Jim Kubiak will be analyzing the play of the Buffalo Bills quarterbacks throughout the season for BNBlitz.com. 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.
The New England Patriots outplayed the underdog Buffalo Bills in a sloppy six-turnover game to capture its 10th consecutive AFC East title. The Patriots' 24-12 win was ugly.
Josh Allen was 21 of 40 for 217 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. He entered the game with six rushing touchdowns and 506 rushing yards on the year, an accolade worth both cheering and cringing.
Using our "Doing Your Job" grading system, Allen’s overall quarterback performance grade against the Patriots was 84 percent, the lowest for a Bills quarterback since Derek Anderson's grade against the Patriots in the Week 8 Monday night game.
In spite of the slightly lower grade, it is indisputable from the film review that Allen’s confidence and awareness are growing rapidly. His leadership and command of both the huddle and the offense is very evident.
Patriots in man-to-man
Coming into his first game against the “cerebral” New England Patriots, Allen had to prepare and understand several realities to be successful. First and most importantly, following a week of Patriots’ defensive film work, he had to know that the Patriots prefer to play man-to-man coverage.
Coach Bill Belichick believes in “man” to contest every throw a quarterback makes. The Patriots have strong “man-skilled” defensive players by design and employ “trail” techniques whereby their defensive backs play uncomfortably close to the receivers they cover. This forces opposing quarterbacks to deliver the football with proper trajectory, less they be intercepted if thrown too low.
Although Allen knew this going into the game, this exact situation occurred on his second interception of the game in the fourth quarter.
On second-and-10, Allen attempted a “man-covered corner” route to Isaiah McKenzie that was too low and too direct. The flat trajectory allowed for cornerback Jason McCourty to “undercut” the route and intercept the football. Allen appeared to recognize the “man” coverage and did alter his velocity to make it over the Patriots’ defender, but the throw as not high enough.
— Binge Sports (@BingeSports) December 23, 2018
Take what the defense gives you
Another important theory that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll no doubt shared with Allen this week was “take what the defense gives you.” This football axiom is of particular importance when backed up in your own end.
The Bills started the fourth quarter on their own 5-yard line. Allen put Mckenzie in “jet-motion” and faked the football to Keith Ford. His eyes were deep down the middle of the field. Amazingly he avoided significant pressure from the Patriots’ four-man rush and averted disaster in his own end zone by flicking the football away. This part of the play-grade was a “plus” for the wise “throwaway."
The negative aspect of this play, however, was the fact that Allen missed McKenzie, who, following his “jet motion,” was completely uncovered in the flat. Most passing combinations have a “short” route built in underneath the deeper routes. Dismissing this simple completion nearly ended in catastrophe for Buffalo. A less greedy Allen gets the ball out of his hands and into the open flat immediately. Trying to do too much can get quarterbacks into trouble and often results in missed opportunities.
The Patriots felt that they increased their chances of victory by keeping Allen contained in the pocket. Their game plan was to make Allen beat them with his arm rather than with his dynamic running ability. They did this with a controlled pass rush that was “gap sound.”
Not only was New England trying to push the pocket to Allen, but they also had assignments to stay in their lanes, preventing him from taking off through large holes in the rush. This will be a common strategy deployed by future defenses that Allen faces and is an important area that Allen must understand and improve on to reach his full potential. He must be more efficient as a passer to beat teams such as the Patriots.
Allen threw his first interception with 9:41 left in the second quarter. The Bills were lined up in a “tight bunch” formation. The Patriots “pressed the point” of the triangle formation, “jamming” wide receiver Deonte Thompson, thus hindering his corner route.
Allen recognized that the Patriots were playing a “combo coverage” on the inside and outside receivers. This “combo” meant that New England corner JC Jackson was going to take the first Buffalo player into the “flat” and Patrick Chung was going to jump the first Bills’ player to come inside.
Allen recognized the “combo,” but rather than throwing the ball into the flat for the sure gain to Logan Thomas, he forced it to the corner route. This poor, soft, and ill-timed throw was a great example of Allen being impatient.
— Binge Sports (@BingeSports) December 23, 2018
It will be these easy decisions that will define Josh Allen in the coming years. A highly developed NFL quarterback will manage the game properly in these situations. The good news for Allen is that this management skill has nothing to do with talent. Growth in this area of development are mindset adjustments that will make him more efficient and pay enormous dividends in the future.
Allen attacked coverage rather well in the third quarter, in particular on the third drive following a Patriots touchdown that pushed their lead to 21-6.
The Bills lined up in a “reduced-empty” formation, a new favorite of Allen. On second-and-4, Allen recognized the Patriots' zone coverage and delivered a strike into the middle of it. This strong throw to Robert Foster, who ran a “dig” route in the middle of the field, was outstanding. This timely and confident decision demonstrated poise and understanding.
One play later, Allen found tight end Jason Croom crossing the field on a “shallow” route. New England was supposed to be in “Cover 1” man coverage but a “jet-sweep” motion forced the player covering Croom to contain the “sweep.” Allen recognized the Patriots’ mistake
immediately and completed the ball to Croom for a huge gain that would have set the Bills at the New England 5-yard line. This was again great execution by Allen as he read the play and efficiently delivered the ball to the weakness in the coverage.
The end of the play resulted in a fumble by Croom and a Buffalo turnover. Without the turnover, the drive could have resulted in a Buffalo score.
The hustle by JMac and Malcom Brown on the forced fumble/recovery is insane. JMac is following the jet motion and tracks back to chase down Croom. Brown is at nose tackle and runs 24 yards downfield to stay with the play and fall on the fumble. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/iofxeii04X
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) December 24, 2018
Allen's turnovers were not because he was fooled, but rather to his lack of trajectory and rapacity down the field, both of which are characteristics that will be overcome with hard work and more discipline.
These types of growing pains must be anticipated in a year in which your best offensive player is a rookie quarterback. There was certainly more good than bad from Allen, who had executed at a high level against the greatest defensive mind of all time, Bill Belichick.