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Is Josh Allen progressing game-to-game?

Among the many ways to analyze Josh Allen’s success, we dive deep into his third-down passing numbers.

It’s a given that Buffalo Bills fans want to see the team succeed, even if they often disagree about what management needs to do in order to be successful. Fans sometimes even disagree about what constitutes success, with opinions running the gamut between Super Bowl victors to first pick in the upcoming draft. That acknowledged, fans almost universally want whoever is playing quarterback for the Bills to do well.

Josh Allen is the quarterback of the moment and hopefully of the future. Comments on game threads and other posts seem to be trending towards positive feelings about Allen’s progress. Phrases like “his team” and “taking command” have been repeated several times and the general sense is that Allen is getting better. That isn’t to say that Allen is anywhere near good enough at this point in his career, but Rumblers have been warming up to the young signal caller.

Is it warranted? Allen’s stats aren’t great, to say the least. To this point in the year, he has played in roughly six games—he relieved Peterman in Baltimore and left the Houston game early due to injury. In those games, Allen has completed 83 of 158 passes for 992 yards, three touchdowns, and five interceptions—with an average quarterback rating of 65.2. He has completed 52.5% of his passes with a low of 40% (at Baltimore Ravens) and a high of 68.2% (at Minnesota Vikings) on his way to a 3-3 record as a starter.

Looking at completion percentages from week to week, Allen went from 40%; to 54.6%; to 68.2%; down to 48.5%; back up to 52.6%; to 58.8%; and finally down to 42.1%. There isn’t a clear trend of progression (rather, an unusual pattern) as he’s gone up 2 games, down 1, up 2 more, and down 1.

Allen’s yards-per-game give us another way to look at his progression. He went from 74 (second half of the Ravens game); up to 245; down to 196; down to 151; down to 82; up to 84 (left Houston Texans game early); and up to 160. Again, there’s no clear progression in his stat line.

Quarterback rating per game is another way to look at it. He went from 56.0; up to 63.3; up to 111.2; down to 36.3; up to 42; up to 71.7; and up to 89.8. Of the myriad ways to look at the stat sheet, this is the only one to show a largely positive trend for Allen. He started out poorly but improved over the next two weeks before falling off a cliff at the Green Bay Packers (36.3 rating). He has since improved each week.

Another (less clinical) way to look at how Allen has progressed is to look at how he’s done on third downs when he has been in position to throw the ball. Has his decision making improved on those critical plays?

At Baltimore Ravens

3rd and 7 (Sack for 4-yard loss)

Allen was sacked for a four-yard loss on the very first third-down attempt of his career. Terrell Suggs got around Jordan Mills just about the time Allen hit his back foot. That forced Allen off his spot just as Charles Clay was coming open across the middle for a first down. If Allen just stepped up and kept his eyes on the middle of the field it’s a pretty easy pass-catch-conversion.

3rd and 7 (Completion to Andre Holmes for 14 yards)

Allen dropped back and scanned his options before throwing to Holmes on an in route. He didn’t throw to any of the three receivers who weren’t past the sticks and got the conversion.

3rd and 5 (Sack for 12-yard loss)

Set up at the Baltimore five-yard line, no one is open when Allen hits his back foot. He sees Mills losing control of his linebacker, and also sees a lane to his left and starts that way, but the defensive end sees him and moves to cut off Allen. That forces Allen to try to go back around Dion Dawkins and the defensive end and he’s caught from behind by Mills’ linebacker.

3rd and 10 (Completion to Jeremy Kerley for 15 yards—negated by penalty on John Miller)

Allen hit his back foot and started to scan the field. He didn’t throw to the running back well short of the sticks or to Kelvin Benjamin who was having to push a defensive back down the field. Instead, he waited for Kerley to break on his in route and delivered a solid pass.

3rd and 19 (Completion to Logan Thomas for 24 yards)

After the first down was taken away, Allen scrambled around a bit and found Logan Thomas working back towards him once Thomas saw that Allen was on the move. Had he not been forced to scramble, Allen likely would have thrown to Marcus Murphy, who had no one in front of him and a fair chance at making the first down before anyone could have reached him.

3rd and 8 (Incomplete pass to Logan Thomas)

Allen again ignored two receivers who were short of the sticks and threw to an in-breaking Thomas. He made the right read but he didn’t put the ball in front of Thomas. It wasn’t quite behind him but close enough that the chasing defensive back was able to get his hand on it and make it tough for Thomas to make the catch.

3rd and 12 (Incomplete pass to Jeremy Kerley)

A miscommunication between Mills and Miller led to Allen getting hit as he threw. He still got the ball to Kerley but the defensive back was right there as well and broke up the pass. Not only that, the defensive back cut under the route and could have had a pick-6. The pass was thrown to a receiver past the line to gain.

Of his seven opportunities:

  • Three throws that would have moved the chains
  • One sack due to not stepping up in the pocket
  • One sack due to breakdown in pass protection + no one open
  • One incompletion due to slight inaccuracy
  • One incompletion due to being hit while throwing.

Vs. San Diego Chargers

3rd and 7 (Sack for 3-yard loss)

When Allen hit his back foot none of the receivers were past the line to gain. Unfortunately, the three defensive linemen who weren’t double teamed were also past their blockers (Mills, Miller, Dawkins).

3rd and 10 (Incomplete pass to Kelvin Benjamin)

Allen was going to Benjamin all the way, never even looking at the other receivers. Allen pointed to a defensive back he recognized as coming on the blitz but didn’t realize two were coming from that same side. No one else realized it either as Murphy was free and could have picked up the guy who rushed the inaccurate throw.

3rd and 20 (Incomplete pass to Andre Holmes)

Allen was hit as he threw thanks to a non-block by Murphy and the ball sailed well over Holmes’s head. Holmes was about three yards short of the line-to-gain and had a defensive back right there, so it’s doubtful that he would have picked up the first down. The Chargers simply gave Buffalo one on a stupid penalty, though.

3rd and 21 (Completion to LeSean McCoy for 8 yards)

The Bills were at the 33 and needed to stay in field-goal range. The play call was a pass to McCoy with wide receivers blocking downfield for him. Allen delivered a good ball so McCoy was able to keep his forward momentum.

3rd and 7 (Sack for 8-yard loss)

Allen was sacked as soon as he hit his back foot. They only sent four, but Dawkins didn’t block the outside linebacker who ran straight to Allen. Instead, Dawkins took the defensive end, leaving Vladimir Ducasse nothing to do but stand there.

3rd and 6 (Completion to Kelvin Benjamin for 16 yards)

The ball was gone almost as soon as Allen hit his back foot and Benjamin was one of only two receivers past the line to gain. It was a beautifully placed back shoulder pass wedged between two defenders.

3rd and 10 (Incomplete pass to Andre Holmes)

The pass was both behind Holmes and behind the line to gain. Had Holmes caught it, it’s doubtful that he would have powered through the defensive back for the conversion. None of the receivers ran patterns past the line to gain, so it’s hard to pin this one on Allen.

3rd and 4 (Interception)

Allen bailed out of a rapidly crumbling pocket and had a total rookie moment. As he was being tackled, he spotted Murphy on a wheel route and tried to put the ball over the head of the defensive back. That meant putting air under the pass, which allowed another defensive back to get the interception.

3rd and 9 (Incomplete pass to Andre Holmes)

Murphy got steamrolled by a blitzer and held. Allen rolled out of the pocket and couldn’t set up long enough to throw to Holmes past the sticks accurately. Holmes had to spin around for the ball but he did get his hands on it.

3rd and 4 (Completion to Logan Thomas for 7 yards)

Thomas set up in a soft zone and Allen hit him right in the numbers.

3rd and 5 (Completion to Jason Croom for 6 yards)

Allen had another option ten yards farther downfield but took the easier of the two and moved the chains.

3rd and 11 (Completion to Andre Holmes for 19 yards)

Allen stepped up into a lively pocket, ignored two receivers short of the line to gain, and threw a dart between two defenders.

Of his 12 opportunities:

  • Four passes to move the chains
  • Two sacks due to breakdown in pass protection + no one open
  • Two incompletions due to inaccurate passes
  • One incompletion due to throwing under pressure
  • One incompletion due to being hit while throwing
  • One pass completed short of line to gain by design
  • One interception due to terrible decision

At Minnesota Vikings

3rd and 4 (Sack for 7-yard loss—wiped out by Vikings penalty)

Russell Bodine was a turnstile and Allen got hit before he had a chance to throw. Murphy also got tossed out of the way (again).

3rd and 6 (Incomplete pass to Kelvin Benjamin)

Benjamin let the defensive back take it away from him.

3rd and 9 (Scramble for 10 yards—aka the hurdle play)

Allen hit his back foot, saw an opening in the line, and took off. He really shouldn’t have gotten ten yards but did anyway thanks to his leaping skills.

3rd and 4 (Completion to Andre Holmes for 3 yards)

Holmes was pretty clearly in the end zone when he caught the ball but somehow it was placed at the one instead. Allen threw a dart between two defenders.

3rd and 6 (Completion to Kelvin Benjamin for 12 yards)

Allen threw the ball before Benjamin had even made it to the top of his route. Doing so allowed Benjamin to turn and box out the defender for the come back pass.

3rd and 20 (Completion to Kelvin Benjamin for 11 yards)

The pass was short of even the original line of scrimmage but it put the Bills in field-goal range.

3rd and 6 (Scramble for 8 yards)

Allen reared back to throw left but saw his man was double covered. Then he saw no one out to the right and ran for the sticks.

3rd and 25 (Completion to Zay Jones for 17 yards)

Allen waited for Jones to sit down in the zone and took the easy 17 yards, even though there was no chance of Jones picking up the first down.

3rd and 3 (Completion to Marcus Murphy for 1 yard)

The pass was going to Murphy all the way. He had a trailing linebacker to beat to the sticks and couldn’t do it.

Of his nine opportunities:

  • One pass to move the chains
  • One sack due to breakdown in pass protection and no one open
  • One incompletion due to dropped pass
  • Two scrambles for conversion
  • Four passes short of line to gain

At Green Bay Packers

3rd and 10 (Incomplete pass to Kelvin Benjamin)

Benjamin was the only receiver to go beyond the sticks. Allen had enough room to throw the ball without defenders at his feet but sailed the ball well wide of his target.

3rd and 8 (Completion to Charles Clay for 10 yards)

Clay was five yards short of the sticks but was able to split a pair of defenders and power past the line to gain. If Allen hadn’t thrown when he did, he would have been crushed by a blitzer that Chris Ivory was unable to check.

3rd and 5 (Incomplete pass to LeSean McCoy)

Allen had a fairly clean pocket but bailed out of it to his right. He had Clay at the sticks for a first down but couldn’t set up—Mills didn’t know that Allen was going to abandon the pocket, so he didn’t know his defender was going to take off towards the sideline. Allen ran all the way back across the formation and threw a wild pass in the general direction of McCoy at the sticks.

3rd and 15 (Incomplete pass to Kelvin Benjamin)

Four receivers were at or past the sticks and Allen decided early to throw to Benjamin on a curl route. He was hit as he threw, so the ball bounced on the turf several yards in front of Benjamin. The corner jumped the route as Allen passed, making the bad throw a positive.

3rd and 5 (Incomplete pass to Andre Holmes)

Allen stood in the pocket as it collapsed in on him and delivered a bullet to Holmes near the sideline (the exact type of pass Nathan Peterman was incapable of throwing). Holmes had the ball in his hands but dropped it as he tried to bring it in to his body.

3rd and 12 (Scramble for 8 yards and penalty on Packers)

Clay turned a rusher loose and Allen dodged him. The three options past or at the sticks were well-covered so he took off. Allen unwisely took on two defenders five yards short of the line to gain instead of just sliding.

3rd and 10 (Completion to Kelvin Benjamin for 34 yards)

For no discernible reason, the defensive back with Benjamin just dropped coverage. Allen spotted it as soon as the defensive back broke to the inside and immediately threw long. The ball was underthrown by a good ten yards, which allowed Benjamin to come back for it—but denied Buffalo a 60-yard touchdown.

3rd and 5 (Interception)

Green Bay sent seven and Buffalo had six blockers, so Allen had to scramble as soon as he hit his back foot. Instead of throwing the ball away and getting a field goal, Allen lobbed the ball into the end zone and just hoped for the best.

3rd and 7 (Completion to Charles Clay for 17 yards)

Allen had two options in the middle of the field: one past the sticks and one short of them, but with room in front of him. He went with the closer option as there weren’t any defenders within seven yards of Clay—who got another 11 yards after the catch.

3rd and 17 (Interception)

There was a window for this pass and Allen missed it. Benjamin got past the cornerback and wasn’t yet to the safety, and if the ball was delivered then and there Benjamin would have made the catch and gotten the first down. The ball was a bit too far inside and a bit ahead of Benjamin so it was an interception as well as an unflagged hit on a defenseless receiver.

3rd and 4 (Sack for 7-yard loss)

Allen had a good three seconds before Mills was beaten by his man. Allen felt the pressure and tried to bail out of the pocket, but it was too late. He had a receiver just past the line to gain and should have gunned the pass into him.

3rd and 3 (Sack for 16-yard loss)

Allen had Ray-Ray McCloud III for enough yards to move the chains but turned his back to the offense to avoid a blitzer instead of just throwing the ball. He tried to spin away from the tackle but instead was taken down.

3rd and 28 (Incomplete pass to Zay Jones)

Needing a mile, Allen threw to Jones—about eight yards short of the line to gain. His pass was off and behind Jones, who never really had a chance at it.

3rd and 5 (Fumble on scramble)

Allen got impatient. He didn’t have to scramble but didn’t see anyone immediately open when he hit his back foot, so he took off running. He only picked up a couple of yards and fumbled the ball when tackled.

3rd and 3 (Sack for 8-yard loss)

Allen hit his back foot and was met by the defender. Game over.

Of his 15 opportunities:

  • Three passes to move the chains
  • Three incompletions due to inaccurate passes
  • One incompletion due to being hit while throwing
  • One incompletion due to dropped pass
  • One scramble due to breakdown in pass protection + no one open
  • One scramble due to rookie impatience
  • Two sacks due to breakdown in pass protection + no one open
  • One sack due to failing to throw to the hot route
  • One really ugly rookie interception
  • One interception due to inaccurate pass

Vs. Tennessee Titans

3rd and 6 (Completion to Zay Jones for 5 yards)

This play was going to Jones all the way. His motion showed Allen it was man coverage. With two other wide receivers on that side of the field clearing out defensive backs, Jones had a good chance at getting the first down. He came up just short.

3rd and 2 (Completion to Zay Jones for 3 yards)

This was a pick play that should have been flagged. Jones crossed under Murphy’s route and had plenty of space to make the catch and get the first down.

3rd and 9 (Incomplete pass to Andre Holmes and declined offensive holding)

Allen had plenty of time and no one near his feet but badly missed Holmes, who was open over the middle about 25 yards downfield.

3rd and 3 (Incomplete pass to Kelvin Benjamin)

Benjamin found a hole in the zone about 12 yards past the line to gain with no defender within five yards of him. The pass was tipped at the line due to Russell Bodine not even touching the defensive tackle.

3rd and 11 (Completion to LeSean McCoy for 10 yards)

This was going to McCoy all the way and Allen hit him in stride. With two wide receivers to block two defensive backs, this was a play with a good chance to move the chains—one where a better spot would have gotten the first down.

3rd and 7 (Incomplete pass to Zay Jones)

The play moved the pocket to the right and only sent three receivers on routes, all past the line to gain. Allen chose the well-covered Jones in the end zone over the wide-open McCloud for what would have been an easy eight- to ten-yard gain.

3rd and 10 (Incomplete pass to Kelvin Benjamin)

Allen had guys falling towards his feet but still could have stepped into the throw. He didn’t and the ball landed short of Benjamin.

3rd and 5 (Sack for 3-yard loss)

Bodine and Ducasse were matching turnstiles, and Allen had to bail out of the pocket. As he moved right, he kept his eyes downfield but may not have been able to see Jones through the scrum. Jones had defenders near him, but none in the direction he was running. An accurate pass to him would have moved the chains but Allen only pretended to throw to freeze a linebacker while trying to run for it.

3rd and 10 (Completion to Zay Jones for 12 yards)

Allen saw both Jones coming out of his break and the defender about three yards farther downfield. He threw a strike.

3rd and 3 (Completion to LeSean McCoy for 13 yards)

It was McCoy on an out pattern versus one defender. The pass was behind McCoy, which McCoy made work by spinning and leaving the defender in the dust.

Of his ten opportunities:

  • Three passes to move the chains
  • Two passes short of the line to gain
  • Three incompletion due to inaccurate passes
  • One incompletion due to tipped pass
  • One sack due to Allen not seeing an open receiver past the line to gain

At Houston Texans

3rd and 6 (Completion to LeSean McCoy for 22 yards)

Houston sent six and the pocket collapsed. Allen bailed out and found McCoy all alone as Allen went out of bounds. McCoy took off and picked up another 15 yards.

3rd and 14 (Incomplete pass to Zay Jones)

Jones was lit up before the ball arrived. No flag.

3rd and 7 (Sack for 5-yard loss)

None of the wide receivers were past the line to gain when pressure forced Allen to step up and then attempt to run.

3rd and 6 (Completion to Charles Clay for 8 yards)

This was a timing route—more of an arc than a slant. Allen got the ball to Clay before the defensive back could make contact.

3rd and 9 (Incomplete pass to Zay Jones)

Allen threw the ball wide of Jones, who may not have been past the line to gain after leaping back towards Allen in a futile attempt to reach the ball.

3rd and 12 (Sack for 11-yard loss)

J.J. Watt got a shoe-string sack just about the time the three wide receivers got past the line to gain—but each was well covered.

3rd and 10 (Scramble for 11 yards)

Allen hit his back foot and saw a hole right in front of him with three receivers and four defenders between himself and the line to gain. Three defenders chased the receivers while the fourth failed to bring Allen down.

3rd and 4 (Incomplete pass to Zay Jones)

Allen bailed out of a perfectly good pocket and started to run for the end zone, then suddenly realized he wouldn’t make it. He tried to hit Jones but didn’t lob it over the defender—and a possible interception was instead an incomplete pass.

3rd and 6 (Completion to Kelvin Benjamin for 44 yards negated by illegal formation penalty)

Allen shook off a would-be sack by Watt—as Mills laid on the turf—and rolled left, where he saw Benjamin behind the defense. He under-threw the ball by several yards, so Benjamin had to wait for it instead of getting it in stride and getting the touchdown. No matter; it was a penalty on Buffalo.

(Allen was hurt before seeing another third down.)

Of his nine opportunities:

  • Three passes to move the sticks
  • One incompletion due to blatant uncalled pass interference
  • Two incompletions due to inaccurate passes
  • Two sacks due to breakdown in pass protection + no one open
  • One scramble for first-down yardage

Vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

3rd and 3 (Scramble for 7 yards)

Wyatt Teller was driven back into Allen so Allen sidestepped and took off. He wisely slid to protect himself.

3rd and 8 (Incomplete pass to Zay Jones)

Allen had the right read as Jones was the only guy past the sticks who was open. Had Allen put the ball in front of Jones, it was a reception and first down. Instead, Allen threw slightly behind Jones and the defensive back was able to catch up and break up the pass.

3rd and 4 (Scramble for 1 yard)

Allen didn’t recognize a delayed blitz by a linebacker, but he didn’t have a hot receiver as McCoy never looked back as he took off on a wheel route. Allen avoided the linebacker but he was swarmed under while trying to scramble.

3rd and 5 (Completion to Logan Thomas for 7 yards negated by offensive holding)

Allen bailed out of the pocket as it was getting pushed into his lap. He threw on the move and hit Thomas past the sticks.

3rd and 15 Completion to Isaiah McKenzie for 16 yards negated by hands-to-face penalty)

Allen threw to one of two receivers past the sticks. He threw as soon as McKenzie hit the top of his route and Allen saw the defensive back continue down the field.

3rd and 25 (Incomplete pass to Kelvin Benjamin)

Allen waded through the crumbling pocket and uncorked a long pass to Benjamin, one of two receivers past the sticks. The ball went out of bounds, which didn’t give Benjamin a chance.

3rd and 6 (Interception negated by penalty on defense for pushing wide receiver out of bounds)

Allen should have never thrown the pass. Had Jalen Ramsey not pushed Robert Foster, he would have been able to keep the interception. When Allen let the ball go, Ramsey was in between Allen and the receiver—essentially running the route.

3rd and 7 (Completion to Jason Croom for 5 yards)

Allen got all kinds of push up the middle and threw the pass as he was backing up and also jumping in the air. Croom had no chance to advance the ball.

3rd and 7 (Incomplete pass to Robert Foster)

Allen had the chance to set his feet and just missed Foster, who was past the sticks.

3rd and 7 (Incomplete pass to Deonte Thompson)

Allen again had a clean enough pocket and flat out missed Thompson, who was in a hole in the zone, past the line to gain.

3rd and 4 (Completion to Isaiah McKenzie for 6 yards)

This was a simple out route. Allen had a clean pocket and rifled the ball to McKenzie.

3rd and 14 (Incomplete pass to Deonte Thompson)

The Jaguars sent six. Because two linemen doubled the defensive tackle, a defender had a free run at Allen. Allen couldn’t step into his throw and the ball went wide.

Of his 12 opportunities:

  • Three passes to move the sticks
  • One pass short of the sticks
  • One scramble to move the chains due to poor pass protection + no one open
  • Four incompletions due to inaccurate passes
  • One incompletion due to pressure
  • One sack due to poor blitz recognition + no one open
  • One interception negated by penalty

To look at how Allen did over the weeks of his brief career, the plays where he was directly responsible for the failed conversion were divided by the total number of third-down opportunities when the Bills called pass plays for the game. That yields:

  • Baltimore 29%
  • San Diego 25%
  • Minnesota 44%
  • Green Bay 47%
  • Tennessee 60%
  • Houston 22%
  • Jacksonville 58%

It’s interesting that Allen was directly responsible for at least 44% of failed third-down conversions in each of his three wins. One thing that really stood out while looking at Buffalo’s third downs is that Daboll really, really, really likes to pass the ball on the down. The number of times Buffalo has run the ball on third down with Allen under center is a single digit. The Bills are putting the ball in Allen’s hands on the most important downs. Allen has about as many passes for first-down conversions as he has incompletions due to inaccurate passes, which was expected given his accuracy issues in college.

Has Allen made steady progress on third downs? No, he hasn’t, as he’s been responsible for well over half of Buffalo’s punts in his last two full games. Part of that, however, is the team expecting more of him. He has showed a competitive nature his teammates can rally around. Allen hasn’t repeated some of his early mistakes—such as the heave into the end zone that cost Buffalo three points at the end of the first half during the Green Bay game. He’s clearly learning. The numbers—completion percentages, quarterback rating, yards-per-game, effectiveness on third down—don’t yet show that he is, to this point in his young career, making steady progress from game to game.