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Jim Kubiak: More Bills' running game sputters, more Josh Allen will try to do too much

Jim Kubiak: More Bills' running game sputters, more Josh Allen will try to do too much

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Bills Colts fourth

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) throws during the fourth quarter at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, Sunday, Nov. 21, 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. He recently was named the first head football coach at Hilbert College.

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

The formula for success against the Bills appears to be to run the football with power, prevent Josh Allen from making any big plays, and win the turnover ratio. And so, the Indianapolis Colts blew out the Bills at Highmark Stadium, 41-15, with a combination of rushing dominance, fast Cover 2 defense, and capitalizing off four Bills turnovers.

Allen’s performance grade of 84.4% is his lowest of the season, as he completed 21 of 35 attempts and threw for two touchdowns and two interceptions. Both interceptions were products of forced decisions down the field. 

In the first quarter, following consecutive penalties that took the Bills from a third-and-3 to a third-and-18, Allen’s attempt down the field was picked off. The Colts capitalized with a touchdown. Again, in the third quarter, in another third-and-long situation, Allen tried to force the ball to a covered Emmanuel Sanders. Another interception that led to another Colts touchdown.

The Colts’ rushing dominance led by four Jonathan Taylor touchdowns on the ground, helped the Colts control the time of possession, 37:47 to 22:13, which limited Allen to just seven offensive possessions before Mitch Trubisky replaced him midway through the fourth quarter.

In the seven possessions with Allen in the game, the results were:

1. Allen interception

2. Allen touchdown pass

3. No series after Isaiah McKenzie fumble on kickoff

4. Missed 57-yard field goal

5. Bills punt

6. Missed 49-yard field goal

7. Allen interception

8. Allen touchdown pass

Allen knew going into the game the Colts would play a Cover 2 shell, and a bend-but-don’t-break style of defense. They played deep and kept all the throws in front of them. When Allen threw down the field, the speedy defensive backs drove on the football. As the Bills’ turnovers mounted, so, too, did the pressure to try to do more. Add in rain, wind and drops by traditionally reliable players such as tight end Dawson Knox and everything on offense looked like a struggle.

Turnovers and the Colts’ rushing superiority were too much for Allen to overcome on his own without any kind of running game. No one in the NFL wins consistently with an inability to stop the run and run the football.

First quarter

Play selection: 11 plays – eight passes, three runs.

Allen: 6 for 8 passing, for 56 yards, interception. One carry for 10 yards.

Performance grade: 91%.

Score: Colts, 14-0.

Following the Colts’ opening six-minutes-plus scoring drive, Allen and the Buffalo offense took over on their first possession with 8:55 remaining in the quarter. Allen started out flawlessly, completing 4 of 5 attempts with his only incompletion being a wise throwaway.

Penalties railroaded the scoring opportunity. First, Cody Ford had a false start, then Mitch Morse was called for holding on the next play. Faced with third-and-18, Allen forced his throw into the middle of the field and Colts safety George Odum intercepted.

Here, Allen used the hard count in an attempt to get the Colts to jump into the neutral zone. When the ball gets snapped, it appears Allen might have thought he had a free play. The unfortunate reality, however, was that the Buffalo receivers were late off the ball and well-covered down the field. Odum was playing his deep half-coverage responsibility, read Allen’s eyes and jumped the reception area. 

Indianapolis turned this turnover into another touchdown to take a 14-0 lead against a Bills team that had outscored its opponents, 57-6, in the first quarter. Despite completing 6 of 8 attempts, Allen did not seem comfortable with taking the short completions underneath as the pressure mounted to catch up. 

The Bills’ offense started their second possession with only 1:31 remaining in the quarter. The Colts controlled the football and canceled Allen’s effectiveness by controlling the time of possession as well as the line of scrimmage.

SECOND QUARTER

Play selection: 15 plays – 10 passes, five runs.

Allen: 8 for 10 passing, for 76 yards, one touchdown, one sack. One carry for 8 yards.

Performance grade: 86.6%.

Score: Colts, 24-7.

Allen led the Bills down the field on a great scoring drive to cut the deficit to 14-7.

Here, the design was to make it look as if Stefon Diggs were running a fade to the back pylon. This gave his defender, Rock Ya-Sin, momentum up the field, while Diggs rerouted himself back to the front pylon. 

Allen knew immediately that Diggs was going to be open when he broke back to the front pylon because Ya-Sin was even with Diggs at the time of the break to the pylon.

The Colts were able to get another field goal on their next possession to push the score to 17-7.

The Bills had another opportunity for a scoring drive before the end of the half, but Isaiah McKenzie fielded the kickoff, tripped and fell, and fumbled without being touched. This special teams blunder resulted in another rushing Colts touchdown and a score of 24-7.

Allen took over for only the Bills’ third offensive possession with 1:54 remaining in the second quarter.  He completing 5 of 6 attempts, giving the Bills an opportunity for a long field goal right before the half. Unfortunately, Tyler Bass missed the 57-yard attempt.

At the half, the Colts had already rushed for 105 yards and scored 14 points off two turnovers. The Bills had been the only team in the NFL that had not trailed at halftime. This was uncharted territory for a football team that just a few weeks ago was considered as one the most complete teams in football.

THIRD QUARTER

Play selection: 15 plays – 10 passes, 5 runs

Allen: 2 for 10 passing for 13 yards, one interception.

Performance grade: 60%.

Score: Colts, 38-7.

Allen started the third quarter with three incompletions.  His first pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage; Knox dropped a sensational throw on a bench route, and then Allen missed an open Gabriel Davis on a dig route. The Bills punted and this time the Bills’ defense held, forcing the first punt of the game by the Colts with 10:50 in the third quarter.

The Bills’ offense started the next drive from their own 9-yard line and ran the football four times in a row, three to Matt Breida and once to Devin Singletary. The drive ended with this missed opportunity to Cole Beasley.

Here, Allen had a good, clean look at Beasley on an option route and seemed to get under the football as it sailed above Beasley’s reach. This inaccurate throw was not caused by the defense and should have been an easy conversion for a first down. Instead, the Bills had to settle for a 49-yard field goal attempt that Bass missed.

The opportunistic Colts turned their next drive into more points and pushed the score to 31-7. 

On the Bills’ next drive Allen unraveled and forced another throw into coverage, attempting to thread the needle to Sanders between defenders. Xavier Rhodes deflected Allen’s pass and Kenny Moore II tipped the ball into the air to himself for another Allen interception.

This was an ill-advised throw into coverage in a game that was out of hand. Allen, under pressure from a rare Colts’ blitz, started to leave the pocket and reset himself to deliver the football, just trying to make something happen. Allen was not able to get the velocity he normally does as he was falling away when he let the ball go. The problem on the play was that Sanders initially was coming back to Allen but then stopped, which allowed Rhodes to cut in front of Sanders. Sanders should have continued to come back to Allen. If he had, Rhodes would not have been able to undercut the soft throw.

The Colts capitalized again with Taylor’s fifth touchdown for a 38-7 advantage. In all, Allen completed only 2 of 10 attempts in the third quarter and graded just 60%, which indicated just how poorly the Buffalo offense was executing in the midst of these adverse circumstances. 

FOURTH QUARTER

Play selection (with Allen in game): Seven plays – seven passes, zero runs

Allen: 5 for 7 passing for 64 yards, one touchdown. Zero carries.

Performance grade: 100%.

Score: Colts, 41-15.

Allen concluded his seventh and final offensive possession of the game with this touchdown pass to Diggs in the back of the end zone.

Here, Allen stepped up and looked to run to his left. Just before he would have crossed the line of scrimmage, he somehow delivered a strike to Diggs, who was working the back end line. This was perhaps Allen’s best throw of the day.

Mitch Trubisky came in for Allen following this series.

Conclusion

The Bills were thoroughly beaten in an embarrassing, home loss due to a general lack of execution. They turned over the football four times and were dominated at the line of scrimmage, marked most notably by their failure to stop the run and their lack of a running game.

One of the pitfalls of building a football team around an amazing quarterback like Allen is that if his production wanes so does the production of the entire team. The reality for the Bills’ offense is that they built their strategy around Allen and therefore, accepted their offense without much of a running game.

Both Singletary and Zack Moss compiled just 22 yards on six carries in the game, and as they both appear to be slowing each week, the Bills cannot seem to get more rushing production unless Allen himself becomes the featured back. Matt Breida was utilized in this game and on his five carries, he more than doubled the production of Singletary and Moss put together. 

To make matters worse, the Buffalo offensive line has been shuffled with the injury to Jon Feliciano and Spencer Brown’s move to the reserve/Covid list. These alterations have certainly affected the Bills’ pass protection and ability to run the football with any consistency.

Plain and simple, if the Bills cannot stop the run and cannot find a running game, the pressure for Allen to continuously generate sensational plays will potentially result in more turnovers and more mistakes. The offense needs to find balance to take the pressure off Allen.

Certainly, the Bills have firepower with Allen at the helm, but when that explosiveness is minimized by a team that controls the time of possession and plays deep, over-the-top coverage, the Bills’ identity is defined by their running game or lack thereof. When Allen is hitting on all cylinders, it is easy to overlook these issues, but without fixing these two major problems, the template to beat the Bills will be to prevent any big plays from Allen and to run the football with power. The Bills have lost three of their last five games to teams that have done just that. The Titans, Jaguars and Colts have executed this mindset to perfection, running with power and taking away Allen’s big-play capabilities with deep two-safety coverages, most likely leaving coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll shaking their heads in disbelief. They have to be wondering how can we be this talented of a team and at the same time have these gaping holes in our armor?

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