Watch out, NFL: Josh Allen can beat the blitz now. Last season, by all rights a major step forward for the young quarterback, one of his weaknesses came when defenses sent more pressure at him. Per ESPN, Allen in 2019 only had a 74.9 passer rating against the blitz. Nine touchdowns, four interceptions, a 50.3 completion percent, 5.5 yards per attempt, and 20 sacks on 185 drop backs (11 percent).
In 2020, like everything else from Allen, this aspect of his play has evolved. He has a sterling 114.0 passer rating when blitzed through his first nine games, which is actually higher than his overall passer rating. With nine touchdowns and only one interception, 61.6 completion percent, and 7.3 yards per attempt, Allen’s passing stats are universally better. So is his sack rate: four sacks on 90 drop backs—only 4.4 percent.
On Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, Allen was almost perfect against the blitz. Seattle blitzed him 28 times, and Allen completed 19/24 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns.
A lot of this improvement in 2020 can be attributed to Allen’s maturity, now in his third year as a starting quarterback. It can also be chalked up to his supporting cast—the Bills have built up a solid offensive line, and Allen has one of the best pass-catching rosters of any team in the league. But some of this improvement comes from the further support of his coaching staff, especially offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and his playbook. Daboll has worked with Allen since the beginning, and the pair have steadily built up an offensive system that plays to Allen’s strengths and gives the quarterback flexibility to make snap decisions on the field.
Case in point: One of the most successful blitz-beating tools in Allen’s toolbox. When he’s been knocked against the ropes, the offense is behind the chains, and the defense is lining up a deadly all-out blitz, that’s when Allen can pull out a devastating counter punch: “Gold Rip.”
What is Gold Rip? You’ll recognize it as the 33-yard quick screen that Allen threw to John Brown against the Seahawks. On 3rd-and-16, nursing a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter, Brown’s run set up another touchdown to keep pace with the Seahawks’ attack.
This is an audible in Allen’s arsenal. He can yell out the phrase after lining up the offense and seeing the defense’s players and alignment.
Specifically, what Allen’s looking for are two qualities: Cover-0, and a cornerback in off-man coverage.
In Cover-0, the defense plays without any players assigned to deep coverage (hence the zero). The free safety and strong safety drop into the box, and this play is all but guaranteed to be a blitz (five or more pass rushers). It’s a very aggressive tactic with the goal of disrupting (or taking down) the quarterback before they can complete a pass. Of course, since it’s so aggressive, if a player gets open downfield, you might see a long touchdown. That’s why some blitz designs will set up the outside cornerbacks 8-10 yards off the line of scrimmage, giving them a cushion to guard against deep balls.
“Gold Rip” (Allen’s also called it Gold Solo Rip) attacks that structure. It expects the defense to flood the pocket with defenders, opening a hole in the middle of the field. Allen immediately throws to John Brown, who’s running an under route toward the middle of the field from the sideline. As soon as Brown has the ball, he darts up the seam, behind a wall of blocking linemen who released past the blitz.
Sunday wasn’t the first time the Bills made this call. Buffalo also used it in their season opener, on 2nd-and-14. In the same way, Allen identified a creeping blitz with no deep safeties—and John Brown in Charmin-soft coverage. He called “Gold Solo Rip” and Brown took the pass for six points.
As you look at the two play GIFs, note that the formations and personnel are totally different. Allen makes his audible, but no one shifts to indicate anything suspicious. The versatility of the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system, which assigns formation-agnostic route combinations using simple codewords, is the key to this successful deployment. The exact routes and blocking assignments shift, likely as a response to the gap defenders and the backside shape of the offensive formation, but the overall goal is the same: Get Brown the ball in space, with a bevy of blockers working against the flow of the defense.
Want another example? Turn on the film from the New England Patriots game, again featuring John Brown. With the game tied, and 6:29 remaining in the fourth, Allen faced a 2nd-and-9 at the edge of field goal range. Facing another Cover-0 look, Allen audibled “Gold Tornado.” Yet another screen play to Brown, yet another big gain:
As Allen’s played with such success against man coverage and blitzes, defenses have responded by trying to slow him down with heavy doses of cautious zone coverage. So scenarios like Sunday’s, where Seattle chose a blitz-heavy game plan, aren’t coming as frequently, and we might not see this play surface again for a while. That said, stay tuned for the two divisional contests at the end of the season. Bill Belichick’s Patriots’ defense, and his protégé Brian Flores with the Miami Dolphins, both use plenty of aggressive man coverage, and could create more opportunities for these plays to surface.