In his rookie year as the quarterback of the Buffalo Bills, Josh Allen had some games that...weren’t great. Taking a look at a few of the worst of his performances it was shocking to see how similarly opposing defenses played him. Specifically, lots of Cover-1 looks with stacked boxes to shut down the running game.
A single deep defensive back and crowded line should put stress on the running game by clogging lanes. At the same time, it makes it harder for the quarterback to identify which defenders will rush and which will cover. In 2018, Josh Allen struggled mightily against Cover-1. How’d he do in 2019?
On the very first play from scrimmage of the year the New York Jets used, you guessed it, Cover-1. They crowded the line, mixed up the pass rush, and replicated pretty much everything that threw Allen off his game last year. Cole Beasley found a soft spot, Allen found Beasley and the Bills were off to a good start.
On the first play Josh Allen saw a wide open receiver on the side of the field he was already looking for and rocketed a pass in. That’s a good sign, don’t get me wrong. This throw was on a different level though. Allen had to anticipate the receiver’s route with pressure breathing down his neck, and understand the coverage well enough to know his man would still be open when the ball arrived.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, however. The Titans successfully froze Allen by only rushing three and dropping everyone else into coverage. With his receiving options blanketed early, Allen needed to wait for someone to come open. Unfortunately the three-man rush started working and Allen threw an ill-advised pass.
Ideally you’d like your quarterback to be able to make a play even when things aren’t perfect. The Baltimore Ravens gave Allen fits by using more Cover-2 and Cover-0 concepts, in addition to constant aggression. The pass rush was closing in after only two seconds and, unsurprisingly, coverage was still holding up that early in the play. Allen didn’t make throws like this all season but this is still encouraging. Not only was the throw perfect, but Allen understood the situation and knew Dawson Knox had a shot at it.
One of the best plays of the season was Josh Allen staying cool under pressure and absolutely destroying the Cover-1 look in front of him. This was similar to Play 2, but taken even a step further as John Brown needed to beat his man over the top.
I don’t like making this merely a highlight reel so here’s another negative play. For this one the team was playing well overall. There was a pretty good pocket. Allen bought even more time with his legs. The decision was good. The throw was even pretty good. And it was against what should be a vastly overmatched team. Despite that and Allen’s overall improvement beating Cover-1 looks, there were plenty of plays that weren’t successful.
I’m attaching some notes below. They cover about two full games’ worth of plays. They should give a better handle on how often Allen was successful against Cover-1 looks and some of the aspects I was looking for in each play.
The bottom line is that there’s no doubt in my mind that Josh Allen drastically improved against Cover-1. In his rookie year, it was such a glaring weakness that it seemed like every team the Bills faced was able to use a simplified game plan. This year it was noticeable that defenses had to mix it up to keep Allen on his toes. As noted above, Baltimore used a lot of Cover-2 and Cover-0. Denver stuck with Cover-2 nearly all game. The New England Patriots routinely shuffled the defensive scheme deck.
It wasn’t Allen alone who was responsible for the improvement, of course. A better line kept him clean longer. Cole Beasley and John Brown were dramatic upgrades in the receiver room. While a better supporting cast was important, Allen’s decision making and anticipation seemed much better in 2019.