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Jim Kubiak

Josh Allen again shows he's for real, but consistency remains a challenge

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 and the Buffalo Bills fell short in their quest to defeat the New England Patriots on Saturday in Foxborough.

Allen completed 13 of 26 passes (50%) for 208 yards and was sacked four times.

Allen’s overall Quarterback Performance Grade in the 24-17 loss to the Patriots was 87.5% in his 53 plays from scrimmage.

The Patriots kept the Bills defense on the field for an impressive 38 minutes, 29 seconds to the Bills' time of possession of just 21:08. This strategy of long drives for points limited the Bills' offensive opportunities. Allen was just 6 of 13 in the first half and missed four open receivers, one throw of which could have been a touchdown.

Allen heated up in the the fourth quarter, as he has done often this season, but it was too little too late.

First quarter

Play selection: 10 plays – three passes, seven runs.

Allen: 1 for 3 passing for 14 yards; one carry for 2 yards.

Quarterback Performance Grade: 80%.

Score: Patriots, 7-3.

The Bills ran on the first five plays. On the sixth, Allen missed an opportunity for a touchdown to tight end Dawson Knox on a corner route.

 

New England was in man-to-man coverage and Knox outside released from his three-point stance. He straightened the defender at the top of the route and broke for the back pylon on a corner route. Allen lofted the football, but it was overthrown. His ability in this situation has been an area of concern but also one in which we have seen marked improvement.

More importantly, Allen recognized the coverage and knew where to go with the football and why. Allen made the right decision, but the throw was too flat and out of reach. This overthrow can be traced back to being overly excited and to Allen’s rotational, low-elbow technique. Lower elbow throwers are great drivers of the ball, but they lack the ability to utilize trajectory.

As noted, Allen has struggled early in some games, especially in games that turned into Bills' losses.

"Whether it’s eagerness or anxiousness or just pregame jitters, I’ve got to find a way to get rid of that," Allen told reporters afterward.  "Whether it’s throwing more pregame or throwing more right before the game when I’m on the sidelines, just try to get in tune. So I’ll look into getting that done and find a way to like I said, get things going early and taking some early completions."

Second quarter

Play selection: 14 plays – 10 passes, four runs, one sack.

Allen: 5 for 10 passing for 48 yards and one touchdown; one carry for 16 yards.

Quarterback Performance Grade: 85%.

Score: 10-10.

Following a beautifully thrown checkdown to Devin Singletary in the flat, Allen missed another throw to a wide-open Cole Beasley on third-and-8.

 

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, anticipating man coverage, ran Beasley from left to right under two shallow-crosses coming from the other side. Beasley’s job was to rub his defender underneath the shallow crosses. This was a designed pick play, as this dragging action underneath shallow crossers forces the man-to-man defenders to navigate through the traffic, avoiding collisions and ultimately slowing them down. Beasley came clean open as he darted across. Allen had too much velocity and was high with the throw.

Two possessions later, on first-and-10, Allen wasn’t ready as the ball was snapped and missed an open Beasley again, this time to his left.

 

The Bills were operating on a silent count, which means that Allen was not utilizing a cadence, rather when he was ready, he lifted his leg to tell the right guard he was ready. The right guard then tapped the center. From this point, the center rhythmically snapped the ball on his own.

This is a difficult operational technicality to adjust to coming into the NFL. Quarterbacks are used to using their voice to start plays. Having to signal you're ready and then wait for the snap is challenging. On this play, there was a miscommunication and the early snap hit Allen in the face mask. Allen was able to rein it in but the snap surprised him and threw off his timing on the open throw.

Allen saved his best plays of the first half for the end. On second-and-1 from the Patriots’ 34 yard line, Allen threw a strike to Knox on the same corner route he missed in the first quarter. This time Allen’s touch and trajectory were perfect.

 

This was great recognition and a perfectly thrown corner route at a critical time in the game, and led to Allen’s first touchdown pass, a completion to left tackle Dion Dawkins.

 

Dawkins was lined up as an eligible receiver and properly reported his ineligible number to the officials. This was great strategy by Daboll, who knew the Patriots would be focusing on the run. Dawkins’ big body and his lineman number lulled the Patriots' defenders to sleep and they never accounted for him in the coverage. This was an easy completion and touchdown for the Bills, which tied the game at 10-10 going into half.

Third quarter

Play selection: 11 plays – four passes, seven runs, one sack.

Allen: 3 for 4 passing for 89 yards and one touchdown; two carries for 13 yards.

Quarterback Performance Grade: 91%.

Score: Bills, 17-13.

Three plays highlight Allen’s excellent third quarter. On the first play Allen executes a “run-pass-option,” or RPO, to perfection.

 

Allen was watching linebacker Jamie Collins, the designated unblocked defender in the scheme. If the defender is in position to defend the run, Allen completes the slant route to Beasley, which is what happened. Again, a high-percentage play call from Daboll, saddling Allen with an easy read and a likely completion.

Then, on second-and-13 from the Bills’ 47-yard line, Allen delivered his second touchdown of the game on an incredible post throw to John Brown.

 

The reason that this throw was so impressive was that Allen saw the safety, recognized Cover 1, and threw Brown open with outstanding anticipation and touch. A throw like that is difficult and Allen put the ball out over the safety into an open area. The timing was perfect. The trajectory and touch could not have been better in spite of the fact that Allen was under extreme duress and falling backward as he made the throw. The throw of the year by Allen, putting the Bills up 17-13.

"It’s naked and you’re pulling up," Allen told reporters. "Guy in my face, I saw Smoke make a really good move and I just let it go up and he made the play. I really didn’t even see where the ball went but heard everybody screaming and yelling. That’s one that was good to hit because we’ve been practicing on that play for a while and finally got to utilize it. Smoke made a play."

Fourth quarter

Play selection: 17 plays – nine passes, five runs, two sacks.

Allen: 4 for 9 passing for 57 yards; three carries for 12 yards.

Quarterback Performance Grade: 93%.

Score: Patriots, 24-17.

Allen was sacked four times in the game. One of those sacks came on the Bills’ first possession of the fourth quarter, on second-and-9, leading to a 6-yard loss.

 

Here Allen is under duress and throws it up down the middle of the field, hoping that Brown would adjust and make a heroic play. The incompletion resulted in a punt and a subsequent game-changing touchdown and two-point conversion on the resulting Patriots possession, enabling New England to take the lead 24-17.

Allen saved his best for last again in the fourth quarter, which appears to be his trademark. He led the Bills on an impressive 14-play drive to the Patriots’ 10-yard line.

There were three fantastic throws on this drive that tell us definitively that Allen is here and he is real.

 

And on another fourth-and-1, Allen made another highlight-reel effort somehow, some way, getting the first down on a quarterback sneak with the game on the line, despite his face mask being held.

On the final four plays of the game, Allen ran a quarterback sweep, missed a corner route versus man coverage, and took a bad sack that he could have thrown away to stop the clock. On fourth down, the Patriots were able to get immediate pressure from their confusing defensive alignment.

 

Allen did all he could to retreat trying to buy time before throwing the ball up in the end zone. Losing center Mitch Morse seemingly hurt Buffalo at the end with accountability for people at the line of scrimmage.

Conclusion

Allen lacked the efficiency that Buffalo needed in a game that had razor-thin margins. His effort, ball security, awareness, leadership and toughness were all exemplary. What he lacked was the ability to make the ordinary plays.

Allen did not turn the ball over against a defense that has forced a league-high 38 takeaways, but it comes down to consistency and at times in spite of all the positives, the lack of touch on throws above the rim cost him.

Teams are playing man-to-man coverage because they are blitzing, so quarterbacks must be accountable and sound in protection at the line of scrimmage and throw hot when required, which Allen did well against the Patriots. But man-to-man coverage also forces quarterbacks to have to throw with anticipation and the proper trajectory to get the ball over the under-cutting defenders. This is a difficult task, and although Allen has shown much improvement in this area, he still needs to advance this skill to execute in these situations.

Allen is a fearless competitor that has the ability to help the Bills ascend in the NFL. It will be Allen’s determination to improve his touch vs. man coverage that will determine how far the Bills are able to go.

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