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COMMENTARY

Bills' Josh Allen starts to use complete toolbox as he develops

Jim Kubiak

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 completed 15 of 25 (60%) passing for 185 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 56 yards on 10 carries in the Bills' 20-3 victory against the Denver Broncos on Sunday. His impressive overall quarterback performance grade was 92%.

The Bills (8-3) racked up and tripled the Broncos' offensive production, accumulating 425 yards of total offense to the 3-8 Broncos' 130 yards. The Bills rushed for 245 yards to the Broncos' 85, and more than tripled the passing yardage of 180 to just 45 yards.

In the last six games, Allen has an accounted for a total of 14 touchdowns to just one interception, which came Sunday and snapped a streak of 171 consecutive passes without a pick.

First quarter

Play selection: 16 plays – Four passes, 12 runs

Allen: 4 for 4, 36 yards, one sack; three carries for 15 yards

Quarterback performance grade: 93%

Score: Bills, 3-0

Allen led a 16-play drive that resulted in a field goal on the Bills' first possession. He converted a third-and-9 play to Cole Beasley, a third-and-1 quarterback sneak, a third-and-12 quarterback scramble and was sacked on a third-and-6, leading to the field goal.

Since offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has moved from the sideline into the booth, the Buffalo offense has increased its operational tempo, and this has had positive results. Allen and the Bills are taking less time in the huddle and forcing opposing defenses to line up immediately following each play. This creates fatigue, limits defensive adjustments and reduces substitutions designed to match personnel groupings. That was evident on the drive and the tempo seems to suit Allen.

Allen’s rushing ability continues to be both a major area of concern and perhaps his greatest weapon. Daboll is using Allen in various rushing concepts as seen on the seventh play from scrimmage on first-and-10.

On this “zone read” play, Allen’s responsibility is to put the football into the belly of the rusher and ride him into the designated hole. The blocking scheme leaves one defender unblocked, and Allen must watch and read this player. If the defender is in position to tackle the potential ball carrier, Allen pulls the football and takes off himself. This collegiate concept always looks great in a diagram on the marker board as the defense cannot cover both Allen and the potential ball carrier, who was receiver Isaiah McKenzie. The execution, however, sometimes gets botched when the back thinks he has the ball and the quarterback tries to pull it out simultaneously. This miscommunication sometimes can lead to a fumble and turnover. The Bills were fortunate on this play to only take a rushing loss as Allen tried to pull it and McKenzie tried to keep it.

Two plays later on third-and-12, Allen makes another highlight-reel scramble for a first down.

The double-edged sword of scrambling and rushing as much as Allen does is his vulnerability and susceptibility to fumbles. On this play, Allen's effort is rewarded as he converts a third-and-long, stretching and diving for the first down. Allen fumbles the football after he was down, but the play highlights the risk.

Allen was perfect in completing all four passes on the drive – two to Beasley and one each to John Brown and Tyler Kroft. One of these completions came off of a “run-pass-option” or RPO.

Daboll is using these concepts more frequently to give Allen the ability on a called running play to throw it to a receiver if the unaccounted for defender attacks the running concept. Beasley runs his route and Allen reads Broncos linebacker Todd Davis, who was lined up in the box to Beasley’s side. Allen recognizes Davis is out of position to cover Beasley’s area. He pulls the football and throws it for a completion.

•••

Second quarter

Play selection: 18 plays – Seven passes, 11 runs

Allen: 4 for 7, 47 yards, one interception; three carries for 36 yards

Quarterback performance grade: 83%

Score: Bills, 6-0

On the Bills' next possession, Allen led a 10-play drive, which resulted in a field goal and a 6-0 Buffalo lead. Allen again scrambled for a first down on third-and-5 from his own 13-yard line. His unique style and uncanny ability to create plays with his legs was again the difference as he scampered for 15 yards to keep the drive going.

Four plays later, following a called quarterback draw, Allen hit Beasley on a play-action pass. Beasley is lined up to the right, the same side as the play-action fake to Frank Gore. This action freezes linebacker AJ Johnson as he committed to the run fake. Beasley slipped behind Johnson and continued across the field into open space. This was an easy completion and a terrific call on first-and-10.

The Bills' success in the run game allowed Daboll to use play-action, freezing the linebackers and drawing them out of position. Play-action is a useful tool because it gives the quarterback easier throws behind linebackers, who first must protect the run.

Allen threw his first interception in 171 attempts in the second quarter.

He pulled the football on an RPO concept play and misses high on a slant to his left. Either the high throw got away from him or someone in the concept busted his assignment. Allen might have been trying to avoid an interception by guiding it at the last second away from a clouded read or perhaps he misfired on the throw.

Just before halftime, Allen utilized his “hard-count,” drawing the defense offsides and then drawing a false start from Kroft. Two plays later, he commited a delay of game and finally goes on the hard count again and created a false start from Singletary.

In the six plays before halftime, the Bills committed four penalties as Buffalo was vying for a field goal opportunity. It is not Allen’s fault that Kroft and Singletary false-started on his cadence, but he does have to be aware of the risks to offensive production utilizing the hard count.

•••

Third quarter

Play selection: 19 players – 10 passes, 9 runs

Allen: 4 for 10 passing, 52 yards and one touchdown; two carries for 6 yards

Quarterback performance grade: 94%

Score: Bills, 13-3

Allen overcame two dropped passes on the opening drive of the third quarter and led the Bills to the first touchdown of the game. On third-and-11, following a dropped pass by Beasley, Allen found Robert Foster on a shallow route dragging across the formation from left to right. This smart read and decision demonstrated Allen’s willingness to take what the defense was giving.

Allen has often passed on the short crossers in long situations, believing that he had to throw it beyond the first-down marker to get the first down. This decision to attack the defense on a third-and-long illustrated a deeper understanding and an increasing trust in the players around him to make plays. This read and execution successfully converted the third and long and set up the Bills in Broncos' territory.

Allen threw his first touchdown of the game to Beasley on the eighth and final play of the drive.

The Bills were in a tight bunch formation to the right. Beasley was the outside receiver and released outside giving the defender momentum. McKenzie was lined up inside of Beasley and was the point on the line of scrimmage. McKenzie also released outside. Beasley used this release and cut underneath into the middle of the field on a high angle to the post. The Broncos’ defense jumped the crossing route by Dawson Knox, who was running a shallow across the formation. Allen saw the free safety jump Knox and progressed to Beasley into the open area. This was outstanding execution by Allen, who was under duress facing a five-man rush. Denver kept Allen in the pocket, played man and blitzed on the play. This is a sure sign that Allen is improving from the pocket.

Allen’s only hiccups of the quarter came on back-to-back plays of the next drive. On second-and-15, Allen missed an open Brown on a dig route and on the next play he got greedy and forced a throw into coverage. Kroft is wide open under the coverage, but because it was third-and-15, Allen must have felt that he needed to throw it to the marker to ultimately convert on the play.

Kroft is wide open underneath as seen here in the photo. Allen is trying to do too much and nearly threw his second interception of the game.

Duke Dawson missed the easy interception as he took away the down-and-out throw to Brown at the first-down marker. A wiser and more patient Allen needs to complete the football to Kroft in this situation and perhaps punt. An interception in this situation against a better opponent could have been a game-changing play.

•••

Fourth quarter

Play selection: 17 plays – 4 passes, 13 rushes

Allen: 3 for 4 passing for 50 yards and one touchdown; one carry for minus-1 yard

Quarterback performance grade: 100%

Score: Bills, 20-3

Allen’s strong finish was exemplified by his 34-yard touchdown strike to John Brown on a “sluggo” or slant and go. This double-move play allowed Brown to pretend he was running a slant and as the defender reacted, he adjusted straight up the field on a “go.” Allen’s second touchdown pass of the game put the Bills up 20-3.

This throw was a much-needed confidence boost for Allen, who has been much maligned for not connecting on longer throws. He demonstrated excellent touch as he lofted the football in the open area for Brown to run under it. If this ball was thrown with lower trajectory, Brown would have had less time to react, but Allen’s touch made the difference.

Allen did not attempt another pass in the quarter as Buffalo executed 12 consecutive running plays to milk the clock and seal the victory.

Conclusion

Allen has impressively accounted for 14 touchdowns to just one interception in the last six games. He has led the Bills to an 8-3 record and scored more rushing touchdowns (15) since last season than Saquon Barkley or Ezekiel Elliott in the same time frame. Allen’s overall efficiency has been much improved. He has completed 206 of 342 attempts for 2,360 yards and a completion percentage of 60.2% compared to just 52.8% from last season.

Allen has made significant strides and Daboll as continued to develop concepts and strategies to maximize his unique skill set. The growth is helped by having better players surround Allen. Gore and Singletary provide the hammering runs behind a revamped and more physical offensive line. Brown, Foster, Beasley, McKenzie, Knox and Kroft provide the speed and utility on the outside to spread the field.

All of this provides Allen with better opportunities to scramble in passing situations. The Bills have a complete toolbox. They have the hammer and the nails, the wrenches, the screwdrivers and the socket set, as Allen has to continue to improve his situational awareness and his use of trajectory and touch, particularly against man-to-man coverage.

As improved as Allen and the Bills are this season, the ultimate test is on the horizon with the playoff looming. Can Daboll, Allen and the Bills execute and win versus heavy pressure and disruptive man coverage?

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