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Jim Kubiak

Josh Allen shows maturity, poise after difficult beginning

Jim Kubiak has been analyzing the play of the Buffalo Bills quarterbacks 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.

Overall

Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills scored 14 points in a perfect fourth-quarter performance to beat the New York Jets, 17-16, Sunday. Allen was 24 of 37 on the day for 254 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. His 64.8% completion percentage marked an impressive improvement from his efficiency last season of just 52%. Allen’s growth and maturity were clearly evident in the review of the play-by-play. He displayed impressive command, footwork, presence in the pocket, accuracy, and had an overall quarterback performance grade of 90%.

First quarter

Teams that win the turnover ratio in the NFL win the game 78% of the time. Since 1970, teams that lost the turnover margin by four are 44-728, a winning percentage of .058, a pretty astounding stat.

Allen’s first quarter consisted of 18 plays: 12 passing and five running. He completed 8 of 12 passes, moving the team on two drives that each began on the Bills' 25-yard line.

The first drive was seven plays, and Allen completed his first five throws. He was calm, cool, and accurate as the Bills used the “hurry-up” to quicken the offensive pace. On the seventh play, the Jets’ Jordan Jenkins came clean off the edge to Allen’s left side and stripped him of the football.

Jenkins did an excellent job of knocking the ball out during the tackle. Allen could have protected the ball better, but the turnover is not as much his fault as it is left tackle Dion Dawkins, who was beaten on the play. This is a helpless situation for any quarterback and Allen did the only thing that could be done, and that was to cover up from the unblocked defender. Allen’s reaction was justified, but unfortunately he was not able to maintain control.

The next possession ended when Allen threw a low pass to slot specialist Cole Beasley that deflected off him and into the hands of Jets linebacker CJ Mosley that was returned for a defensive touchdown.

This interception was preventable, as Beasley was open on his option route. Allen’s throw was low and slightly behind Beasley. The embarrassing back-to-back turnovers made it seem as if the Bills had done nothing right in the first quarter. The breakdown, however, told another story. Neither first quarter turnover was the result of a poor decision or the lack of concern for protecting the football. Allen graded out to an 83% in the first quarter, and would have been nearly perfect without the turnovers.

Second quarter

Allen was 7 of 11 passing in the second quarter, leading the Bills on a nine-play drive that began on their own 5 before a fumbled snap on fourth-and-1. Upon review, it appeared as though Allen closed his hands before the snap under center Mitch Morse. This is an unusual occurrence for any quarterback and indicates that Allen was expecting the ball earlier, perhaps on a “silent count” or he was expecting the snap upon “goosing the center” with pressure from his hands. If this was the case, then perhaps Morse was late, and the result was a turnover. This play goes down as a negative one for Allen, but the reality is that it ultimately was a failed fourth down conversion.

The final offensive play for the Bills in the first half was a deflected pass that fell into the hands of the Jets' Neville Hewitt. Allen was throwing to his right and his pass was deflected into the air by Harvey Lange, who was bearing down on the quarterback off the edge. The resulting interception marked the fourth turnover of the half.

The detailed review of these plays unveils one common and positive similarity: Not a single turnover was the result of Allen trying to do too much or making a poor decision. This is the silver lining and the most important takeaway. Allen was 15 of 23, completing 65% in spite of a fumble, pick six off a deflection, a fumbled snap and a second deflected interception.

Improved Efficiency, 5-Man Protection, RB Devin Singletary

The Bills’ defense was outstanding, holding the Jets to just 223 total yards and just eight points. The Jets' average gain per play was 3.4 yards to the Bills' average gain per play of 5.9 yards. The Bills' defense held the Jets' rushing attack to 68 yards and demonstrated why it was second in the NFL in 2018 in total yards against.

The revamped Bills’ offensive unit touts 13 new players, including two new wide receivers, three running backs, four tight ends and four new starting offensive linemen. This investment in offensive change has allowed offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to utilize more empty formations and five-man protections than was possible last year. This attacking style of spreading the field allows Allen to identify defensive structure sooner, and reveals defensive disguise attempts, enabling Allen to throw “hot,” countering the blitz.

Five-man protection can be risky without solid players up front. The line did a tremendous job passing off Jets stunts and securing the A gaps (the space between the center and the guards) and the B gaps (the space between the guards and the tackles) for Allen in the pocket. Allen was comfortable and able to find open receivers in spite of the intended pressure from the five-man rushes.

Daboll also utilized five-man protections from formations in which running back Devin Singletary was lined up in the backfield. Singletary was “free-released” several times in the fourth quarter, having no protection responsibilities from his backfield set. This concept was effective against a Greg Williams pressure-style defensive scheme. Singletary caught three passes on the Bills’ final scoring drive, none more important than his free release to the right side on second-and-17.

The Jets blitzed, Singletary “free released” from the backfield and was uncovered. Allen bought enough time sliding to his right and knew exactly where his open running back would be. The ability to free release backs or utilize empty formations will be crucial for the development of Allen and the offense. Daboll will be able to spread out defenses and isolate Beasley on the inside. He also will be able to line up in conventional one- or two-back sets and free release backs into the flats, giving Allen the ability to throw “hot” vs. the blitz. This might deter teams from blitzing and will create strategic turmoil for upcoming defensive units.

Fourth-quarter comeback

Allen was 8 of 10 in what can only be described as “perfect” during the fourth-quarter comeback. Allen led the offense on two masterful drives, which consisted of 16 plays, 10 passing and six rushing. Singletary ripped off runs of 23, 12, and 15 yards before Allen ran it in on a roll to his right. Singletary was the intended receiver on the flood pass to that side. He turned and made a key block upon realizing Allen was going to run the ball in. This heads-up play made the difference as Allen tiptoed inside the pylon for the score. This brought the score to 16-10, with the Bills trailing with just less than 7 minutes to play.

The final drive for Allen and the Bills demonstrated just how far the young quarterback and the revamped offensive unit have come in such a short time. Allen was 5 of 7 on the game-winning drive. His only incompletions came on a throwaway and a Beasley drop that was perfectly thrown. Allen was poised, precise and patient, checking the ball down to Singletary, and hitting Singletary again on a short arrow route four plays later.

Allen’s game-winning touchdown pass to John Brown was a well-executed “back-shoulder” throw against man coverage. Brown had not beaten the defender over the top. Allen read the receiver/defensive back relationship and purposely placed the ball on Brown’s back shoulder away from and behind the unknowing cornerback. The throw marks fantastic awareness and execution by Allen.

Allen’s maturity was the difference in the victory. He was unfazed by the pressure, the situation, or by the fact that the offense had turned the ball over four times in the first half. This kind of belief and execution, combined with top-tier defensive play will make the Bills a force in the upcoming weeks.

Coach Sean McDermott has the Buffalo Bills on quiet 5-0 start. The preseason doesn’t matter, as we all know, yet it appears that the culture of winning might have taken hold among the players. The Bills have the right people on the bus, and the staff is making the most of the skill sets these players possess. Allen and the Bills executed in the second half and made the plays that made the difference.

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