Hi, Bills fans! Remember me?
I was the author of this tweet during Week 1 of the NFL season, in which the subject was the quarterback of your favorite football team grossly overthrowing a wide-open wide receiver in the end zone that many of you responded to.
I can’t tell you how many responses and DMs I got over that tweet, a tweet where I didn’t even say anything in particular about Allen!
Many of the responses were either about Allen’s final stat line that game, which was 33-for-46 (71% competition percentage) with 312 passing yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions, or something along the lines of “all the good Allen throws from that game and you chose to show this one.”
Okay, first of all, stat lines don’t always tell the whole story—you all know this. And second, I wasn’t watching the game! I was watching RedZone on my computer, and that throw was one they showed, which I clipped and tweeted. I didn’t purposefully sift through all of Allen’s good throws just to point out the bad one. It was not my intent to take a good day and just find the worst throw of the bunch (of which every quarterback not named Russell Wilson has every week) just to spite Allen.
However, after some further conversations with some of you, the common theme was that Bills fans are sick of people only emphasizing everything bad Allen does, not because Allen doesn’t make mistakes, but because it’s done to a point that doesn’t give any room to even point out where Allen has improved (especially to start this year).
Such an ask of evaluators is totally fair and understandable, and though I didn’t purposefully ignore Allen’s good throws in Week 1 in order to post the one I did, I get why some could feel that way, especially since I didn’t see them beforehand.
So, since common stats don’t tell the whole story, and since I did not watch either of Allen’s first two games this season live in their entirety, I decided to do so today with the help of All-22 film. After doing so, I’m glad I did, because Allen and this Bills offense has been a blast to watch so far in 2020.
Allen is off to quite the hot start in 2020. Two weeks in and he leads the NFL in passing yards with 729, is fifth in yards per attempt with 9.0, has thrown the second-most passing touchdowns (6) all while throwing zero interceptions. He also has a 70% completion percentage and the third-highest QBR at 122.9.
Instead of looking at every throw Allen has made over the last two weeks, I wanted to take a close look at the area where Allen really needed to improve going into his third year and that was the deep ball. According to Pro Football Focus, Josh Allen finished the 2019 season 29th in the NFL when throwing it deep at just 30.9%. That stays in line with Football Outsiders’ Deep Ball Project for 2019, where Allen finished 30th at 33.3% for passes that traveled 21 yards or more.
The allurement with Allen coming into the 2018 NFL Draft wasn’t his natural accuracy. In his two seasons at Wyoming, Allen never finished a year with a completion percentage above 57%, which is not good at all. The reason why he was drafted in the top 10 that season was because of his rare arm strength.
Allen can rip the football. There isn’t a throw on Sunday that he can’t hit, with both velocity and distance demands. But his problem has always been, not getting the ball there, but getting it to a spot—an exact spot. Two seasons into his NFL career and Allen had yet to finish a season with a completion percentage above 60%, which again, is not good.
This year, he looks like he didn’t just take a step forward, he’s taken a leap. Through two weeks, Allen has hit 7-of-9 deep passes (20+ yards through the air) for 211 yards and a touchdown.
On Allen’s first deep pass of the game against the New York Jets in Week 1, he wasn’t able to connect with wide receiver John Brown down the sideline, but there was pass interference involved so we really didn’t get a good look at it.
Shown above is his second deep pass of the game. It was 1st-and-10 right after that deep ball pass interference (a good time to take a shot, hat tip to Brian Daboll, the offensive coordinator). In it, Allen was in the pistol set and had two receivers on the outside, another in motion, a running back behind him, and a tight end in a wing alignment behind the offensive tackle.
This play had a deep ball element to it with Brown running a long skinny post up the middle, but that initial look there wasn’t open due to the two deep zone defenders in the area. There really wasn’t anyone open on this play besides the jet motion receiver who was then at the opposite sideline behind the line of scrimmage.
But what you can appreciate most about this play is when watching from the end zone angle, you see just how many times Allen goes through his progressions to try to find the best play. After scanning what seems to be the entire field once over, he bailed from the pocket and re-targeted the deep man, knowing there was likely space there with all the other routes pretty shallow.
Patience won that throw.
Here’s another deep throw from that first game against the Jets.
The set up above is of a 3rd-and-4 situation. I would say that the Bills weren’t looking to take a deep shot like that and only did so because they knew they had a free play for the offsides penalty, but this one either looked like a four verts play or an all-vertical concept with a deep in route from the No. 3 out of the bunch formation, however you want to classify it.
There’s not much to point out here other than Allen putting this one right on the money at the sideline on a 9-route. Brown should have come down with this one.
On Allen’s next two passes (neither shown above), the Bills took shots on first down. The first was a long completed pass up the seam to Cole Beasley, and the other was a misfire deep to Stefon Diggs on what was a choice route for the receiver between an out route or a post route about 15 yards down the field. Allen threw the post and Diggs ran the out; couldn’t really judge much off that one.
But the throw shown above is where we really start to get cooking with Allen over the last two weeks. It was the first throw of many where Allen had success with a certain route versus a certain coverage.
On first down yet again (this is the down where the Bills felt very comfortable taking their shots down the field), Allen got under center with a 2x2 set and a single back behind him. It was a play-action set up with split zone blocking as the wing tight end came behind the line of scrimmage to block on the other side of the line. As the play-action sucked the linebackers in, the two wide receivers were working longer routes against man coverage deep down the field. With just one single-high safety to guard the deep zone, the Jets didn’t have a lot of help in open space. That was easy money for Diggs, one of the best separators in the NFL, to do what he does best: accelerate past single coverage via a deep crossing route.
But the best part of this play wasn’t Diggs’ separation yardage, it was Allen’s touch to hit the speedy Diggs on target, in stride, and before the out of bounds line. That was impressive touch and precision, and Allen made it look easy.
Let’s fast forward to the Dolphins game the following week. In that contest, Allen threw for more than 400 yards with four touchdowns en route to another victory on the season.
Watch the play above. Does it look familiar? It should. It was the same concept as the last play we showed from the Jets game.
Two receivers to the outside, no split zone blocking concept this time, but straight-up man-to-man blocking, play-action with the single back from under center. The Dolphins, like the Jets in that last play, were in a man-to-man single-high coverage look. It led to the same result for the Bills, as Allen led Diggs perfectly on the deep crosser for a big first down with space to turn upfield.
Side note: watch the end zone angle of that throw. It will make you appreciate it even more.
It wasn’t just Diggs who was a benefactor of the deep crosser vs. man coverage advantage.
On 1st-and-10 (see that first down thing again), the Bills found Beasley with a similar advantage going up against man coverage. Allen being able to put that ball on the money to Beasley’s type of speed as well as Diggs’ speed shows that he is comfortable and confident with such a passing pattern. This really could be a go-to concept for Daboll and Allen moving forward (like he needs me to tell him that).
Oh, you thought the Josh Allen Deep Crosser Revolution was over? Not a chance.
On 1st-and-10 (again), the Bills sent Diggs in motion from one side of the field to the other. After seeing the Dolphins again in a single-high set, they figured there was a good chance this was again man coverage from the cornerbacks. When Diggs moved across the line and rookie cornerback Noah Igbinoghene followed him all the way to the other side, they confirmed that to be the case.
You could have just put six points on the board then and there.
The final play I wanted to show from this game is not a deep crosser, but it was on the money just like the others were. I wanted to show it to reiterate that, though those deep crossers should be the go-to, as they are advantageous for both the receivers and to Allen when it comes to confidence and execution, Allen is not crutched to only those kinds of deep passes when it comes to hitting receivers on the dot.
As you could have guessed, this once again was on 1st-and-10. That little double move from Diggs and then Allen leading him right into the catch deep down the field was a thing of beauty.
Bills fans, you were right. Allen has been fun to watch when loading up and throwing it deep this season. Now, he was playing two of the worst teams in the NFL these past two weeks, but it is still good to see him win against the teams he should be beating.
Most of the success Allen had throwing deep was against man coverage in those first two weeks. I will be interested to see how much success Allen has throwing deep against better zone coverage teams who can add more pressure to the pocket as the season goes on. We’ll check back in for that later.
Until then, enjoy the Allen highlights that show not only an improvement for the quarterback, but an even higher ceiling for a team that made the playoffs a year ago.