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Analysis: Josh Allen knows he needs to play better

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen had an MVP-caliber campaign in 2020 and then signed a massive contract extension this offseason. Expectations were sky-high entering the season, but Allen’s performance in the first two games hasn’t been that great.

In terms of stats, he’s near the bottom in every major category: yards (27th), completion percentage (30th), yards per attempt (32nd), adjusted yards per pass attempt (28th), net yards per pass attempt (31st), yards per completion (28th), QB rating (28th), and ESPN’s QBR (23rd).

More than stats, he seems to look uncomfortable in the pocket, he’s making bad decisions or taking too long to make decisions, and he’s not throwing the ball with the correct angles or velocities. While lots of people are saying he’s “regressing” or it’s “2019 Josh,” he’s obviously shown he’s capable of better things and he’s had flash plays and throws to back that up.

Plus, he agrees with you.

“It’s no secret that I didn’t play great last game, and I didn’t play great the week before,” said Allen on Wednesday. “[It’s] stuff I’m working on, and just got to push through it and find ways to be better for this team.”

Allen noted that it’s a QB’s job to get his team in a position to score points, something they certainly did on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, hanging 35 points on the score board. Most of the points weren’t because of Allen’s QBing, though. The opening drive went 46 yards, all on the legs of Devin Singletary and blocking of the o-line. Nearly half of his 171 passing yards came on two plays (for which he certainly deserves credit); one beautiful play-action pass to Emmanuel Sanders for 35 that set up the second touchdown and a 41-yard jump ball that Stefon Diggs was able to make a play on, setting up the final score.

Here’s an example of both decision-making and placement/velocity that is just out of character for 2020 Josh:

Isaiah McKenzie motions across the formation in the jet-sweep motion. No one goes with him, so you know it’s zone coverage. He’s motioning to a side with two defensive backs (cornerback over the receiver and the safety) with Emmanuel Sanders running a clear-out down the seam and McKenzie a medium-corner route. At the snap, the safety crashes hard on the play-action and Allen is looking in that general direction to see it, so he knows he has two receivers and one defender in the area. Clean pocket. He hesitates. He sees McKenzie open, then looks in the seam and has Sanders with space, before turning back to McKenzie. “Take what the defense gives you” and so that seems like an OK decision where he can pick up 12 and get into the red zone. But the ball placement is up the field, toward Xavien Howard and McKenzie has to drift, and there’s no velocity on it so the CB has a chance to make the pick.

If he had gone up the seam with zip, it’s a TD (and adding a pump to McKenzie would have helped). If he throws it to McKenzie’s right or directly to him with velocity (or adds a pump to the seam), it’s a nice completion. Heck, even if he goes to his third read, Stefon Diggs doesn’t have anyone near him in the middle of the field on the trailing crosser for 12. He had three favorable outcomes but couldn’t make any of them happen.

The Bills converted the first down on an Allen fourth-down QB sneak to get to the 19, then used an unnecessary roughness penalty a few plays later to get to the 7, where Zack Moss took it to the house going the other way after the quarter field switch.

Here are some placement issues that weren’t there last year:

I have no doubt someone is going to get in his ear and Josh is his own harshest critic. He’s not going to let this keep happening. We have to acknowledge that it’s not “great defenses” as the reason this has happened over the last two weeks, or at least not entirely that. When he’s had the chances, he has frequently been missing them.