Jim Kubiak has been analyzing the play of the Buffalo Bills quarterbacks for BNBlitz.com. He 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.
Josh Allen went 13 of 28 for 153 yards before being knocked out of the game early in the fourth quarter of a 16-10 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday. He threw three interceptions and ran for a touchdown on a quarterback sneak.
Allen’s lack of self-control combined with the Patriots' game plan to keep him in the pocket provided the catalyst necessary for Brady to win his 30th career game against the Bills. Allen’s overall performance grade was 76% in a game that clearly defined his struggle to make “disciplined” decisions.
This footage shows offensive coordinator Brian Daboll furious and exasperated with Allen late in the first quarter following his second interception of the game. Daboll appeared to be pointing to his head as if to say, "Use your brain, Josh." Following the exchange head coach Sean McDermott sat down next to Allen as a calming presence. CBS reported on the television broadcast that the essence of McDermott’s message to Allen was to protect the football and to take what the defense gives.
Performance grade: 59% (1 of 8 for 10 yards, two interceptions, one sack)
Score: Patriots, 13-0.
Bill Belichick is famous for his ability to determine what a player or team does well, and a game plan to annihilate that attribute. The third play of the game illustrated exactly how Belichick intended to defend the big, strong, elusive and dangerous Josh Allen.
The defensive-minded Belichick determined that the best way to minimize Allen's potentially electrifying impact on a football game was to force him to play from the pocket. The Patriots’ defense accomplished three goals in their defensive game plan with the intent of taking away Allen's natural tendencies and forcing him to play outside of his normal tendencies.
- They confused Allen at the line of scrimmage with their “amoeba” style of defensive fronts. By placing all 11 players up at the line, Allen was unable to decipher who was rushing and who was covering. This made him unsure, off balance and uncomfortable.
- They kept Allen in the pocket. The defensive rushes included “bluffs,” where linebackers faked as though they were blitzing and then they stood there waiting for Allen to try to escape, as opposed to rushing him and forcing him out of the pocket. They wanted to occupy blockers, and at the same time keep Allen in the pocket, requiring him to make throws down the field from inside of the defensive chaos.
- Play man-to-man coverage, forcing Allen to anticipate and make throws over the top of defenders, or “above the rim.” This is difficult for a player who has always gotten away with “sight throws” or “laser” throws.
The Patriots predicted that Allen would try to do too much from the pocket and created circumstances, through their strategy, to put Allen in situations that played on his weaknesses — patience, progressions, and touch. The Patriots wanted him to have time, to stay in the pocket, and have to go through his progressions. They were counting on Allen to make the same mistakes they had studied on film.
Here Allen was trying to drive a post to John Brown at 25 yards down the field. He never accounted for safety Devin McCourty. The safety was playing in the middle of the field and read Allen’s eyes. This was an unnecessary force by Allen on first-and-20.
Allen was off-balance and unsure, sometimes playing off his back foot due to the defensive chaos the Patriots created with their “amoeba” defensive fronts.
A befuddled Allen, trying to do too much, struggled to grasp the situation on an important third-and-9 with a chance for points in field goal range. Taking a sack was the worst possible outcome for the Bills and a mistake that falls solely on the shoulders of the quarterback. He could have taken one of the open, underneath throws to get the Bills closer. He also could have thrown the ball away, which would have secured a field goal attempt from the 25-yard line. But because of his desire to try to always make something happen down the field, he waited too long and was sacked, taking Buffalo out of range.
Performance grade: 75% (4 of 9, two sacks)
Score: Patriots, 13-3
Confusion in protection unsettles quarterbacks and leads to reckless play and a lack of discipline. On the fourth play of the second quarter, Allen is confused by what is happening at the line of scrimmage. He is unable to recognize or identify the unconventional nature of the defensive structure. This leads him to take a shot down the field rather than make a disciplined read and throw to a wide-open Zay Jones.
Jones is the middle receiver to the trips' side and runs a slant. Allen is locked onto Cole Beasley and predetermines he is throwing to Beasley as soon as the ball reached his hands. In this situation, with man-to-man coverage on third-and-6, a more patient Allen should have been looking for the quick throw to Jones running away from the defender. This could have been a touchdown with the proper read and reaction from Allen.
On the next drive, from the Patriots' 21-yard line, Allen is sacked on third-and-5. He had Beasley dragging across the formation on an easy access “blitz control” route that is designed to allow the quarterback to get rid of the ball versus the blitz. Allen instead has his eyes down the field looking for a bigger play. Beasley is open coming across, but Allen never looks for him and ultimately takes the sack.
The review of this play indicates that both Beasley and Brown were open. Allen’s failure or unwillingness to take what the defense was giving resulted in the sack and the inability to capitalize on three important points heading into halftime.
Hauschka made the 46-yard field goal following this sack, but Allen’s lack of awareness, taking a sack on the next drive from the Patriots’ 26 led to a 49-yard field goal attempt that Hauschka missed.
The final play of the half, the throw that precipitated Daboll’s outburst, was his second interception of the game. Allen simply launched to ball high and far off of his back foot trying to get it over the “undercutting” defender JC Jackson deep down the right side. The situation was first-and-10 from the Patriots' 48. A more patient and experienced Allen could have thrown the football away or checked it down.
On one hand, fans love to see a big-armed quarterback take shots down the field. This mentality sells tickets, creates excitement and is addictive to watch. On the other hand, erratic decisions create incompletions, sacks, or worse, turnovers. This was not a case of the Patriots taking anything away from the Bills, but creating situations for the Bills to inflict the hurt upon themselves.
Allen’s first half was his worst professional performance, completing 5 of 17 for 60 yards. He was intercepted twice and sacked three times.
Performance grade: 94%, (8 of 10 of one interception, one rushing TD)
Score: Patriots, 16-10.
Improvements in the third quarter had Allen taking care of the football and taking what the defense was giving. He was sharp, in rhythm, and accurate, completing six consecutive passes coming out of halftime. This outstanding execution led Buffalo on a nine-play drive that started on their own 25 and ended with Allen breaking the plane on a leaping quarterback sneak. This touchdown was the first scored on the Patriots defense and reduced the Patriots' lead to 13-10.
But on the third offensive drive of the quarter, Allen committed his third interception of the game.
This unwise throw illustrated Allen’s careless nature with the football. On first-and-20 from Buffalo’s 23-yard line, Allen had no reason to force the football into coverage. He was rolling to his right and could have thrown the ball away. The result of the turnover was an additional three points for the Patriots.
Performance grade: 77% (9 of 17, one interception)
Score: Patriots, 16-10.
The Bills were driving into Patriots territory early in the fourth quarter. On third-and-8 from the New England 47-yard line, Allen scrambled and was trying to make another game-changing first down.
Unfortunately for him, the Patriots' Jonathan Jones drilled Allen as he was being tackled from behind.
Allen walked off the field and eventually jogged back to the locker room to be further examined as part of the NFL’s mandatory concussion protocol.
Matt Barkley entered the game, completing his first two throws and leading the Bills the 2-yard line. The Bills' fourth down play fell incomplete. If the Bills would have made that field goal at the end of the second quarter, the score would have been 16-13, and Buffalo would have almost certainly made a field goal to tie the game.
If Allen hadn’t thrown his third interception in his own territory that resulted in a Patriot field goal, perhaps the Bills would have been kicking their own field goal to take the lead 16-13.
These two plays — a sack and an interception — made the difference in the game and could have been avoided by simply protecting the football and taking what the defense gives.
Legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll had a famous saying: “Champions are not champions because they do anything extraordinary but because they do the ordinary things better than anyone else.”
The ordinary things that Allen could have, or should have, done, such as taking short underneath completions or protecting the football with safer decisions were the difference in the game.
The Bills' defense is for real. They are tough, disciplined, physical and make their opponents work for their points. They have the ability to stop anyone.
The goal of the Bills' quarterbacks is to do their job and protect the football. They need their quarterbacks to get the plays in on time, communicate them properly in the huddle, and make the appropriate decisions for the coverages they are seeing.
In other words, the Bills' defense needs be the example to the Bills' offense on what wins in the NFL. It is not the great plays, but selflessly avoiding the terrible plays, that makes the difference.