Yes, hello it’s me – the same guy that one month ago wrote about how Buffalo Bills’ rookie quarterback Josh Allen is the worst thing about Buffalo’s offense (at the time) and detailed how Allen limited his lackluster supporting cast.
I stand by the article, and I showed my work.
Today I am here to tell you that it’s not crazy to think Josh Allen has a mini breakout over the last six games of the season to close out his rookie year. Suffering an elbow injury in Week 6, Allen has been sidelined for Buffalo’s last four games but all signs point to him being able to return to the starting lineup when Buffalo returns from its bye week on November 25th.
It’s been a strange year for Buffalo’s offense. In road wins over the Jets and Vikings, Buffalo scored a total of 68 points. In Buffalo’s eight other games, the Bills scored a combined total of 69 points. Starting four different quarterbacks in 10 games, Buffalo’s lack of stability and experience at quarterback combined with an underwhelming group of weapons led to putrid results offensively in most weeks.
Then the Jets game in Week 10 happened.
An unexpected offensive explosion engineered by QB Matt Barkley who was signed just a week prior to starting, produced 451 yards of offense and 41 points. WR Zay Jones caught hauled in a career-high eight receptions for 93 yards and a TD, UDFA rookie WR Robert Foster had 105 receiving yards and LeSean McCoy carried the rock 26 times for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Where did this come from and how did it happen? The reasons it did speak to why there’s cause to believe Josh Allen is primed to change the narrative of his performance as a rookie and the Bills offense. There’s a lot of things different about Buffalo’s offense since the last time Allen took the field. Let’s examine.
Speed at WR
Allen’s most exciting trait is arguably his ability to drive the football to the deepest portions of the field. With that said, Allen’s ability to launch the ball to the moon doesn’t matter if there isn’t weapons capable of stretching the defense vertically.
Since Allen’s been out, Buffalo brought Robert Foster up from the practice squad and signed Isaiah McKenzie. Both McKenzie and Foster have 4.4 speed and command the attention of the secondary to respect their ability to run deep.
Foster was on the active roster with Allen earlier in the season but whether it was a missed throw from Allen or poor finishing by Foster, the two couldn’t get on the same page and connect. Earning a second shot on the roster last week against the Jets, Foster became just the third rookie undrafted free agent in the past five years to have at least 100 yards receiving in a game. Hauling in two passes of 40 yards or more, Foster was a big play threat which can hopefully continue with Allen the rest of the way.
McKenzie was also signed to the roster within the week of the Jets game and his addition provided immediate dividends. Carrying the ball three times for 32 yards and hauling in a 14-yard reception, McKenzie added a creative element to the offense on account of his multifaceted skill set. He flashed the ability to be that x-factor gadget player that can win in a variety of ways.
Foster’s vertical receiving ability and McKenzie’s dynamic ability as a runner and receiver with speed fill much-needed roles on Buffalo’s offense that weren’t at Allen’s disposal before the injury. Those skill sets vastly improve the offensive spacing and require the defense to account for more of the field which opens up a world of possibilities.
Less Reliance on Kelvin Benjamin
Benjamin has been a major disappointment this season, which is exactly the opposite of what was hoped for from him in a contract year. The game is such a challenge for Benjamin who fails to take advantage of his massive frame and catch radius with the slightest bit of consistency. Benjamin dropped a TD pass against the Jets and was held without a reception for the first time in his career as a Bill. He’s only secured 20 of 56 targets so far in 10 games this season.
While Benjamin continues to struggle, second-year pro Zay Jones is emerging as Buffalo’s go-to receiver. After a disappointing rookie season, Jones is clearly Buffalo’s best receiver and the guy offensive coordinator Brian Daboll dials up plays for in key situations. He enjoyed the best game of his career against the Jets and is playing with increased confidence every week. Jones has already caught 10 more passes for 76 more yards in 15 less targets this season compared to his entire rookie year. Jones’ playing his best football perfectly times with Allen re-joining the lineup.
While he hasn’t made much of an impact since joining the team, Buffalo has recently signed Terrell Pryor and he’s played a considerable amount of snaps in his first two games on the roster. His addition, combined with Jones’ emergency and the increased speed of the receiving corps puts less of an emphasis on feeding the ball to Benjamin. The Bills offense will be better because it doesn’t have to rely as much on Benjamin.
Wyatt Teller at LG
For as much as Buffalo’s offense has struggled this season, the offensive line has performed surprisingly well. While it’s proven to be fairly steady in pass protection, the run blocking of the unit has been less impressive.
The Bills’ did make one change to the offensive line, inserting rookie offensive guard Wyatt Teller into the lineup in place of Vladamir Ducasse. Teller wasn’t perfect but he did flash the run blocking ability and mobility that led to so many believing he could be a fifth-round steal.
With Teller in the mix, Buffalo rushed for a season-high 212 yards and two touchdowns against the Jets. For perspective, the Bills gained 144 yards on the ground in its previous two games combined. Teller helped spark Buffalo’s rushing attack and should get the opportunity to continue as a starter. While it may seam like a minor change, Allen returns to an improved front five.
Eyes on the LG: Wyatt Teller had a very nice debut in week 10. Set a physical tone up front and finished at a very high level, looking really good particularly in the running game. #Bills may have found a gem in the 5th round: pic.twitter.com/AcV0EPCj9s
— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) November 13, 2018
Determining the right time to play a young quarterback is tricky. Some are ready to play right away while others benefit from time on the sideline before getting a taste of game action.
In the case of Josh Allen he was able to observe for about two quarters before taking the reins as Buffalo’s quarterback. A fluttering Nathan Peterman forced Allen into the lineup and head coach Sean McDermott had no choice but to continue playing Allen with Peterman being the only alternative.
While I maintain that playing Allen is the best thing for his development so that he can gain exposure and be coached through his failures, there has to be some benefit from observing from the sideline and gaining mental reps. Taking a backseat and talking through reps with the Bills’ staff and seeing his teammates receive coaching for a month could prove to be extremely helpful in Allen’s development.
The next time Allen takes the field, it will come with time spent on the sideline to gain mental reps and hopefully enhance the way he sees the game and performs.
Veterans in the QB Room
Hindsight is 20/20 but Buffalo’s decision to enter the season with a raw rookie in Josh Allen and a second-year player in Nathan Peterman that struggled mightily when asked to play in 2017 as the only two quarterbacks on the roster was incredibly foolish. With no veteran to lean on in the quarterback room, Allen and Peterman were done a disservice in their development. That changed eventually with 14-year pro Derek Anderson added to the mix in Week 7 and now 6-year veteran Matt Barkley also in the fray.
For the first time, Allen has experienced NFL passers to assist in his development to support and reinforce the coaching points given from a teammate level.
While it should’ve been that way all along, Allen finally has veteran quarterback around him as he grows as a player.
Buffalo’s lack of offensive success this season hasn’t been because a lack of effort or creativity – offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is trying everything.
Entering the Jets’ game, Buffalo used the highest amount of unique offensive lineups in the NFL and the second-fewest percentage of plays ran featuring its most common lineup. What does that mean? No team in the NFL has ran more plays with different personnel packages than what the Bills have and there are very little tendencies to gather given the variety of plays ran from different groupings.
With 10 games and an absurd amount of variety in personnel groupings, Buffalo can take the bye week to self scout and laser in on the best way to use its roster moving forward. Daboll is more familiar than ever with what his personnel can and cannot do which should lead to some optimization moving forward. All of this comes as what should be a benefit to Allen’s development and success.
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) November 8, 2018
Buffalo faced an extremely difficult schedule to start its season and Allen’s career. With six of Buffalo’s first 10 games played on the road, the Bills faced six of the NFL’s top-10 ranked defenses. The average defensive rank of Buffalo’s first 10 opponents was 12th.
The rest of the way, Buffalo plays at home four times with just two road dates remaining. Of Buffalo’s six remaining opponents, only one has a record currently above .500 and five of the six opponents are ranked 18th or lower defensively. Buffalo does face the Jacksonville, the No. 3 defense in the NFL, but it’s the first game out of the bye with extra time to prepare. The average rank of the Bills’ opponents’ defense after the Jaguars game is No. 23.
A much more favorable schedule, combined with all of the previously mentioned factors set the stage for Allen and the Bills’ offense to be much more successful to close out the season.