Bills QB Josh Allen defies conventional wisdom, over and over again

Jim Kubiak has been analyzing the play of Buffalo Bills quarterbacks for Kubiak is the all-time leading passer at Navy, has played in the NFL, NFL Europe and the Arena Football League and has been a coach and executive in the AFL. He spent eight years as the radio analyst for the University at Buffalo and runs the Western New York Quarterback Academy to help develop the next generation of quarterbacks. He is the head coach at Hilbert College.

Quarterbacks are evaluated each quarter using a “Doing Your Job” grading system for every play that takes into account the quarterback’s responsibilities and outcome. The accountability system rewards a quarterback with a plus for a play in which he does what he is supposed to do, a minus for not doing what he is supposed to do. A quarterback can earn a plus-plus for an extraordinary play and a minus-minus for a play that hurts the team. 

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The lesson every quarterback should take from the Bills’ 23-20 last-play victory against the Baltimore Ravens is to keep persevering even when things aren’t going well. Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense got off to a slow start. Allen completed only 11 of 22 passes in the first half, with seven of those incompletions either tipped at the line of scrimmage or dropped by Buffalo receivers. It was a difficult half to watch as Allen struggled to get anything going offensively.

Only two of the six offensive possessions of the first half went beyond a three-and-out, with Allen able to put points on the board just before halftime to make the score more respectable as the Ravens led 20-10. Credit the Ravens for being disruptive, getting their hands up at the line of scrimmage, and being physical with Bills receivers. The Baltimore defense made things difficult until Allen was able to create momentum running the football himself and making some dizzying plays in the second half. 

In the entirety of the game, Allen completed 19 for 36 attempts for 213 yards, with one passing touchdown and one interception, and a rushing touchdown. He was again the leading rusher for the Bills with 70 yards on 11 rushes. This was a season-low completion percentage of 52.7%, primarily due to six dropped passes and throwing the football away twice. 

On fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, Allen made an incredible play to get the first down that made the difference. Then in the fourth quarter, with the game tied, Allen made the throw of the game to tight end Dawson Knox on a critical third-down play on a corner route with outside defensive leverage. He was quietly amazing, in the biggest moments, despite the offensive hiccups around him. 

Allen’s QB Performance Grade, based on each play, was 96% overall, but Allen graded 100% in the second, third, and fourth quarters.

Play selection: 13 plays: Nine passes, four runs.

Allen: 3 for 9 passing for 31 yards, one interception. One carry for 8 yards.

On the first third down of the game, Allen threw the ball to an open Knox and would have had the first down, had it not been for this deflection by Calais Campbell.

Here, Allen was on time and on target. Campbell did a terrific job of stopping his rush once he realized Allen was preparing to throw and getting both hands into the air.  In real time, the deflection was so subtle it was almost invisible. The tiny redirection of the ball at the line of scrimmage was enough to send the ball into the waiting arms of Marlon Humphrey, who made the easy interception.

The Ravens scored a few plays later to take a 7-0 lead.

On the Bills’ next series, Allen and the offense turned a seven-play drive into a field goal to close the gap to 7-3.

The Ravens’ offense was hot and rolling early as they answered with a nine-minute drive to push the lead to 14-3.

Allen began the final drive of the first quarter from his own 22-yard line, and Devin Singletary fumbled the ball two plays later.

The two turnovers, the deflected interception and the fumble by Singletary wreaked havoc on the Bills’ attempt to gather momentum. 

Play selection: 17 plays: 13 passes, four runs.

Allen: 8 for 13 passing for 74 yards, one touchdown. One carry for 9 yards.

Performance grade: 100%.

The Ravens were only able to generate a field goal off the Bills’ second turnover, which gave them a 17-3 lead. Another Bills three-and-out and the Ravens were able to put another field goal on the board for a 20-3 advantage. Allen and the Buffalo offense struggled with a general lack of execution. In the second quarter, Allen threw 13 passes, three were dropped, one was deflected and almost intercepted and one was wisely thrown away. The efficiency was off as receivers struggled to corral good, solid and accurate throws from Allen.

The combination of the Ravens’ long, sustained drives and the Bills’ offensive difficulties resulted in the Bills having only run 13 plays on four possessions with 3:39 remaining in the second quarter. It was an abysmal performance to that point.

Allen was able to get the offense on track just before half as he led a 11-play scoring drive with 1:48 remaining. The Bills managed the clock in spectacular fashion very late in the second quarter and capitalized with just 9 seconds remaining with this touchdown to Isaiah McKenzie.

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Here, offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey used McKenzie’s speed from the interior position in a tight bunch formation. Allen and Dorsey anticipated a possible combo, meaning two of the three Baltimore defenders would be bracketing the first receiver to the inside and the next Bills receiver to the outside. The Bills outside-released both Knox and Gabriel Davis, which caused the defense to take both Knox and Davis man-to-man, leaving McKenzie virtually unchecked as the nearest defender was standing in the end zone. This was a combo-buster route and it worked to perfection. This was the best play of the half for the Bills, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. This critical touchdown narrowed the Ravens’ lead to 20-10.

Play selection: 18 plays: Nine passes, nine runs.

Allen: 4 for 9 passing for 59 yards, one sack. five carries for 46 yards, one touchdown.

Performance grade: 100%.

The Bills’ defense forced a punt on the opening drive. From there, Allen was perfect in the quarter as the Bills’ offense came to life with this remarkable fourth-down conversion.

Keep in mind that coach Sean McDermott, with his team trailing 20-10, elected to go for it from the 24-yard line, rather than kick a 41-yard field goal. Here, Dorsey called a play-action to Singletary and released Knox underneath the fake to Allen’s left.

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This was an important and creative play-call by Dorsey. Taking a closer look, there was a lot going on here. First, the Bills had lineman Bobby Hart playing tight end in a “big” personnel group next to Reggie Gilliam. This gave the illusion the Bills were running to the right. The Bills also curiously blocked to the right, despite the fact that Allen faked to his left. The influence of the offensive line’s movement created a defensive flow to the Bills’ right side. 

On the weak side of the play, Davis cracked back on Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen (No. 6). Queen felt the crack and tried to recover back into the flat. Allen’s fake to Singletary triggered panic and Humphrey (No. 44) fell off Davis to grab Singletary. Allen saw all this, somehow, and decided to continue to roll to the left side. Odafe Oweh (No. 99) had an opportunity to get Allen in the backfield, but could not rein him in as Allen bobbed and weaved past the first down marker before sliding. It was a truly “Allen-esque” type of play. Very few teams put their quarterback in these multiple option-type of plays, to run or pass, but Allen has become a master of these scenarios.

The Bills eventually kicked a field goal, but it was a boost for the Buffalo morale that they converted this fourth down.

The Tyler Bass field goal breathed new life into the beleaguered offensive unit, who, despite all the difficulties, were now just one score away from tying the game.

On the next series in the third quarter, Allen’s seventh offensive possession, the Bills poured it on with a game tying eight-play drive that included these two Allen runs.

It seems that Dorsey doesn’t like to run Allen as much as former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll used to. However, Dorsey reached into his bag of quarterback runs here and dialed up a QB-Bob (Back on Backer) for Allen. The Ravens came on a late blitz, which placed one more defender in the area than the Bills originally anticipated, but the Buffalo front adjusted and Allen surged forward and made several tough yards following initial contact.

On the next play, Dorsey called on Allen again on this naked bootleg.

They call it a naked bootleg because the back side defender, Queen in this case, is not blocked. It is the quarterback’s ball-handling action that is used to suck the defender inside. Once that happens, Allen can break containment and be free to run or throw the football on the perimeter. Here, Allen’s ball-handling was outstanding. He made it look as if he was handing it off and placed the ball onto his belt buckle while using his head to look at the running back. The placement of the ball on his belt buckle hid it from plain sight and the defense could not tell who had the ball. The combined effort of belt buckle and head fake froze the defense as they reacted to the fake running play first.

This was another terrific call by Dorsey, and the execution by Allen was spectacular. The result was a game-tying touchdown as Allen plunged across the goal line.

Play selection: 13 plays: Five passes, eight runs.

4th Allen: 4 for 5 passing for 49 yards, one sack. Four carries for 7 yards.

Performance grade: 100%.

Allen’s sensational performance continued into the fourth quarter. The Bills’ offense was not able to capitalize on a turnover and had to punt. The punt was a 57-yarder and pinned the Ravens on their own 5-yard line. The Ravens marched the ball the length of the field and decided to go for it in a moment of pure greed.

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh could have taken the points and put his team up 23-20 with approximately four minutes remaining. Instead, he went for it and the failed attempt ended up in Jordan Poyer’s hands as he intercepted the forced throw from Lamar Jackson.

The smart and conservative play here would have been to kick the field goal and force Allen and the Bills to win the game, but the hometown crowd wanted the Ravens to put the Bills away. It is my opinion that this was a poor decision by Harbaugh, as the interception and failed attempt rallied the Bills into one final drive to win a game in which they had never led.

Allen led a terrific 11-play drive with 4:09 remaining. On third-and-3 from the Bills’ own 27 yard-line, he made the play of the game on this difficult throw to Knox.

Here, Allen was looking for Stefon Diggs underneath this Knox corner route. As you can see, the Ravens have Chuck Clark outside and underneath Knox. To a quarterback, an outside leverage cornerback is a deterrent to throwing a corner route because the defender is where the route is going, to the outside. But here Allen defies conventional wisdom and drops the corner route over the defenders and into a spot that only Knox can catch the football. This was the play that put Allen and the Bills in the position they needed to finish the job. Had Allen not converted here, they would have had a fourth-and-3 play. This play, over the top of the outside leverage, was a high degree of difficulty completion in the biggest moment of the game.

Five plays later, with the clock winding down, Singletary carried the football inside the Ravens’ 5 yard-line, but seemingly chose not to score a touchdown.

This was genius by McDermott, who had planned to hold the football as long as possible before attempting the game-winning field goal. McDermott knew that if the Bills scored and left time on the clock, the Ravens would have an opportunity to score and perhaps go for a two-point conversion to win. 

On the next play, Allen only had a short lunge forward to get the first down but not score. He did so as the Bills forced the Ravens to use all their timeouts. This seems like a small detail, but it is significant when you consider the Bills purposely did not try to score. They needed the first down and got it, but the confusion and indecision on the part of the Ravens was apparent. This strategy was planned and deliberate to keep Jackson from getting the football one more time. In contemplating a strategy such as this, the head coach is relying on his field goal kicker to make the chip-shot field goal. There was risk involved with the decision, but McDermott established the plan and it was executed to perfection. The Bills continued to kneel until they finally ran all the time off the clock and kicked the chip-shot game winning field goal.

Think about another scenario where the Bills scored with more than a minute left and Baltimore had a couple of timeouts. This could have been disastrous. Rather, the Bills played for the field goal, with their first priority being to drain the Ravens of their timeouts and of the remaining seconds on the clock.

Allen was masterful, poised and, above all, resilient in a game that started very poorly. Instead of complaining about dropped passes or getting frustrated, he kept on chipping away at the lead, little by little, willing his team back into the game, and finally finished it with intelligent clock management. Harbaugh was outcoached by McDermott in the fourth quarter, and Allen outshined Jackson in the end.

Bills fans should be proud of this team in this difficult circumstance. The clock management was sensational, and Allen couldn’t have played any better to overcome all of the early adversity.

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