On a recent episode of “Slow News Day” with Kevin Clark of “The Ringer,” beloved Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen answered a myriad of questions. Among them was one that prompted this (over)analysis of a 2022 play I’m sure we all remember. Check out the full question and answer below, but I’ll give you the gist.
Allen was asked what his favorite play was. The one he’d bring with him to the afterlife to put on permanent repeat. His response? His team-record-tying*, 98-yard touchdown to Gabe Davis against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Allen provided some insight into the play, so we’re going to get out our deceased-equine whomping sticks and cover this play from all sorts of angles. Let’s do it!
*Do you know which pair was the first to score a 98-yard touchdown?
Josh Allen himself talking up the play
Good morning. Here’s Josh Allen describing his favorite play of all time in intricate detail. pic.twitter.com/FRM7MgJo30— Kevin Clark (@bykevinclark) June 21, 2023
Two main takeaways from Allen give a ton of credit to Gabe Davis. Per Allen, the play has Davis running an option, in which he elected to run a post route that we can see was a great decision. Additionally, Allen talks about the faith in his target with this type of throw — tossing the ball hoping to get it close enough for his teammate to get under it. This is also some nice praise for Davis. I won’t do a better job than Allen in describing those aspects, so let’s talk about a bunch of other stuff.
More on Davis
As noted by Allen, Gabe Davis also had the option to run a curl or an in. On 3rd & 10 on their own two, the Bills needed to reach the 12-yard line to keep the drive going. Was Davis’ choice made in light of that reality, was it based on physics, or did he like what he saw from the defensive backs? Probably some combination of the three.
At the first pause, we see Davis’ decision time. He can see he’s going into double coverage, but neither defender can be too aggressive sideways lest they pull the ol’ “run into your teammate” maneuver. Davis accelerates into the narrow lane between them and is off to the races. Now it’s up to Josh Allen to find him.
The Josh Allen experience
Of course we know that Josh Allen did find Davis, but this angle better highlights the trouble he had to go through to deliver the football. When it’s time to throw, Allen is face-to-face with Minkah Fitzpatrick. The GIF shows that Allen is unable to step into the throw. We all know I love actual distance calculations and Allen throws the ball about 46 yards while taking a hit.
During his recap, Allen also mentions that the throw is a bit blind, with the hope the target can run under it. If you watch closely, you can see that Davis does adjust a bit to the ball but is able to catch it in stride. Also, Allen was hit during the throw, which brings into question how the line did their job.
The offensive line
A lot of pauses on this one so you can take a look at all five linemen. The short version is that Allen threw the ball after three seconds of time in the pocket. That doesn’t mean the line was perfect, but it does mean they bought him plenty of time collectively.
At the one-second mark, Dion Dawkins and Spencer Brown are about to go solo with defenders. Rodger Saffold is looking for work while Mitch Morse and Ryan Bates are doubling up.
At 1.5 seconds, the tackles have engaged, Bates is thinking about shifting to a different block if needed, and Saffold is turning away from Minkah Fitzpatrick looking like he wants to help Dawkins instead. Note however that Fitzpatrick does seem to hesitate as if to avoid drawing Saffold’s undivided attention.
At the two-second mark Brown has won his matchup, Dawkins has enough grasp to steer his man where he wants, Morse looks like he wants to shed left to pick up Fitzpatrick but is still engaged with the first block, Bates is still looking to his right, and Saffold is moving to help Dawkins who doesn’t really need it.
And that’s how we arrive at the three-second mark. Brown and Dawkins are still winning. Saffold hasn’t engaged anyone directly, Morse was caught in a tough spot, and Bates has had a part in locking down the middle.
This might sound like a damning indictment about Saffold, but without knowing some key aspects of the pre-snap communication it’s hard to say if he was supposed to be looking for Fitzpatrick or if Bates was supposed to pick up the middle and let Morse move left. A large part of that is due to how the play is influenced by two other blockers.
Singletary and Sweeney
We have similar timing breakdowns here, but now we’re focused on Devin Singletary and Tommy Sweeney. Sweeney is very straightforward. He picks up a man, engages right away and gives Josh Allen plenty of time.
Singletary is a bit trickier. He exits and clearly goes into a blocking assignment right away. Wat that the intention? Could/should Bates have done more? Danged if I know. But what I can say is that if they knew beforehand that Singletary would do such a good job, Bates could have taken over the double block to let Morse take out Fitzpatrick.
On the other hand, if Bates didn’t have some attention and presence in that gap, would Singletary have been as successful? In the end, we can say two things for a fact. The protection for Allen wasn’t perfect. But it was good enough to deliver a 98-yard touchdown throw. The only remaining question is how Davis was never even sniffed by a defensive back after burning the two that were on him.
Diggs and Shakir
And here’s the answer to that question. Allen noted that Stefon Diggs was double covered as well. Diggs stops his route to curl back at about the 25-yard line, so naturally those two defensive backs stop with him.
Khalil Shakir is being covered by a single defender who he’s pulling across the field at a relatively shallow depth (for this play). He’s around the 20 when Diggs is stopping.
At the time all of this is happening, Davis is nearing the 30 and sprinting. The three other defensive backs are now behind him — 30-ish yards across the field, and having to start from a near stop. Once Davis is behind his two, all he needs is the ball.
If you actually read all that that, I don’t think there’s much need for a summary. But since we’re here, plays like this are always a team effort. It could easily be seen as a busted play by Pittsburgh’s defense and, yes, there are some things I bet they wish they would have done differently. However, everyone in blue played a big part in making this play go off. This is a gutsy play call by offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey and excellent execution from the players on the field. It’s no surprise that Josh Allen (and likely all of us) enjoy this play so much. Here’s to many more just like this!