CAPACCIO: Bills season now AAA: All About Allen

November 20, 2018

For some, this was the way it should have been from the beginning. It’s what a lot of Buffalo Bills fans wanted in the first place. Regardless of what the team’s record was going to be, where they would fall in the standings, what draft pick they’d have next April, or even what other players were on the roster, they wanted 2018 to be all about Josh Allen’s development, letting him play, and at least getting a clue sooner rather than later of what he might be and how to proceed going forward.

Now, those people have what they want because head coach Sean McDermott has made it clear that Allen is his starting quarterback. This despite the strong performance Matt Barkley put up two Sunday’s ago against the New York Jets, and Allen’s own deficiencies through the first five starts and six games he’s played so far.

The numbers haven’t been pretty for the rookie. Granted, he hasn’t had the greatest talent surrounding him so far in his first season, but Allen hasn’t helped himself, either. Among the four rookie quarterbacks who became their team’s starters fairly early (Allen, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and Josh Rosen), Allen ranks last in completion percentage, passing yards per-game, and yards per-pass attempt.

Many fans who wanted him to start and play and get as much time as possible figured the numbers wouldn't be great and were willing to take those lumps, as long as they saw the organization making a commitment to their hopeful future franchise quarterback and putting him out on the field as early and often as they could.

However, that’s not what McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane planned on after Allen, along with A.J. McCarron, lost a three-way competition to Nathan Peterman. McCarron was dealt to the Raiders before the season started and Peterman was a disaster from the opening kickoff of Week 1, which - ready or not - led to the seventh overall pick being inserted as the starter in just the second week of the season.

From there, it became Allen’s team, but a team that still severely lacked in areas they needed to improve to help him. Namely, wide receiver and offensive line. A wideout group that didn’t have much speed and was relying on the unreliable Kelvin Benjamin to still be their No. 1 guy. An offensive line that was struggling to open holes in the running game, partly because defenses didn’t respect the Bills’ downfield passing game. And who could blame them, despite having a quarterback with a rocket for an arm?

It was the proverbial square peg/round hole situation. Here they had this first round quarterback, playing every snap, trying to develop him, but who was already struggling on his own and didn’t have the necessary tools around him to make things any better. Allen and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll had to play “small ball.” Keep everything shorter, not take many chances, hope the running game can control the clock, and play good defense. That philosophy worked one game, when the Bills beat the Tennessee Titans 13-12, but it wasn't unsustainable and it didn’t aid in Allen’s development nearly as much as letting him throw the ball while seeing different pass defense and blitzes.

An injury to Allen forced the team to turn to veteran Derek Anderson and then Matt Barkley (after Anderson suffered a concussion), but while Allen sat out, something changed. McDermott and Beane knew they needed to get faster as a team on offense, and also better upfront, no matter who was throwing the ball.

In came wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, claimed off waivers from the Denver Broncos. Signed from the practice squad was Robert Foster. Suddenly, the Bills had a couple threats teams, at least, need to be aware of when they are on the field. Guard Wyatt Teller was given his first start, as well, and it all paid immediate dividends. Foster grabbed a long pass on the opening play of the game in New York, finishing with three catches for 105 yards, and McKenzie added 46 yards from scrimmage on three grabs and one run. Teller did a great job both in pass protection and run-blocking. Of course all of that helped to open up the running game and LeSean McCoy had his best game of the season.

So why stop there? Two days later, the team signed Deonte Thompson, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys. It will be his third stint in Buffalo, and the coaching staff knows him well.

Now, even after, arguably, the best game of any quarterback on the Bills roster this season turned in by Barkley, McDermott knows they can get a better feel for Allen. He has more speed to throw to. He has a new road grader and protector in Teller. Maybe most importantly, he’s had over month to sit and watch how Anderson and Barkley conducted business and see things from the sidelines once again.  

That’s why, surprisingly to some, including me, McDermott wasted no time the Monday after the Jets game squashing any notion that the team would stay with Barkley thus keeping Allen off the field, knowing Allen was close to returning from his injury and should be able to go against the Jacksonville Jaguars this week. He said it immediately and confidently. “Josh is our starting quarterback.”

No more square peg/round hole. Barkley’s performance and the players who helped him do it showed the prices are now there for Daboll and Allen to take more advantage of what the rookie can do. Now they can get a much more proper evaluation of the kid from here on out, and maybe even win more games along the way.

No matter what the result, win or lose, the next six weeks can be what a lot of fans wanted it to be in Buffalo since they drafted him: AAA — All About Allen.

Follow me on Twitter @SalSports