Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen had a solid debut against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday, even if he didn’t complete 60 percent of his passes like some analysts would prefer. The rookie showed off his ridiculous arm talent time and again, culminating in a threaded needle to Ray-Ray McCloud for a late touchdown. The overall stat line was a bit underwhelming, but what can we take away from his first performance? Here’s what I saw.
Unleashing the dragon
The Bills wasted no time giving Bills fans exactly what they wanted to see when Allen took the field. Their first playcall was a max-protect deep shot, and Allen uncorked a 60-yard bomb to Robert Foster down the sideline.
That pass didn’t quite land in bounds, but it wasn’t the only shot Allen would take. The rookie would launch ten more passes that traveled 20 or more air yards before the end of the night. Is the rookie aggressive? Oh yeah he is. We mentioned Allen’s tendency to play “hero ball” and aim for big plays, sometimes to a fault, in our pre-draft scouting report.
But Allen wasn’t just lobbing passes with abandon, like someone who found “Da Bomb” on NFL Blitz. Each of his choices were aggressive, but calculated. The three 60-yard attempts? His target had taken the top off the coverage on each of them. My personal favorite play was even less risky. Allen triggered a free play by drawing an offsides penalty with a hard count, and did something we never saw when Tyrod Taylor or EJ Manuel were under center - took a deep shot.
If Robert Foster had continued running his route throughout the duration of the play, that’d be six points.
This highlights one potential market inefficiency that the Bills might be trying to exploit. Just as baseball has trended from a game of base hits to one of home runs, strikeouts, and walks, the Bills might be trading dink-and-dunk success rate for BradshawBall, with occasional big plays improving their Toxic Differential and powering a victory. Allen would be the perfect prototype for this offensive approach.
Impressive pocket presence
One of my pre-draft knocks of Josh Allen was his flight instinct. When he sensed pressure in the pocket, he would escape, drift toward the sideline, and throw with uneven footwork, usually resulting in an incomplete pass.
On Thursday, though, Allen took major strides from his college days. We saw plays that looked like this:
Of course, we have one glaring exception: That fourth-and-2 play where everything broke down and Allen nearly heaved the ball in the wrong direction. Chalk that one up as his rookie mulligan. In the words of Brian Baldinger, burn that play.
More time needed
Above all else, the thing that stood out from Allen’s first action was how far he has to go. We glimpsed the ceiling of his potential, but there were plenty of coaching points to work on, even aside from his fourth down play.
Allen had a couple miscommunications with his receivers, throwing one route while they ran another. It’s to be expected in his first training camp, with the quarterbacks shuffling through personnel groupings, but he can’t keep doing that when he plays in a regular season game.
He also showed too much confidence in his arm at times, forcing throws into contested windows where another option would’ve been more likely to succeed.
On second-and-17, you want to see Allen check down to the running back or find his slot receiver between zone defenders, not force the ball to the sidelines in tight coverage.
With time and experience, Allen could develop that maturity in his toolbox. With the strong performances by Nate Peterman and AJ McCarron, the Bills bought some time to keep sharpening their rookie quarterback. Before long, though, he’ll be ready to step onto the field as the starter.