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Jim Kubiak

How Josh Allen is finding Cole Beasley, dealing with challenges of the blitz

Jim Kubiak has been analyzing the play of the Buffalo Bills quarterbacks 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 by using Kubiak's “Doing Your Job” grading system for every play. Josh Allen's and Matt Barkley's combined performance grades for the 27-14 preseason win Friday against the Carolina Panthers was 96%.

Josh Allen’s first quarter performance was another step in the right direction. He was settled, on time and accurate, completing 9 of 11 passes for 102 yards.

One of his incompletions was a throwaway on first-and-10, rolling to his right on the eighth play of the first drive. This decision demonstrates maturity and understanding on Allen’s part, processing the game through the eyes of experience and buying in to the philosophy of preventing turnovers.

The A-B combination

The Bills again ripped open the middle of the field with new addition and slot-specialist Cole Beasley. Allen completed five passes in the first quarter to Beasley. An example of just how effective Beasley will be for the Bills this year came on the third play from scrimmage as Beasley lined up as the No. 3 receiver, the most inside receive to Allen’s right. Linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. was responsible for Beasley, but had absolutely no chance of covering or stopping his option route.

For years now, the likes of Wes Walker, Julian Edelman, and now Beasley have decimated defending linebackers and safeties in the slot,  getting themselves open on every single play and creating havoc on the inside. Their elite quickness, toughness, and intangible understanding of how to attack the defensive leverage is incredible to watch and seemingly unstoppable.

Attacking the middle of the field with Beasley will create open and easy throw almost all the time for Allen. Linebackers cannot play zone and allow him to catch easy passes in the holes underneath coverage. They also are not capable of playing man-to-man coverage on him. This is the quandary and the advantage he brings to the Bills' offense. His skill set changes how teams will have to account for him, and if you don’t have a defender who can line up and cover him, he is going to be open on every play.

Improved command of trajectory and touch

Allen showed touch on the corner and seam throws to tight end Tommy Sweeney. The first was the corner route to Allen’s right off play action.  Allen’s execution was impressive as he recognized man-to-man coverage and threw the ball on Sweeney’s break to the corner.  The pass was thrown with the perfect amount of trajectory and pace. This strike was over the defending linebacker and in the hole away from the safety.

The seam to Sweeney came on third-and-4 from the Panthers' 31-yard line. Allen read the coverage as Carolina bailed out of a double A-gap blitz, and hit Sweeney on a seam to his left. The throw was anticipated and right on the mark. Again, Allen had the perfect amount of height and velocity, making it look effortless.

Allen is 15 for 22 for 168 yards in the two preseason games. His 68% completion percentage is a good sign that improvement is to come from his rookie regular season completion percentage of 52.8%.

More importantly, Allen has not turned the ball over a single time. The turnover ratio is where Allen can have the most impact for the Bills. Ideally, Allen must attain a 60% completion percentage or better and at least a two-to-one touchdown to interception ratio to guide the Bills to a playoff opportunity.

Barkley finds his place

Barkley was equally efficient and effective completing 8 of 10 for 110 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers and he is now 17 of 24 for 236 yards, with two touchdowns and zero interceptions in the preseason.

His completion percentage is 70.8%, but more importantly he has confidently moved the offense and weathered adversity. Barkley has been more consistent and effective than Allen but does not possess the high-end velocity of his teammate. Barkley also has been working with the second team against the second team of the opponent.

Barkley has found a home here in Buffalo and graded out to an impressive 98%, doing his job with tremendous consistency. That is exactly what the Bills have been looking for in the backup role heading into 2019.

Tyree Jackson struggles

It is never easy being the third or fourth quarterback in camp. The Bills have elected to only bring three quarterbacks to training camp, so Jackson is getting more reps, more work and more coaching than every third and fourth quarterback tandem in the NFL.

The 6-foot-7 University at Buffalo product has struggled with consistency throwing the football. Jackson is a combined 6 of 21 (28.5% completion percentage) for 113 yards and one interception in more than two quarters of work this preseason. He has shown flashes of running ability outside of the pocket, with 35 yards on 14 rushing attempts.

His quarterback grade was 70.5% vs. the Panthers and 68.5% last week vs. the Colts. If he is to make the 53-man roster or be signed to the practice squad, he must demonstrate more consistency and proficiency from the pocket. His comfort level, awareness and accuracy must improve if he is to stick around. He has the arm strength, but does he possess the discipline to raise his level of performance and production? The fourth and final preseason game will be the deciding factor.

Area of concern for Allen

An area of remaining concern for Allen and the offense heading into 2019 is how he handles his protections facing the blitz. Allen in 2018 was woefully unaware of who was accounted for at the line of scrimmage against pressure. Countless hours of refinement with quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey will help Allen become more proficient, but will Allen simply run or will he stand in there and deliver the football under duress? This is not a question of toughness, it is a question of belief and conditioning.

For most of his football life, Allen has scrambled to make plays and has had success, relying on his flight reflexes. Can or will he be able to hone the essential skill of knowing who is blocked and unblocked, and be capable of delivering the ball accurately to players like Beasley, knowing he is going to get hit on delivery?

My prediction is that he will be better, as some of this will be on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll placing Allen’s receivers in good matchup situations through formations and personnel. Another part of being successful in these important situations will be Allen’s belief in guys like Beasley and LeSean McCoy to win their one-on-one matchups vs. the blitz. Allen believes and has faith in Beasley, but can the rest of the supporting cast win their matchups on the outside? And can Allen be accurate in the face of maximum pressure? I believe, and the evidence suggests, the Bills will improve here, though to what degree of success remains to be seen.

Elite QB performance

Elite quarterback performance is built upon leadership and confidence. Top echelon players execute their best in the biggest moments. They do this with a combination of physical skill and unwavering belief in themselves. This quality is difficult to ascertain in preseason football games, but there is clear evidence that Allen’s confidence and his beliefs in how to be successful at the NFL level are changing because of the great work Daboll and Dorsey are doing with the young quarterback.

In 17 first-quarter plays against the Panthers, Allen had his best performance to date in terms of how he looked, his patience, his footwork, his understanding and his command of trajectory and touch throwing the football.

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