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Josh Allen's poor decisions on third and fourth downs in second half hurt Bills

Josh Allen's poor decisions on third and fourth downs in second half hurt Bills

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McCoy-Sports-Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17)-2019

Bills quarterback Josh Allen on the run against the Cleveland Browns. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Jim Kubiak has been analyzing the play of the Buffalo Bills quarterbacks for 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 22 passes on a career-high 41 attempts for a career-high 266 yards, and rushed for 28 yards on six carries in a 19-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Allen’s QB Performance Grade for the game was 84% as he struggled on third downs and completed only 53.7% of his passes.

The Bills converted 5 of 13 third-down opportunities and were 0 of 2 on fourth down. The most significant part of that stat is the Bills converted only 1 of 7 combined third and fourth downs in the second half.

First quarter

Play selection: Seven plays – four passes, three runs.

Allen: 1 of 4 passing for 2 yards. No carries.

QB Performance Grade: 86%.

Score: Browns, 6-0.

With a fantastic goal-line stand, the Buffalo defense prevented a score in eight consecutive plays from the 1-yard line. This eight-play sequence dominated the time of possession and resulted in the Bills executing just seven offensive plays in the quarter.

Allen’s only completion of the quarter was a check down to fullback Patrick DiMarco as he ran into the flat from his backfield set. Two plays later, tight end Dawson Knox dropped a perfectly thrown back shoulder on third-and-4.

The drop led to a fourth-and-4 from the Browns’ 39-yard line. Allen missed a wide-open John Brown, who ran a slant route to Allen’s left. The throw was uncatchable and well behind Brown. Cole Beasley was open but not targeted on the play.

Second quarter

Play selection: 19 plays – 13 passes, six runs.

Allen: 7 of 13 passing for 100 yards. Two carries for 22 yards and a touchdown.

QB Performance Grade: 89%.

Score: Browns, 9-7.

The second quarter was the Bills’ most productive and consistent. The Bills converted three third downs in the quarter. Buffalo took the lead on a nine-play scoring drive, which started on its own 25. Allen was efficient, completing two of three attempts and scoring the touchdown on a quarterback draw from the 8-yard line.

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll utilized the empty formation to force the Browns to spread out and cover Buffalo’s five receivers. Cleveland lined up in “2-man,” a coverage that is man-to-man on all the receivers with two deep safeties over the top. With seven in coverage and only four defenders at the line of scrimmage, Allen and Daboll knew they had the Browns outnumbered. Allen’s schemed quarterback draw was the perfect call at the right time. Allen scampered into the end zone untouched for his fifth rushing touchdown of the year.

Following a Cleveland field goal, the Bills got the ball back with 3:35 remaining in the half. Allen found Cole Beasley on third-and-2 for a 26-yard gain to keep the drive alive.


This play epitomizes Beasley's value. Daboll motioned Beasley from his wide alignment into a “stacked” position behind Brown, who was on the line of scrimmage. This “stacked” positioning was designed to interfere with the man-to-man defensive scheme. The Cleveland defenders had to work to avoid contact or the possibility of getting “hung up” or “picked” during the receiver releases.

This was a smart use of alignment and a deliberate use of Beasley’s skill set, as he released outside and was able to get cornerback TJ Carrie’s hips turned. Once that happened, Beasley slanted back inside underneath the coverage. Allen anticipated Beasley’s movement and threw a strike.

The Bills went 60 yards in three minutes and 10 plays.  Allen was 5 of 10 but threw three consecutive incompletions. On third-and-10 from the 16-yard line, Allen’s early scramble from the pocket resulted in a rushed throw to the end zone and a missed opportunity. Stephen Hauschka missed from 34 yards and the Browns kept their lead at 9-7.

Third quarter

Play selection: 17 plays – 10 passes, seven runs.

Allen: 6 of 10 passing for 56 yards. One carry for 2 yards.

QB Performance Grade: 79%.

Score: Browns, 12-9.

Heading into the game, the Bills had been outscored 43-16 in the third quarter. The minus-27 point differential was third-worst in the NFL. Those woes continued for the Bills as three consecutive drives were stalled in the quarter.

On the first drive, Allen was sacked on third-and-4 at the Browns' 44-yard line, leading to a punt.


In this situation, Allen must know where his outlets are as he had both Beasley and Knox underneath and open for easy, high-percentage completions. Cleveland rushed five and spied Allen with a sixth linebacker. Allen appeared to be looking at the rush to find a running lane.  The Browns were able to contain Allen and eventually get the sack. Allen’s inability to access his shallow crossing routes in man-to-man and blitz situations is his greatest weakness.

On the next possession, on third-and-3 from the Bills' 38, Allen takes a shot down the sideline.

In need of three yards to keep the drive alive, Allen attempted a deep, very low completion percentage throw to Beasley 30 yards down the field. The well-covered and overthrown attempt fell incomplete

The final failed drive of the quarter came on fourth-and-4 from the Browns' 36.

The Bills lined up in an empty formation to spread out the Browns defensively. The speedy Isaiah McKenzie was in the slot to the left and  Beasley was in the slot to the right. Both players ran “whip” routes, pretending to go across the formation and then exploding back outside. These are excellent “man-beater” routes because the defenders must respect the possibility of having to cover them across the field. The hard fake across gives the defenders momentum, and when the receivers explode back out to the flat, they are wide open. On this play, McKenzie and Beasley should be primary targets. For some reason, Allen is looking to the deep ball to his left and misses both open receivers.

Fourth quarter

Pass selection: 19 plays – 14 pass, five runs.

Allen: 8 for 14 for 108 yards. Three carries for 4 yards and a touchdown.

QB Performance Grade: 84%.

Score: Browns, 19-16.

On the Bills’ first possession of the fourth quarter, the Bills again failed on third-and-6 play from their 40.


Beasley was lined up to Allen’s right as the Browns blitzed with a six-man rush. Allen was pressured and looked down at the rush in an attempt to avoid contact.  The pressure prevented Allen from keeping his eyes down the field as Allen reverted to using his legs to escape.

The next series, on third-and-10 from the Browns’ 11, Allen stepped into the collapsing pocket and escaped. He was hit and stripped, and subsequently fumbled the football, his 11th of the season. Guard Jon Feliciano recovered the ball on the 1-yard line.


This fumble recovery was a lucky turn of events. It could have cost the Bills the game, but instead resulted in first-and-goal.  Allen scored two plays later on a quarterback sneak, his second rushing touchdown of the game. This put Buffalo in the lead 16-12 with 5:26 remaining.

Following a Browns touchdown, the Bills had one final opportunity to win. Buffalo was 3-1 in games decided by seven points or less and Allen led the NFL in game-winning drives, so there was reason for optimism.

Allen’s two-minute drill ended on another failed third-down play in which he took another long shot down the field to Brown.

A completion to an open Beasley in this third-and-4 situation gives Buffalo a first down and the ability to “spike” the ball and stop the clock with less than a minute remaining. A completion also would have brought the subsequent Hauschka field goal to an attempt of less than 50 yards.


On six possessions in the second half, the Bills converted only one third down.

Third quarter: Third-and-4, sack, Knox and Beasley open.

Third quarter: Third-and-3, Allen takes a shot, incomplete.

Third quarter: Fourth-and-4, empty formation, incomplete.

Fourth quarter: Third-and-6, incomplete.

Fourth quarter: Third-and-10, Allen fumble.

Fourth quarter: Third-and-8, successful conversion to Brown for 21 yards with 1:34 remaining.

Fourth quarter: Third-and-4, Allen takes shot, incomplete, Beasley open.

Poor decisions forcing the ball deep and Allen's inability to access his short passing game in the man-to-man coverage made the difference. Beasley was brought to Buffalo as a “specialist” to win versus man-to-man coverage on third downs. Allen was not focused on attacking the Browns defense with whips, arrows and shallow crossers, but instead took several ill-advised shots down the field, trying to get big plays in these critical situations. This lack of awareness resulted in stops for Cleveland defense. The reality, however, is that the Browns' defense didn’t stop Allen and the Bills, poor decisions on third and fourth downs ultimately prevented the Bills from achieving success.

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