If Josh Allen is the franchise quarterback we’ve all been waiting for, it’s no secret he’ll need to improve on his 2018 performance. While there were flashes of talent that should give us hope, there’s no getting around the fact that the rookie turned in a few bad games. Priority one for the Buffalo Bills should be to determine what defenses did to make Josh Allen look bad, and then teach him how to beat it. Luckily for the Bills we already did a lot of the legwork for them. We’ve examined three of Allen’s worst performances to see if common defensive elements emerged.
At Green Bay Packers
While arguably his worst game of the season, Allen’s tilt against Green Bay was early in the season and rookie jitters are never a bad reason for a player to struggle. Allen finished the game with 16 completions on 33 attempts, 151 yards, two interceptions, and seven sacks.
Green Bay stuck to a remarkably consistent game plan. The Packers elected to roll with one deep safety for most of the game. Known as a “Cover 1” shell, this defensive concept relies heavily on defensive backs winning individual match-ups. With only one player as a...cough, cough...”safety” valve on the back end, there’s plenty of opportunity for intermediate and deep plays. It sounds like the exact opposite kind of defense you’d want to use against a rocket-armed quarterback.
So why was it so effective against Allen? A primary factor is that this coverage concept allows a lot of players to be near the line of scrimmage. This leads to poor running lanes, putting more of the burden on the passing game. It also allows faster pressure against the quarterback. A signal caller needs to identify the coverage, make sure a receiver is in good position to come open relatively quickly, and make the throw. That can be a tall order for a rookie. Making matters worse, the Packers didn’t send too many all out blitzes, but did mix up the pressure frequently. Allen had to process a mountain of information pre-snap and then execute it blazingly fast thanks to the defensive game plan.
Finally, the Packers trusted that their talent was superior to that of the Bills. A consistent receiving threat would have burned them for large chunks all day or forced an adjustment. The offensive line (especially tackles) being able to hold blocks a little longer would have negated the defensive concepts they ran. Better pre-snap recognition from Allen and the line would have led to less interior pressure as well.
In a nutshell, the Cover 1 shell allowed the Packers to place a large number of defenders near the line. This forced a lot of man-to-man match-ups that the Packers bet they’d win. With pressure coming quickly but erratically, Allen took a beating and the Bills’ offense was completely negated.
Vs. New York Jets
While Matt Barkley had ripped apart this same team, Allen struggled to move the ball with his arm. He ended the game with 18 completions on 36 attempts, 206 yards, two interceptions, and three sacks. This was also one of Allen’s 100-yard running games, which we’ll explain right about now.
The Jets came to town borrowing a lot of concepts from the Packers. A closer game led to the Jets using less risky coverage concepts on obvious deep passing downs and as time dwindled in both halves of the game. The Jets were more aggressive in attacking the line and trying to get to Allen. As a result, they often pushed the pile behind Allen, which created large running lanes as seen above. This game took place in Week 14. While the team had come together a little bit better than they had earlier in the season, this was still a pretty bad showing in the passing game. The Jets didn’t adjust to Allen the runner and nearly lost the game as Allen ran wild over them.
At New England Patriots
A Week 16 contest against the Patriots pitted the Bills against their most formidable foe. Josh Allen ended up with 20 completions of 41 passes, 217 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, zero sacks, and 30 rushing yards. What did they do to take away Allen?
Yup. They also used a ton of Cover 1 looks. The Patriots adjusted to the newly-discovered threat of Josh Allen running by somewhat routinely placing a spy on the quarterback. They also were less aggressive on the line, leading to better lane discipline and nowhere for Josh to run. While this did result in less sacks, it negated a major asset for the Bills.