Taking the next step

December 2, 2019

Was Thanksgiving fun or what?

While the Buffalo Bills recorded the biggest regular season win in, what seemed like, forever, Josh Allen had his best game in his not quite two years as a pro. I don’t think I can say enough about how impressed I was with the Bills' young quarterback.

In the days leading up to the game, we talked about the possibility of the stage being too big for Allen, or maybe he might be too keyed up for the game and try to do too much. Neither of those things happened. In fact, Allen looked like a seasoned veteran who has played in games like that on a regular basis. It capped off a month of November that saw Allen take a definitive step forward in his development.

I’ll get to that in a moment.

Look at what was on Allen’s plate in that game. The Bills were in a short work week, going on the road, facing one of the better defenses they’ve faced all season, on national television, in Dallas on Thanksgiving, as they kicked off the most difficult stretch of their schedule. Allen also had family and friends on hand from California, so you know he wanted to play well with them in attendance.

On top of that, there’s that whole playoff race thing. Each game seems to have more importance than the previous one as the Bills attempt to clinch a second postseason berth in three years and record the franchise’s first double digit win total in 20 years.

Amidst all of that, Allen played with poise, command and control of the offense. No matter what the Dallas Cowboys threw at him, Allen had the answer. His decision making, in terms of when to throw and when to run, his pre-snap reads and post-snap decisions were all top notch. As he had in the two previous games, Allen was accurate with his throws and was hitting receivers in stride so they could tack on yards after the catch like he did on the touchdown pass to Cole Beasley.

In the signature game of his Bills career to this point, Allen also had a signature moment. The fumble, scoop and keeper for a conversion on 4th-and-1. If Allen doesn’t pull that play off, the Bills turn the ball over on downs. Instead, the drive continues and on the very next play, the Bills perfectly executed the double-reverse John Brown touchdown pass to Devin Singletary.

Allen closed November looking like a different quarterback than he was in October. His play had flat lined after a good first month, where he looked better than the quarterback we watched over the last half of his rookie season.

It could just be a matter of needing time for all of the new pieces on offense to come together, but I think a lot of the credit should go to offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Following the loss to the Cleveland Browns, Daboll opted to use more no huddle and go mostly with 11 personnel, one back, one tight end and three receivers. The no huddle, in this case, doesn’t mean snapping the ball quicker, but it does mean Allen and the offense are at the line of scrimmage with plenty of time for him to look over the defense, make a pre-snap read, find a matchup he likes and make any changes, in terms of the play call or protection. 

The use of 11 personnel on a majority of plays has allowed the Bills to open the field and make life easier for Allen to find targets in the passing game or create positive plays with his legs. Daboll has also leaned towards having his best offensive playmakers on the field for the majority of snaps.

In each of the last three games, Brown has been on the field for more than 90% of the snaps. That might not be surprising since he is clearly the top receiver. However, Beasley has been on for at least 80% of the snaps in all three games. He’d been over 80% just once in the first nine games. Dawson Knox has been over 70%, and the last two games were his highest snap counts of the season. Isaiah McKenzie averaged 18 snaps a game through the first eight games he played in, but he’s averaged 46 snaps during this three-game win streak. Much to the delight of Bills fans, Singletary is now the No. 1 running back, and his three highest snap counts of the season have all come since that defeat in Cleveland.

Over the last three games, Allen has completed 67% of his passes, averaged 224 yards passing, thrown six touchdown passes and been picked off only once. With his legs, he’s added an average of 51 yards per-game and two more touchdowns, so that’s an average of 275 yards per-game and eight total touchdowns. The Bills offense, which was averaging 19 points per-game through the first two months of the season, has averaged 24 points per-game. 

Allen’s confidence and comfort level appear to be the highest they’ve been at since he got here. It's a good thing because the tests only get harder.

They might need to outscore an explosive Baltimore Ravens offense on Sunday at New Era Field. Following that, the Bills will go on the road to face the Pittsburgh Steelers, who is allowing the seventh-fewest points per-game, and then the New England Patriots, who is the No. 1 in scoring defense.

But after that huge Thanksgiving day win, Bills fans must be thinking anything is possible, right?