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Jim Kubiak: You can see Josh Allen's growth every game. Here's the Raiders edition

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Bills Raiders Football

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) throws against the Las Vegas Raiders during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

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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. 

Introduction

Josh Allen was superb Sunday in leading the Bills to a 30-23 victory against the Las Vegas Raiders and a 4-0 start for the first time in 12 years. Allen completed 24 of 34 passes to nine receivers for 288 yards and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and a season-high overall performance grade of 94.8%. 

His decisive leadership and toughness have become the trademark of a Sean McDermott team that has look of a championship contender. This was a very close to perfect game by Allen, who demonstrated accuracy and completed more than 70% of his passes, despite his throwaways. Allen kept the Bills in good situations, with the exception of two of his 59 plays in the game.

Using a combination of smart check downs, important throwaways and great arm talent, Allen showed his continued growth as an NFL quarterback.

First quarter

Play selection: 17 plays – 11 pass, 5 run.

Allen: 9 for 11 passing for 111 yards, one touchdown. No carries.

Performance grade: 100%.

Score: Bills, 7-3.

Allen completed 5 of 6 attempts on the first drive as the Bills took a 7-0 lead. Allen made it look easy after drawing the Raiders’ defense into the neutral zone on third-and-11 by completing a beautiful deep cross to Stefon Diggs on third-and-6.

The Raiders dropped a robber safety, Eric Harris, down into the middle of the field at the snap. Allen read the defensive rotation and waited for Diggs to get behind Davis. Allen adjusted in the moment, recognized the coverage and threw a perfect touch pass over the defender covering Diggs and over Harris. 

The touchdown throw to Gabriel Davis demonstrated Allen’s recognition and poise as he saw Davis race across the field from left to right and then turn his deep cross route up the field and into a seam.

Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll added this wrinkle as the Bills have been running so many deep crosses against man coverage. Daboll’s design was to make this look like a cross, and then turn it up the field into an unexpected area. Allen read the man coverage and saw that Davis had beaten his defender. He threw an easy completion for the Bills first touchdown.

Allen didn’t miss much in the first quarter, but the Bills have to be happy that he missed the block on the reverse.

The last thing a superstar quarterback needs is to absorb unnecessary blows while trying to block for a running back. This was a play that must have looked good on the board, but in reality, the play unnecessarily put the franchise quarterback in harm’s way.

The next play, on second-and-13, Allen decisively threw the football away when he recognized that all his receivers were covered.

As we know, teams that protect the ball better than their opponents win games, and Allen accepted the incompletion and prevented bad things from happening. This awareness and steady decision making illustrated how far Allen has come in terms of maturity and composure. He wanted to try to make something heroic happen, but instead has learned from Daboll and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey that throwing the football away minimizes mistakes and helps win games. 

Second quarter

Play selection: 13 plays – nine passes, four runs.

Allen: 6 for 9 passing for 41 yards, one touchdown. One carry for minus-1 yards.

Performance grade: 100%.

Score: Bills, 17-13.

Allen finished a scoring drive early in the second quarter. On third-and-4 from the Raiders’ 11-yard line, he made an instinctive throw to Cole Beasley, who widened his route.

Allen and Beasley were looking for this window at the same time. It appeared that this was a “read” route. Diggs was lined up just inside of Beasley and ran an arrow into the flat. Linebacker Nick Morrow and safety Lamarcus Joyner both moved toward Diggs, and Beasley widened the stem of his route toward Joyner as he reacted to Diggs in the flat. With this awareness and concentration, Beasley pressed wide into the voided area and was flipped upside down amid his extraordinary effort to get into the end zone as the Bills took a 14-3 lead.

Comfortable and prepared quarterbacks move through their progressions seamlessly, and Allen demonstrated his improved ability to process information at lightning speed on the first play of the next drive.

Here, Allen processes through his reads with amazing proficiency, not something he was able to do in his first two seasons. These razor-sharp reactions are not easy to develop, but Allen has worked very hard on developing his decision-making skills.

Six plays, later Allen found Diggs again on a crucial third-down play. 

Allen shows tremendous patience in not taking a big shot down the field versus the man coverage, but rather waiting for Diggs to drag across the field from right to left. Diggs is so fast and difficult to cover in those situations that Allen knew he would be open for the easy completion and first-down conversion.

Two plays later, on third-and-10, Allen made one of his two miscalculations on the day. Instead of throwing the ball away and taking the field goal from the Raiders’ 24-yard line, he scrambled to his left and tried to make a heroic play.

Allen is a big, strong, imposing quarterback, but he can at times make himself vulnerable to injury when he throws under duress. It is impossible to protect yourself while looking down the field and delivering the football. Here, Allen scrambled to his left and sacrificed his body by trying to shuffle the ball to Diggs. Theoretically, a very good decision to avoid the sack but also a decision that put him into a very susceptible position as he was taken to the ground. Allen was slammed into the turf awkwardly, injuring his left shoulder. 

The lesson here is that a more experienced and less talented quarterback might have recognized the play was dead earlier and thrown away the football before contact to preserve a field goal opportunity as well as to protect himself. Learning when to give up on a play is a critical component of longevity in the NFL.

Third quarter

Play selection: 14 plays – nine pass, five run.

Allen: 6 for 9 passing for 64 yards. No carries.

Performance grade: 85.7%

Score: Bills, 17-16.

Allen had returned to the game for a kneeldown to end the half, wearing a visible shoulder harness.

But his first opportunity of the third quarter came with 8:36 remaining after the Raiders scored.

Although Allen was not as sharp as usual, completing 2 of 5 attempts on the drive, he executed in another way. On fourth-and-1 from midfield, with the Bills leading by a point, Allen timed a jet-sweep under center to Isaiah McKenzie that was sensational.

This type of handoff has a high degree of difficulty and requires great timing by Allen, who was trying to snap the ball before the center and hand it to McKenzie on the other side of the center to gain as much leverage as possible. Allen’s flawless timing allowed McKenzie to gain the edge and pick up the 1st down. 

The drive stalled on three incompletions in a row and the Bills punted.

But on the next drive, and in true Allen fashion, the quarterback delivered in a big way.

Perhaps the two best throws of the game from Allen came on consecutive plays as the Bills marched into Raiders’ territory. Beasley was lined up in the slot to Allen’s right and ran an out route that Allen drilled. Beasley did a masterful job of getting his defender to commit to the inside. Allen was decisive and put the football on Beasley’s facemask, showing smooth and seamless timing versus an outside leveraged defender. 

The next throw was even more powerful and accurate as John Brown was breaking across the field on a cross. Raiders defenders Harris and Joyner were draped on Brown’s back as he flattened his route across the field and came back to the football as it was in the air. This completion was not ruled a touchdown but Brown had possession, both feet in bound, and held ball across the plane of the goal line. 

There might not be another player in the NFL who can make that throw with that amount of velocity.

Fourth quarter

Play selection: 14 plays – five passes, nine runs.

Allen: 3 for 5 passing for 72 yards, one sack, one fumble. Two carries for zero yards, one rushing touchdown.

Performance grade: 93.3%.

Score: Bills, 30-23.

Allen capped off a nine-play drive with a quarterback sneak for his third touchdown of the game that put the Bills ahead 23-16. 

Following a Raiders fumble and turnover, Allen and the Bills took over on their own 40-yard line with 12:28 remaining.  Most of us were thinking Daboll would run the ball and milk the clock. But Daboll decided to go for the jugular to put the game away. Allen, off a play-action fake, found Diggs deep down the middle of the field for a 49-yard gain.

Diggs did a wonderful job with the stem of his route as he ran down the left side. He made an outside move that gave safety Eric Harris momentum to the outside. Then, Diggs took the inside post and Allen read it the entire way. Allen’s accurate and above-the-rim completion was caught by Diggs at the crown of his helmet, which prevented Harris from undercutting and intercepting the long throw. This was something that Allen has worked on and improved coming into this season. The completion put the Bills at the Raiders’ 12.

Daboll’s call two plays later was masterful. On second-and-10, he sent Beasley on a quick back-and-forth motion as a decoy to attract attention. Beasley’s move completely fooled the Raiders’ defense, which believed that Beasley was the intended receiver. Most of the defenders reacted toward the right side of the field, influenced by Beasley, as Allen was throwing a screen to tight end Dawson Knox on the left side of the field.

Daboll has an exceptional way of setting things up, and although the screen did not score, the screen did get the Bills down to the 1-yard line.  Singletary scored on the next play on a run off the left side that put Buffalo up 30-16.

Allen had an opportunity to make it a three-score game on the next series with just less than 9 minutes to play. On third-and-18, in field goal range on the Raiders’ 28-yard line, Allen made the second mistake of his near-perfect performance.

The part of Allen that believes he can do or achieve anything came bubbling to the surface as he took a harmful and unnecessary sack that prevented the Bills from a field goal attempt.

A field goal in this situation would have put Buffalo ahead by 17 points, which would have made it all but impossible for the Raiders to get back into the game. Instead, by taking a very poor and unnecessary sack for a loss of 14 yards, the result was a punt and an opportunity for the Raiders close the gap to seven points. 

Had the Raiders recovered the onside kick, they would have had an opportunity to tie or win with a two-point conversion.

Buffalo recovered the onside kick, but McDermott, Daboll and Ken Dorsey will make sure Allen knows to throw the ball away in that situation next time.

Conclusion

The combination of Daboll’s strategy, Dorsey’s detailed preaching, GM Brandon Beane’s commitment to offensive talent, and McDermott’s defensive prowess have resulted in a smart, fast, well-prepared Bills team. This is a group with offensive weapons all over the field and a team with a physically robust defense.  Teams built like this are completed with a great playmaker and field general such as Allen. He completes this group like no one else can.

Allen’s remarkable start is the result of his diligent and disciplined work in the offseason. It is not an accident that the Bills offense is averaging 31 points per game, 12 more than his rookie season. It is not an accident the Allen is averaging 330 passing yards per game, 160 more than his rookie season. And it is not an accident that the Bills were averaging 434 yards per game coming into this matchup, which is 136 more than Allen’s rookie season. 

No player has come farther from where he started than Allen has. He is playing at an MVP level.

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