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Jim Kubiak: Don't analyze Josh Allen's stats, analyze the decisions he's making

Jim Kubiak: Don't analyze Josh Allen's stats, analyze the decisions he's making

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Firing downfield

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) throws a pass over Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel (43) in the third quarter at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021.

Jim Kubiak has been analyzing the play of 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.

Quarterbacks are evaluated each quarter using a “Doing Your Job” grading system for every play that takes into account the quarterback’s responsibilities and outcome. The accountability system rewards a quarterback with a plus for a play in which he does what he is supposed to do, a minus for not doing what he is supposed to do. A quarterback can earn a plus-plus for an extraordinary play and a minus-minus for a play that hurts the team.  

Overview

With the prospect of starting the season 0-2, the Bills came out swinging and manhandled the Dolphins in a game full of turnovers and missed opportunities.

The difference from the opening loss to Pittsburgh was not necessarily what Bills quarterback Josh Allen did, but in what he did not do. Allen completed 17 of 33 attempts for 179 yards and two touchdowns and an interception, compiling a very respectable QB Performance Grade of 90.5%. He was sacked once. 

Allen played with patience, passion and veteran leadership. His poise was on display as he threw the football away five times, which went a long way to keeping drives alive and minimizing offensive miscues. When opportunities weren’t there, Allen played smart, checking himself rather than attempting to force a result. While the throwaways hurt him statistically as incompletions, this approach shows growth and maturity and provides a blueprint for his future success.

The mistake that fans shouldn’t make in the analysis of this particular game is to judge Allen’s numbers against last season. Teams are doing everything in their power to limit Allen’s big plays. Ultimately, his job is to use his skills to manage the team to victory. He used his rifle arm, surprising ability to run and his decision making to manufacture success, particularly by protecting the football.

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll strategically adjusted, as well, with less razzle-dazzle and better run/pass balance. The Bills rushed 31 times for 147 yards and that kept Allen in better situations to attack the Dolphins’ approach that was geared toward stopping the pass.

First quarter

Play selection: 15 plays, eight passes, seven runs

Allen: 4 for 8 passing for 47 yards, one touchdown. One carry for 6 yards.

Performance grade: 93.3%.

Score: Bills, 14-0.

The highlights of the first quarter included Devin Singletary’s 46-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage and Allen’s tremendous touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs. Each drive started in Dolphins’ territory on the 46- and 45-yard lines, respectively.

On the second series, Allen capped off a seven-play drive with this amazing touchdown pass.

Allen steps up into the pocket to avoid the rush and rolls to his right. One of the cardinal rules for quarterback play is to never throw across your body and into the middle of the field. However, Allen does not always play within ordinary quarterback rules. Here, Allen strings out the play long enough to find Diggs for the touchdown. The fact that Allen was able to create time for himself for as long as he did was incredible, but Diggs did something extraordinary on this play as well. He fell to the ground, but he quickly got to his feet and instinctively came back to Allen from the spot he had fallen. 

Originally, Diggs was lined up tight to Allen’s right and was running across the field to the left back pylon, with Xavien Howard in man-to-man coverage. Diggs stumbled and fell, with Howard jamming and pressing him from the line of scrimmage. Diggs scrambled to his feet and reacted to Allen’s pocket movement. The Dolphins initially achieved their goal of disrupting the routes and flushing Allen. Diggs and Allen persevered on the play, however, and Allen held the ball just long enough for Diggs to come back to him for the touchdown. 

Howard, the defender, was nowhere to be found in coverage, as he thought Diggs' fall was the end of his ability to make the play. This is a testament to the relentless and passionate offensive mentality the Bills have. They simply refuse to give up.

Second quarter

Play selection: 15 plays, eight passes, seven runs.

Allen: 3 for 8 passing for 15 yards, one interception. No carries.

Performance grade: 78.6%.

Score: Bills, 14-0.

Allen and the Buffalo offense took over on their own 11-yard line after Jakeem Grant fumbled. On the fifth play of the drive, Allen returned the favor and threw his only interception.

Here the Bills’ offense is in an empty right formation. We can hear Allen call an audible and touch his helmet to visually alert his teammates that he was changing the play. We can only speculate on what it all means, but it is interesting to note that center Mitch Morse, left guard Jon Feliciano and left tackle Dion Dawkins all pass-set and released for what appeared to be a screen to the left side of the field. This was very peculiar, in that it would not be normal protection for a quick passing concept like a double slant. The other unique aspect of this play is that there wasn’t a running back in the back field to potentially catch a screen. 

Allen was late throwing the slant to Diggs, which gave the Miami defender the opportunity to undercut the throw. It appeared that either Daboll had his left side of the line releasing for a screen to make the Dolphins defensive linemen react differently, or something else was crossed up on the play that made Allen hesitate on his delivery. 

The lateness of the throw and the fact that it was behind Diggs leads me to believe something caused the inaccuracy. This was either Albert Einstein-level genius in screening the linemen in the quick passing game, or a case of crossed wires. In either event, the timing was uncharacteristically out of sync and late for a slant route.

Bills-Dolphins

The Bills took their 14-0 lead into halftime as Allen’s stats were not what we have all become accustomed to. He completed just 7 of 16 attempts for 62 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. The difference in the game was that the Dolphins had already committed three turnovers to the Bills’ two.

Third quarter

Play selection: 19 plays, 12 passes, seven runs.

Allen: 7 for 12 passing for 71 yards, one touchdown, one sack. Two carries for 17 yards.

Performance grade: 90%.

Score: Bills, 21-0.

Halftime proved to be just what the Bills’ offense needed as Allen orchestrated an eight-play scoring drive on their first possession of the third quarter to push the Bills’ advantage to 21 points.

Allen found his rhythm as he hit Cole Beasley with this 22-yard completion in the middle of the field.

The Bills used scissors-crossing routes with their inside receivers and ran Beasley into the middle of the field, behind the scissors action. Allen wisely allowed for the underneath receivers to clear and attract coverage. This opened up the middle for Beasley to hook up behind the crossers on a deeper level. Daboll has used this play many times and made sure he pulled it out on the opening drive.

bills-dolphins play 2

Daboll came right back to another concept that again attacked the middle of the field on the next play.

This time, Emmanual Sanders is lined up as the outside receiver to Allen’s left, with Beasley inside. Beasley outside released and burst up the field and sat down at 5 yards as Sanders inside released. Sanders then took his route depth to 10 yards and crossed into the open middle. The Bills were ready with another good man-to-man concept and one that would have been good if the defenders had switched in coverage.

This drive reminded me of other great, rhythmic drives that Daboll is known for generating after halftime. It was topped off a few plays later with Allen’s second touchdown pass of the game, this time to Dawson Knox.

Knox was lined up as the tight end on the right side of Allen. As Knox released, he was trying to get inside defender Jason McCourty, who was playing man-to-man coverage. McCourty tried to maintain inside leverage on Knox, but was unable to. McCourty positioned himself to undercut the throw in the event Allen threw the ball over the top to the back pylon on Knox’s crossing route.

The way that Allen threw this completion indicated the philosophy this week was to bend routes back down toward the sidelines rather than try to go over the top of the man-to-man coverage, because of the Dolphins’ excellent ability to undercut throws. Allen threw this touchdown early, flattening Knox so that he had to bend toward Allen and away from the well-positioned McCourty. This was not an accident, as Allen could have put the ball on the back pylon. This completion demonstrated a greater understanding on how to beat great man-to-man coverage.

This touchdown put the game virtually out of reach for the Dolphins, who struggled against the stingy and much-improved Bills defense. 

Fourth quarter

Play selection: 14 plays, five passes, seven runs, two kneeldowns.

Allen: 3 for 5 passing for 46 yards. Two carries for 12 yards.

Performance grade: 100%.

Score: Bills, 35-0.

The fourth quarter consisted of two offensive drives for the Bills as Allen methodically milked the play clock down to less than five seconds on each play. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Daboll continued to use Allen as a primary runner with this creative and effective quarterback sweep.

Daboll lined up the Bills’ offense into a three-receiver formation to the right with Knox as the single, tight receiver to the left. He also used Isaiah McKenzie in the backfield to Allen’s left. McKenzie went in motion late to the right, triggering defensive momentum to that side. 

bills-dolphins play 3

Daboll used Knox to crack back on linebacker Jaelan Phillips, and pulled left guard Feliciano to the perimeter to account for defensive back McCourty. The motion, the formation, and the scheme set the offense with the ability to account for every Miami player to the sweep side of the field, and this allowed Allen to reach the edge and pick up the first down.

Allen’s well-documented ability to run is the x-factor that every opposing defense hopes to account for. Here, Allen stepped up into the pocket and took off to his right. The Dolphins’ defense was in man-to-man coverage as he broke the pocket. Allen knew this and headed for the end zone. 

Defensive coordinators might be able to account for the Bills’ passing game, or running game, but Allen’s ad lib ability to react and run gives the offense the additional element of uncontrollable surprise, and that makes this offense dangerous.

Conclusion

Any 35-0 victory is a superb team accomplishment. The Bills smothered and demoralized the Dolphins in every way, and although Allen didn’t have an incredibly productive game statistically, he did play very well. This road win against a team that defeated the New England Patriots in Week 1 was critical for the Bills’ confidence. Allen played with authority; he was settled and measured; and he put the team in good situations instead of attempting to play hero ball. 

There will certainly be a need for scintillating plays down the line, but this game required Allen to play within himself. He responded with a gritty and solid performance despite producing less statistically.

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