that pinned Detroit at its 10 and led to a three-and-out.

Fourth quarter,  second-and-8 on the Bills' 40. Incomplete pass on third down and then a punt to the Detroit 18 followed by a 12-yard return. The Lions moved three yards and punted.

Three game-defining plays helped result in the Bills’ tight victory.

Second quarter, 8:57 minutes remaining, first-and-10 from Bills' 25

Robert Foster was lined up to Allen’s left and ran a “deep-V” route. His job was to dive inside of cornerback Mike Ford and then angle to the “back pylon.” Allen read the “man-to-man” coverage and put the ball to his outside shoulder.

Ford knew he was beat and stopped the touchdown by interfering with Foster, preventing him from making the catch. The result was pass interference and a first-and-goal from the 4-yard line. The Bills scored two plays later as Allen scrambled in for his first touchdown of the game.

Fourth quarter, 11:08 remaining, second-and-9 from the Bills' 40

On Buffalo’s fifth offensive play, Zay Jones “expanded” from his “tight” alignment and ran a “go” route down the left sideline. Allen again recognized that the defender was in terrific “upfield shoulder” position to cover Jones over the top.

Upon seeing this, Allen threw a soft back-shoulder throw to the open area behind the defender. Lions cornerback Darius Slay did his best to defend the underthrown football and interfered with Jones. This well-executed throw by Josh Allen illustrates his increasing awareness, touch, poise and accuracy.

After the penalty, the ball was placed on the Lions’ 37. Two plays later, Allen threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Foster, who was again poorly defended by Ford. Ford was trying to cover Foster all the way across the field in “man-to-man” coverage. This was an exceptional play call by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll putting his players in the best position to be successful against “man” coverage.

The play that set this all in motion however, was the “back shoulder” pass interference throw to Jones.

Fourth quarter, 2:00 remaining, third-and-7 from the Lions' 47.

Allen used his “double hard count” to draw the Lions into a neutral zone infraction and an important 5-yard penalty. This was a huge play for the Bills coming off the two-minute warning. They accepted the 5-yard penalty, which put them into a “run” situation. Buffalo was not able to convert, however, and decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from Detroits’ 40.

Allen staggered his feet for additional power and leaped over the “submarining” defensive linemen to pick up the “game-sealing” first down. Without Allen’s “hard count” the Bills likely punt, giving the football back to Detroit’s Matthew Stafford with two minutes remaining.

The Bills do not win this game without Allen’s four “throw-aways” or without these three penalties in which game-deciding plays followed. The brilliance of the win is in the execution of basic components and demonstrates Allen’s maturity in situational recognition and avoiding negative plays.

Certainly Allen’s leadership and execution from the pocket made some of the difference as he went 13 of 26, for 204 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 rushing touchdown. But it was his increased ability to prevent his own mistakes that was the most relevant factor. Sometimes it isn’t what happens that matters most — sometimes it is what didn’t happen that makes all the difference.

The Bills didn’t give the game away at crucial times with poor plays. They kept executing, whether it be a snap count or an adjusted throw. They capitalized on their opponents' mistakes — a missed extra-point and a missed 48 yard field goal — and minimized their own.

They ultimately won this close game with discipline, with their fourth and final running back, and with some seasoned Allen grit.

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