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Is Josh Allen too quick to abandon the pocket?

In assessing the pulse of the blog following last Sunday’s game, it seems Buffalo Rumblings readers were generally pleased with Josh Allen’s performance against the Miami Dolphins, even though the Buffalo Bills wound up losing the game. Many pointed to the catchable ball to Clay on the goal line that would have put the Bills ahead by three with under a minute left to play. Fans weren’t universally positive about Allen’s performance. One point that appeared a couple of times was that it appeared Allen was too quick to bail out of pockets. I believe that line of thought is worth an in-depth look.

First Drive

1st and 10 (Incomplete pass to LeSean McCoy)

Allen hits his back foot and Jason Croom is already losing to 94. Dion Dawkins had been helping Wyatt Teller and is not in position to get between the defender and Allen. It looked like he was going for a short out to the left but pulls the ball down and moves to his right. Jordan Mills’s man gets to the inside, further forcing Allen to his right. Jeremiah Sirles’s defender gets free and chases Allen to the right sideline. Allen should have hit Robert Foster on the short out for three to five yards.

3rd and 6 (Incomplete pass to Robert Foster)

The Dolphins get good push and Dawkins is driven all the way back to Allen—but Allen is able to get the ball away before anyone can touch him. He could have stepped into the throw more than he did. The ball sailed well over Foster’s head.

Verdict: Zero early bail-outs on the first drive.

Second Drive

1st and 10 (Pass to LeSean McCoy for 6-yard loss)

This was a screen all the way with Ryan Groy quickly getting past the line of scrimmage. Kiko Alonso read the play and sat in the hole McCoy was going to use when he got the ball. He was pushed out of the way by Teller but Dawkins lost to his defender and McCoy was dropped for a loss. The game-thread comments opined that Allen should have just thrown it away, but his arm is coming forward just before Dawkins is beaten.

2nd and 16 (Incomplete pass to Kelvin Benjamin)

Jeremiah Sirles is thrown aside by the defensive tackle but Allen is again untouched and able to step into his throw. He just throws a bad pass—one that is closer to an interception than a completion to the now-departed Benjamin. Credit Allen for throwing past the sticks.

3rd and 16 (Incomplete pass to Zay Jones)

Allen hits his back foot and stands tall in the pocket for a second before Groy is badly beaten and Allen has to take off to his left. He runs far enough to set up and uncork a deep shot to the single-covered Jones, who is well past the line to gain. He’s moving and bracing for impact, so the ball is off target.

Verdict: Zero early bail-outs on the second drive.

Third Drive

2nd and 12 (Scramble for 9 yards)

As Allen hits his back foot, Sirles is losing to the inside and Mills to the outside. Allen shoots the gap between them and chooses to run rather than hit Jones for a 5ish-yard gain.

1st and 10 (Scramble for 11 yards)

Allen hits his back foot and has about a second before Teller’s guy circles away from him and around Dawkins. Dawkins crashed his man inside and Allen took off in the gap it created.

2nd and 10 (Incomplete pass/throwaway)

It’s a naked bootleg following a play-action fake. The defense isn’t fooled and one defender makes a beeline for Allen. Allen has Jones for a two- to five-yard gain but stops to fake out the defender closing in on him. He starts up again and, as he nears the sideline, throws it out of bounds near the end zone.

3rd and 10 (Incomplete pass to Kelvin Benjamin saved by pass interference on defense)

This is quite possibly the play that got Benjamin cut. Marcus Murphy picks up a blitzing linebacker but goes low instead of standing the guy up. He cut the linebacker, who slid into Allen’s legs after the pass was gone. The ball had some heat on it but was on target and, had Benjamin caught it instead of worrying about the closing safety, would have allowed his momentum to carry him into the end zone.

2nd and goal from 5 (Scramble for touchdown negated by offensive holding)

Allen hit his back foot and wound up to throw to McCoy, but pulled it down because Mills’s defender was beating him and was between Allen and McCoy. Allen began to scramble as Teller’s man was getting past him in spite of Teller holding him.

2nd and goal from 15 (Pass to Zay Jones for 15-yard touchdown)

Allen had a second or two before Sirles was pushed back into his lap. Allen ran right and found Jones in the back of the end zone for the touchdown.

Verdict: Zero early bail-outs on the third drive.

Fourth Drive

3rd and 17 (Completion to Kelvin Benjamin for 15 yards)

This is one of the few third downs this season where Allen didn’t throw past the line-to-gain. Allen had a couple of seconds to scan the field before Dawkins just let his man go—no real reason for Dawkins to just stop blocking, but he did. Allen got the pass away and close enough for McDermott to line up to go for it on 4th and 2. Benjamin caught the ball on the 49, so it really should have been 4th and 1.

Verdict: Zero early bail-outs on the fourth drive.

Fifth Drive

3rd and 2 (Completion to Charles Clay for 9 yards)

Backed up in their own end, Allen hit a completely uncovered Clay for an easy conversion.

1st and 10 (Completion to Isaiah McKenzie for 19 yards)

Allen made a good read and good throw for a chunk of yards.

1st and 10 (Interception)

Allen steps up into the pocket to avoid being sacked by Cameron Wake, who had blown right by Dawkins. He then has to sprint to his left to avoid the defender who has beaten Mills almost as quickly as Wake beat Dawkins. Groy’s defender sees him head that way and disengages to chase, which sends Allen back to the right. Allen then tries to set up but can’t step into the throw as he’s about to be crushed. Xavien Howard made a good play on a ball that would have made it to McKenzie in the end zone had Howard, you know, not been there.

Verdict: Zero early bail-outs on the fifth drive.

Sixth Drive

3rd and 3 (Scramble for 7 yards)

As soon as Allen hits his back foot Mills is losing to his defender. He has a lot of green to the left and takes off for an easy conversion. This is the first in a series of scrambles that may have left scars on Kiko Alonso’s psyche.

2nd and 7 (Scramble for 10 yards)

Allen is winding up to throw to Jones on what looks like a timing pass when he has to put his left arm down to keep Sirles’ defender from taking out his knees. He winds up scrambling to the right and beating Alonso to the sticks again.

1st and 10 (Completion to Patrick DiMarco for 38 yards)

People who say Allen has no touch on his passes need to re-watch the perfect throw to DiMarco. It’s all the better when you consider that Sirles lost to his defender and McCoy wasn’t able to slow him down much either.

2nd and 9 (Completion to LeSean McCoy for 3 yards)

Allen threw a pass with an awkward motion and no follow through because Mills had been pushed back to him. McCoy slipped or he would have picked up several more yards.

3rd and 6 (Incomplete pass to Zay Jones)

Allen missed a wide open Jones in the end zone. He couldn’t step into the throw because Sirles had lost yet again. Is that the only reason the ball was well behind Jones? Maybe not, as Allen isn’t know for terrific accuracy even under the best of circumstances.

Verdict: Zero early bail-outs on the sixth drive.

Seventh Drive

3rd and 12 (Completion to Zay Jones for 22 yards)

Backed up to the two-yard line, Allen stood tall until Dawkins—who had help in the form of a chip from McCoy—lost to the linebacker to the inside. Allen moved to his left and had to throw on the run because Mills had lost control of his defender—who was ready to crush Allen. No one was within seven yards of Jones.

1st and 10 (Incomplete pass to Zay Jones)

Allen had time and enough room to follow through and threw high and slightly behind Jones. Dawkins and Clay weren’t able to keep Wake from collapsing the pocket from the left. It’s possible that his feeling that kept Allen from following through as he would have preferred.

3rd and 7 (Incomplete pass to Zay Jones that would have been negated by offensive holding anyway)

As Allen set up he saw a blitzing defensive back, plus Mills’s man was around him so quickly that he would have beaten the defensive back to Allen had Mills not flat-out tackled him. Allen rolled to his right, saw Jones behind most of the defense with his hand up, and tried to lob him the pass while still running. Had Allen taken the time to set up, he could have hit Jones for a nice gain….were it not for the penalty.

Verdict: Zero early bail-outs on the seventh drive.

Eighth Drive

1st and 10 (Completion to Isaiah McKenzie for 3 yards + 15-yard penalty on Kiko Alonso for lowering the helmet)

Allen stood tall as the line opened a huge passing lane up for him and delivered an accurate pass. McCoy would have been the better option, but Allen may not have seen him with a pile of bodies between Allen and McCoy.

1st and 10 (Incomplete pass to Kelvin Benjamin)

Sirles really is a turnstile. His man almost met Allen at the top of his drop and was hanging onto Allen as he started to throw to Benjamin, who was open.

3rd and 10 (Interception)

Allen stood in the pocket and had no one near his feet. He is 100% to blame for the interception. Maybe he didn’t see Howard or maybe he was trying to throw the ball farther in front of Benjamin and just missed. The best case is that he misjudged how fast Howard is and will keep that lesson with him for future games.

Verdict: Zero early bail-outs on the eighth drive.

Ninth Drive

1st and 10 (Scramble for 28 yards)

After the gift interception from Ryan Tannehill, Allen continued his assault on Alonso’s pride. Sirles was beaten to the inside as both Dawkins and Mills were losing to speed rushes. A defensive tackle had Allen dead to rights, but Allen juked him and outran Alonso for a huge gain.

1st and 10 (Completion to Kelvin Benjamin for 5 yards)

This looked like a timing route and Allen had a nice throwing lane with space to step into the pass.

2nd and 5 (Completion to Deonte Thompson for 12 yards)

Allen stood in despite Sirles’s man getting ready to pancake him. He couldn’t follow through on the throw but still got it to Thompson.

2nd and 3 (Completion to Isaiah McKenzie for 4 yards, negated by illegal block penalty on Robert Foster)

It was a smoke route—no one was near Allen or McKenzie.

2nd and 12 (Completion to Zay Jones for 25-yard touchdown)

The line was pushed back in his face, so Allen couldn’t step into the throw. He hit Jones on the same route Benjamin dropped earlier in the game—perhaps the final nail in the coffin of Benjamin’s Buffalo career as Jones did what Benjamin couldn’t.

Verdict: Zero early bail-outs on the ninth drive.

Tenth Drive

1st and 10 (Completion to Zay Jones for 5 yards)

It was a timing throw with no one remotely close to Allen and an easy five-yard gain for Jones.

2nd and 5 (Incomplete pass to Kelvin Benjamin, but...Miami offside)

Either Benjamin didn’t know it was a back-shoulder throw or Allen just threw a really inaccurate pass. He can’t blame the line as he had a clean pocket.

1st and 10 (Incomplete pass to Robert Foster)

Allen surveyed the field for a couple of seconds and was able to step into the throw. He made the right read as Foster had a step that turned into three steps by the time Foster nearly—but not quite—caught up to the ball. It was about a yard too far on a pass thrown 62 yards.

2nd and 20 (Scramble for 25 yards)

Mills and Sirles couldn’t hold a double team against a defensive end. Even if that wasn’t enough to get Allen moving, a defender looped around them to chase Allen as well. Allen again made Alonso look terrible—he was clearly exasperated at the end of the play.

1st and 10 (Scramble for 26 yards)

Allen had less than a second to survey the field before Sirles’s man was going to sack him had he stayed where he was. He ran between Dawkins and Teller. He had to shove to the ground Dawkins’ man, who disengaged and tried to close off the running lane just a hair too late. Who was Dawkins’ man? Kiko Alonso.

2nd and 9 (Josh Allen sacked for 7-yard loss)

A defensive back came on the blitz and tackled Allen by the head and neck. The refs conferred and decided that was fine. Foster never looked back even though it was his defensive back who went on the blitz, but Thompson set up for about a five- to seven-yard gain had Allen thrown the ball instead of trying to dodge the defensive back.

3rd and 16 (Josh Allen sacked for 8-yard loss + fumble recovered by Wyatt Teller)

Dawkins was so badly beaten on a speed rush that he might not have made physical contact with Robert Quinn. Teller picked up the ball at the 42 and advanced it to the 37 to give Stephen Hauschka an opportunity to miss a field goal.

Verdict: Zero early bail-outs on the tenth drive.

Eleventh Drive

1st and 10 (Completion to Robert Foster for 27 yards)

After a penalty by the dreadful special-teams unit put the Bills 90 yards from the promised land, Allen stood in the pocket and delivered a strike to Foster.

1st and 10 (Completion to LeSean McCoy for 11 yards)

Allen again stood in the pocket and threw a good pass, with the now-departed Andre Holmes getting a key block to get McCoy the first down and the sideline.

1st and 10 (Completion to Isaiah McKenzie for 23 yards)

Mills was beaten so badly that he flopped on the ground and Allen had to take off to his right. He threw an accurate-enough pass while on the move to a stationary McKenzie.

1st and 10 (Completion to LeSean McCoy for 4 yards)

This was a called screen pass so Allen just drifted back and hit McCoy as soon as the timing of the play called for it.

2nd and 11 (Incomplete pass to Kelvin Benjamin)

After a false-start penalty on Dawkins, he and Teller teamed up to try to get Allen killed. Dawkins was beaten to the inside. Teller, for some reason, ignored the linebacker in front of him to fail at helping out Dawkins. The result was that both defenders were able to get a hold on Allen, resulting in a wild pass.

3rd and 11 (Incomplete pass to Zay Jones)

Allen had a clean pocket when he threw, though had he held the ball any longer he would have been decked by the defender who ran right around Mills. It was a perfectly placed back-shoulder pass, the kind that Benjamin couldn’t find earlier in the half. Still, Jones couldn’t bring in the reception—which isn’t to say Benjamin would have either.

4th and 11 (Incomplete pass to Charles Clay)

Allen got happy feet on this play, the last offensive snap of the game. Before he was under duress, he looked to scramble between Dawkins and Teller. Allen saw Dawkins’ defender circling that way so he went the other way around Dawkins and then back to the right. Mills’s man got free (not due to Mills being terrible on the play) so Allen ran back to the left. He heaved the ball and Clay could have just run to it, made the catch, and fallen back into the end zone.

Verdict: One early bail-out on the eleventh drive.

The notion that Allen was taking off early, either to scramble or just to buy time, would seem to be quashed. He wasn’t bailing out of clean pockets and didn’t do so until the very last play. He made good decisions on when to scramble and when to run, and generally did an exceptional job of seeing and sensing pressure. He took two sacks, one of which is bound to happen when the offensive tackle guarding his blind side isn’t very good at his job. Even then, Allen has to trust Dawkins to do a better job than he did in Miami. The other sack, yes, is on Allen. He has to get the ball out when he sees the defensive back coming on a blitz and has a man open to avoid the negative play.

There are a few things you can pretty much count on with Allen. First, he’s going to be fun to watch. How long has it been since a Bills quarterback made a two-minute drive look like it was an inevitable touchdown? Second, Allen is going to throw past the line-to-gain on third down. We’re not going to see too many three-yard dump offs on 3rd and 10—which will cause some negative plays (sacks, sack-fumbles, interceptions) even as it gives us hope. Third, plan on Daboll putting the ball in Allen’s hands on third downs. Buffalo has a strong tendency to pass on third downs, even when it is third and less-than-four yards.

As an aside, Dolphins fans seemed to have a very different take on Allen. What they may not have considered is that the win against Buffalo may be a factor in Miami’s decision regarding Ryan Tannehill. He has yet to post more than eight wins in a season and won’t be getting to nine this year even if the Dolphins win out. There is a chance that the win last Sunday tips the scales in his favor and Miami continues to muddle along with a guy who hasn’t proven to be a franchise quarterback in his six NFL seasons. That could be an Agincourt-type victory in defeat for the Bills.