There’s no secret that the 2020 Buffalo Bills’ success or struggles will likely be clearly linked to the performance of Josh Allen in his third season. If he progresses in his development, then so should the Bills. If he stagnates or regresses, then so will the Bills.
The good news for Bills fans and Josh Allen hopefuls is that he has already progressed further, faster than most critics or impartial observers expected. Here are several areas fans will be watching closely in 2020 for improvement.
1 - The Deep Ball
This seemed to be a particular area where Allen regressed in 2019 from his rookie season. According to ESPN’s Next Gen Stats, Allen connected on 14 of 66 attempts that were 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, although for the average fan it may be difficult to recall two or three of those compared to the dozens of haunting memories where deep passes landed in a different zip code than their intended receiver.
Most fans have the expectation that outside receiving talent will be added in the offseason. That should command more balanced respect from defenses across the formations, giving the Bills’ offense more 1-on-1 receiver opportunities in 2020. Josh Allen taking advantage of those down the field is a vital part of his development.
2 - Ball Security as a Runner
Josh Allen fumbles too much. He is firmly in “not great, Bob” territory. And that must change in 2020.
Some have made the distinction between being a “natural runner” and being a “natural athlete.” Josh Allen seems to fall squarely in the camp of natural athlete because he certainly is not a natural runner. The connotation of a natural runner as it relates to football is someone who sets themselves up for success by maneuvering during the run to minimize types of hits received, or gain half a yard less and also get up with possession for the next play. Josh Allen is a gamer and, as such, he seems to try and squeeze every inch out of every run he makes. That’s fine in the waning seconds of a high-stakes game. It’s less fine in the second quarter of Week 3.
Allen needs to absorb the habits of a natural runner, which can only complement his incredibly long strides and exceptional strength that makes him difficult to catch and bring down. Put the ball in the correct arm when running into traffic, position your body for hits three steps before the contact comes, and slide at every opportunity.
The Bills’ offense is better for Allen’s athleticism. Don’t make the coaches incorporate it less because its too risky that it will lead to a turnover.
3 - Don’t be the cause of so many sacks
As stated above, Josh Allen is a gamer. His “never say die” attitude too often also leads to him holding onto plays for longer than he should...which leads to his protection breaking down...which leads to him scrambling to try and create something that doesn’t materialize...which leads to big losses.
There are a couple of ways Allen can get better at this particular need, and they are outlined specifically in the items below.
3.1 - Build on the chemistry and rapport
Allen is not in total control of how much time he gets with any of his teammates. The trading of Zay Jones left only Isaiah McKenzie as the viable* receiving option carried over from his rookie year to 2019; and even McKenzie was a mid-year acquisition. (Robert Foster was also present in 2019 but got such little playing time that his contributions were negligible)
Going into 2020, Allen has the opportunity to work with largely the same cast of characters on the offensive side of the ball. With the added consistency and comfort of a third year with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Allen will need to lean on his teammates more than attempt to do it all himself.
3.2 - Anticipate and get the ball out faster
Brian Daboll does some things well as far as helping Allen get the answers to the test ahead of time. He uses pre-snap motion on the large majority of plays. He also incorporated the muddle-huddle play-calling system that allowed him to remain in Allen’s headset while the offense and defense were already lined up. These things seemed to make a difference for Allen’s ability to make better decisions, and they absolutely should.
There is only so much that can be done on the quarterback’s behalf. There comes a point where Allen needs to be able to recognize, diagnose, and deliver from start to finish on his own. This podcaster once said that Allen plays every down like it’s third down and wants to move the sticks every play. That mentality is obviously a double-edged sword to be wielding carefully.
There is no doubt that Allen has come a long way in this department. However, there were still ample opportunities where he passed on an easy five-yard completion that was recognizable at the line of scrimmage in hopes of finding a 12-yard completion elsewhere.
Take what they give you on first down; 2nd and 5 is better than many of the alternatives.
4 - Improved pocket subtlety
When Allen is pressured, he often rolls to the sideline to extend plays. In those instances, it’s not uncommon for Allen to find something and keep the offense moving. Acknowledgement being given that good things can happen when Allen does that, there is also a better option Allen needs to utilize more often.
Every fan is familiar with the phrase “step up in the pocket.” When the rush comes and protection is compromised in one area, there may be another area in the pocket that is still stable enough for the quarterback to make his reads and deliver the ball. In the modern NFL, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees have put on clinics every Sunday showcasing how to make the most of the pocket.
Josh Allen has moments and plays here or there where he keeps his shoulders square and the ball ready to deliver while navigating the pocket. Those moments are fewer and father between than needed for him to become the player Bills fans want him to become. Roll out less, stand tall in the pocket and find the best place to deliver a solid completion.
Josh Allen is far from a finished product as a quarterback. Significant improvement was made from year one to year two, and significant more improvement is needed in year three.
What will you be watching for most closely in 2020 in terms of Allen’s improvement?
You can follow me on Twitter @NickBat and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” podcast on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network.