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 returned from NFL concussion protocol on Saturday and played Sunday, completing 23 of 32 attempts for 219 yards and two touchdowns in a 14-7 win against the Tennessee Titans. His completion percentage for the game was a career-high 71.8% and his QB Performance Grade soared to his season high of 94%.
Allen made smart, conservative decisions for the majority of the game, throwing the football away four times and keeping the Bills in manageable third-down situations despite the Bills converting just four of 13 on third down. His mobility again proved valuable as he rushed for 27 yards on 10 carries, including two kneel-downs in spite of being sacked four times.
Allen had reduced practice participation following his concussion, being listed as limited on Wednesday and Thursday, and was only able to fully participate on Friday. However, coach Sean McDermott said Allen had a "regular" week of preparation. He was cleared to play Saturday. There must have been a strong belief that Allen was going to play from the onset of the week as the Bills did not panic at the possibility of having to play without him, as no roster moves were made to elevate quarterback Davis Webb from the practice squad.
Performance Grade: 100% (7 for 9, 66 yards, two sacks)
Allen had a very strong first quarter. He was decisive and accurate completing his first throw of the game to John Brown for 19 yards. On the fourth play, he utilized his dynamic mobility without putting himself in danger or hurting the Bills, running out of bounds on third-and-6 precipitating a Buffalo punt.
On the heels of his concussion against the New England Patriots, Allen demonstrated a mature willingness to adjust his reckless nature on the perimeter. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll did not hesitate to call Allen's number on quarterback runs. This interesting twist in play selection appeared to be counter-intuitive as Daboll called Allen’s number five times on planned quarterback runs. Allen also was not shy about scrambling as he made things happen with his legs on five of his 61 plays. The major difference was illuminated by his multiple attempts to slide feet first and his decisions to run out of bounds when the opportunity was given.
Allen’s tremendous efficiency, completing 77.7% of his passes in the first quarter was due in large part to his willingness to take what the defense was giving. He was able to maintain his composure following his first sack of the game, which put the Bills in second-and-15 from their own 45-yard line.
On the sack, Buffalo was in a five-man protection and Logan Ryan blitzed off Allen’s left side. The Bills were not able to pick up the rushing defender despite having enough protectors for the Titans' five-man pressure. The next play, with the Bills in good field position, Allen was able to get the Bills back into a manageable third-down situation by wisely checking the ball down to Frank Gore.
This patient and smart decision illustrated the situational mentality Allen demonstrated against the Titans. Following a negative play, he did not press and try to get it all back. He read the coverage, knew where his check down was, and wisely took what the defense was giving. The result was a manageable third-and-9 that turned into a fourth-and-1, which Allen converted on a quarterback sneak.
Performance grade: 94% (10 for 12, 80 yards, one touchdown)
Score: Bills, 7-0
Two impressive plays on third down marked a second quarter in which Allen was comfortable and in rhythm.
Allen displayed excellent discipline on these two plays. His eyes were in the correct place, he confidently attacked the defensive weakness and put the ball on the mark.
The Bills finally cracked the code and scored on the final play of the quarter as Allen tossed his first touchdown to tight end Lee Smith. This was a fantastic play call by Daboll and a well-executed throw by Allen. Smith was lined up on the right side, attached to the line of scrimmage and down-blocked. He was waiting for Brown, who was lined up as the left wide receiver to drag across the formation. This shallow crossing route made it look like the Bills were trying to flood the right side of the field.
Smith, hidden by his down-block, sneaked in the opposite direction to the left. Smith was uncovered and unaccounted for as the cornerback covering Brown was covering him man-to-man. Allen read the coverage and softly tossed the ball to his wide-open tight end for the go-ahead score.
Performance grade: 83% (3 for 5, 19 yards, one sack, one interception)
Score: Tied, 7-7.
Allen’s only interception of the game came on the first drive of the third quarter. On third-and-6 from the Bills’ 35-yard line, Allen dropped back, stepped into the pocket and waited for an opening. He was forced to wheel around and escape to his left. He reset his feet and then forced the ball into coverage. On one hand, Allen displayed remarkable patience, standing in the pocket for what seemed an eternity. We are seeing defenses do this more often, dropping seven or eight defenders into coverage, doubling Cole Beasley and playing zone. The theory is that by keeping Allen in the pocket longer, you greatly improve the chances that he will force throws and make mistakes, which is exactly what happened.
Performance grade: 94% (2 for 5, 54 yards, one touchdown, one sack)
Score: Bills, 14-7.
Allen protected the football well in the fourth quarter, intentionally throwing the ball away twice. The first important throwaway came on first-and-10 from the Bills' 40-yard line. Allen gave a play-action fake to his left and did not like what he saw. He wisely decided not to force the throw and tossed the ball harmlessly out of bounds.
Two plays later, on third-and-3, Allen threw a touchdown strike to Duke Williams. This play was designed with play action to the left intending to influence the Titans’ linebackers. Allen, following the excellent ball fake, confirmed the linebackers had taken the bait and drilled the “pop” pass to an open Williams.
In five games this season, Allen has completed 102 of 163 passes for a completion percentage of 62.6%. This is an improvement of 10 percentage points from his rookie season. Additionally, Allen has thrown five touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He has half as many touchdowns in five games as he had in 12 games last season.
Allen also has rushed the football 41 times this season for 158 yards and three touchdowns. His rushing attempts are on track for last season's rushing attempts of 89, but his rushing yardage is way down as he gained a whopping 631 yards. This is a positive as the Bills have acquired and developed tools by which Allen does not have to play hero ball.
The significant improvements made by the Bills in the offseason such as revamping the offensive line, running backs and wide receivers have allowed Allen to develop a more mature mentality. Allen admittedly defines himself as “aggressive,” which is a good trait so long as that aggressive nature doesn’t turn into greed.
It appears that Daboll and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey for the most part have convinced Allen to temper his nature. This, in turn, has resulted in more completions underneath coverage, more throw-aways that minimize negative plays and better efficiency of the offense as a whole.
Allen still presses at times and does continue to force the football into coverage if given enough opportunity, but his positive gains outweigh his negatives by a mile.
This is a substantial turnaround from Allen’s rookie season as the Bills finished 6-10 overall. Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane deserve the credit for the vision and great start in the first five weeks. They have built a culture of resilience and belief and shaped the talents and abilities of their young and talented players.
Allen appears to have come to the understanding that greatness at the quarterback position must be built around his passing efficiency and his determination not to hurt his team with poor decisions. He understands just how fantastic the Buffalo defense is and has proved that he is more willing to take what the defense gives.