Josh Allen struggled with accuracy and took a lot of hits as a rookie, so the Buffalo Bills are taking steps to protect their young quarterback.
Josh Allen came into the NFL with concerns about his accuracy, as he completed just over 56 percent of his passes in college at Wyoming. So, it wasn’t too surprising he brought up the rear with a 52.8 percent completion rate among primary NFL starting quarterbacks as a rookie in 2018.
Via a deeper look by Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News, we see the following:
- Allen averaged 10.1 completions per game within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage last year (league average was 16.5 per game).
- Allen also completed a league-low 75 percent of his passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage (league average was 81 percent for starting quarterbacks).
- The Bills had the fourth-fewest pass attempts within five yards of the line of scrimmage last season.
- Via Pro Football Focus, Allen had a league-low accuracy percentage of 33 percent on underneath throws, defined as longer than screens and swing passes but shorter than intermediate crossing routes.
- Also via PFF, Allen held the ball an average of 3.2 seconds (highest in the league). But when he got rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less, Allen’s completion percentage (75.7 percent) was near the league average (78.6 percent, adjusted for drops and throwaways).
Allen took 28 sacks in his 12 games (11 starts) as a rookie, with eight fumbles (two lost) and 12 interceptions. Add in 89 rush attempts, including at least eight in seven games, and that’s a lot of extra contact even for a 6-foot-5, 237-pound quarterback.
Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said “we can help ourselves” by increasing Allen’s number of short throws, and general manager Brandon Beane pointed to learning, maturity and growth as key parts of the process for Allen:
He thinks he can make any throw, and he can physically, but sometimes that’s not the smart play. I think that’s what Josh is learning. That’s natural. He’s so competitive that he wants to pick up that first down now, and sometimes it’s OK to take the swing pass for 5 yards and get it to second and 5, instead of a harder throw 18 yards down the field in a tight window that has a 50-50 chance and now it’s second and 10.
A critical part of making Allen a better short passer will be the talent around him.
Running back LeSean McCoy is coming off the worst season of his career, and there’s speculation he will be cut this offseason, but he still had 34 receptions in 2018 after posting at least 50 catches in each of the previous two seasons.
Tight end Charles Clay missed three games last season, and his snap counts diminished as the season went on. But he should still be around for the final year of his contract in 2019, and a reintegration into the Bills’ offense (at least 49 catches each season from 2015-2017) seems to be in order to help Allen succeed in the shorter passing game.
Wide receiver Zay Jones finished last season well, as he seemed to build rapport with Allen (42 targets over the last five games), so he’ll be a key part of the quarterback’s evolution, too. Adding a big bodied, possession-style wide receiver might be a priority for the Bills in free agency, and Beane was with the Carolina Panthers as assistant general manager when they drafted pending free agent Devin Funchess.
In order to have as long and healthy a career as possible, Allen simply has to invite fewer hits and the Bills have to do what they can to help him protect himself. Getting rid of the ball faster via more designed short passes can only help, but the Buffalo offensive line still needs to improve and Allen’s mobility and ability to extend plays should still be on display plenty in his second NFL season.