Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen went down in Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots after taking a violent helmet shot on a scramble. While the QB has shown progress in some areas of his game, avoiding injuries is still a major concern for the big-bodied quarterback.
I’m not typically one to compare Allen to Cam Newton, another big-bodied runner at the QB position, because I think Allen is clearly less interested in running with the ball. Allen would seemingly always rather have a deep shot to take rather than a scamper. In light of Newton’s recent injury history and Allen’s second potentially major injury in 11 months, it’s worth comparing them in this limited capacity.
Playing the position the way these two approach the job is not a long-term option.
Daniel Jeremiah, former NFL scout and current NFL Network analyst, discussed Newton’s playing style and injury history last week on his “Move the Sticks” podcast with co-host Bucky Brooks. It gives us a lens through which to analyze Allen’s playing style and the outlook for his career trajectory.
“[The Carolina Panthers] drafted Cam when he was 22,” said Jeremiah. “He’s 30 now, so that’s nine years that he’s had. If we went back and watched the way he played at Auburn, and even as big and as physical as he is, I feel pretty certain about this having our background if we had had this conversation when he was drafted. If he is going to play this way in the NFL, [he’ll last] 8 to 10 years and you feel good for what you’re able to get out of him.”
It’s not a death sentence for Newton or Allen, but every running quarterback has had to evolve to stay healthy and successful. And a lot of teams would take the 8-10 years Cam has been able to rattle off, but long-term, it’s not an option.
“It’s hard to play that style,” continued Jeremiah. “I don’t care how big you are, going beyond that period of time it’s too much on the body. He needed to continue to grow and evolve in other areas of his game. We’ve talked before and I’m not sure he’s done that to the level we’ve seen from some of the other athletic quarterbacks, namely Russell Wilson and even what we’re seeing from Dak Prescott early on in his career. I’ve seen those guys make those strides in all these other areas and rely a little bit less on their ability to make plays with their legs. Cam, I don’t know if they ever really did that.”
Brooks echoed those sentiments, putting some of the onus on the organization and also laying out a path forward for the Panthers both with and without the former MVP.
“I don’t think [Newton] ever really fully immersed himself into being a high-end quarterback, meaning ‘I’m not only going to revolutionize the game as a dual-threat quarterback, but I want to have staying power and the only way for me to having staying power is to be efficient from the pocket,’” surmised Brooks. “I don’t know if he mastered or acquired those skills prior to his injury. Now we’re looking at a broken down Cam Newton who can’t use his wheels, his shoulder is still kind of dinged up, so the two traits that made him special as a prospect—his running ability and his ability to throw the ball nearly out the stadium—he doesn’t have the ability to do that. So what do we really have? He’s never really been the guy that can play connect-the-dots football.”
Go back and re-read all those quotes replacing Newton’s name with Allen’s. You see the hits Allen takes week-in and week-out. You can see the connection.
Allen has been sacked 33 times in 15 games and run the ball 115 times. That 148 combined hits doesn’t include when he held onto the ball and released it before taking a hit. That’s at least ten times per game he’s getting hit and he’s usually in a more vulnerable position than a running back or wide receiver.
The Bills are building up their offensive line, placing weapons around Allen, and pushing him to be the next great QB on the Bills. If he doesn’t start protecting himself (and the ball), it might be hard for him to play long enough to do that.
Conversely, you could ride the wave of Allen’s hero ball and take the good with the bad. If he plays great for 75% of a season but misses one or two games and is on the injury report for half the season and retires at age 30, would that be a better outcome?
It’s something to think about as Allen works his way back from the concussion protocol.
“Actually, I had a play like that in Buffalo early in my career where I was scrambling down the right side and tried to hold on to the ball. I tried to slide late and a guy hit me and my helmet flew about 10 yards away. It kind of riled up their whole sideline. I remember the next day coach (Bill) Belichick said to me -- I’ll never forget this -- he said, ‘Hey Brady, if you want to have a career in this league, when you’re running like that, you either throw the ball away or you slide.’ I’ll never forget coach Belichick telling me that.
”I’ve kind of taken to that. A lot of quarterbacks who do run, you’re trying to make yards and it’s great, and at the same time you’re susceptible to big hits. Whether it’s a flag or not, or whether it’s a penalty, a lot of the rules have changed over the years. But from a quarterback standpoint, I feel like it’s always best to try to be available to the team, and take risk/reward and so forth. Again, nobody likes to see anyone get hurt out there. From my own experience, I try to the best I can to avoid any big shots like that.”