Through the first two years of his career, Josh Allen was the definition of a raw quarterback – A talented player with a big arm and an unmatched level of recklessness that led to too many incompletions, turnovers, and crazy decisions. Most people probably figured any improvements would not lead to him putting up numbers similar to some of the more consistently-great quarterbacks in the NFL like Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. Yet three weeks into the season, that’s where we are with Allen. You might be thinking, “It’s just 3 games!” Which is fair. His numbers will likely come down as the Bills face some better competition. However, the way he’s playing suggests that this new Josh Allen is here to stay.
The big change to Allen’s game in 2020 has been his ability to stay in, and play comfortably from, the pocket. Last week against the Rams, there were multiple plays that illustrate this change.
On the below play, Buffalo was targeting the underneath defenders in the Rams’ Quarters coverage. They did this by holding the weakside underneath defender and then attacking the middle linebacker with a whip route by Cole Beasley and a dig by Gabriel Davis.
Allen seemed to want Beasley first on the whip route. But that was taken away by the strong-side linebacker. We’ve seen Allen break down and leave the pocket in the past when his first read wasn’t there, unwilling to hang in the pocket and move to his next progression. Here he didn’t, and his patience actually made the play.
You can see from the end zone angle that Allen had to fight against his initial instinct to flee the pocket and make a play with his legs. But he restrained himself and found the open receiver.
As he continues to refine his game and plays more from the pocket, Allen won’t lose his feet quite as much as he did there, and that will lead to more accurate throws later in the down.
On the very next play, you can get an idea of exactly what Allen is capable of when he combines his talent with technique. Again, the Rams were playing Quarters coverage. Again, the route combination was designed to hold or take one defender out of the play, then put the remaining defender in the area into conflict. Here, it was the flat defender highlighted at the top of the screen.
The post route on the outside took the cornerback with him, leaving the flat defender as the focus. Allen pump-faked to the flat to get him to jump that route, and this created the opening downfield. The screen shot below is from just after Allen’s pump-fake.
You can see the good anticipation by Allen on the above illustration. He was well into his throwing motion before Beasley was past the flat defender.
From the end zone angle, you can get a better look at how Allen moved the defender, kept his feet, stayed calm in the pocket, and then delivered a perfect throw downfield that only a few quarterbacks in the NFL have the ability to make.
Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll is doing a good job of putting Allen in position to succeed. But Allen is executing more and more like a poised veteran. We haven’t seen him play this well over a 3-game stretch at any point in his career.
Don’t get me wrong, Allen still has that play-maker gene in him that sometimes gets him into trouble. You can view some of those plays here and here. He can still improve in managing the situations of the game and taking what the defense gives him. But his decision-making has improved and there is more refinement to his game in 2020. Given his elite talent, Allen would become a scary player to NFL defenses if he puts together the other elements of playing the position.
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