New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady reached 1,000 career rushing yards earlier this season. It took the future Hall of Famer 19 years to reach the figurative mile stone.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen will reach 1,000 yards on the ground a bit sooner. If he keeps up his current pace, the rookie will hit the mark next season.
While Brady is the superior passer, Allen is without a doubt more dangerous as a ball carrier. In fact, no other quarterback in the league comes close to the seventh overall selection of this year’s draft when it comes to production on the ground: he has carried the football 75 times this season for 506 yards and six touchdowns. His number of scores as well as his 50.6 rushing yards per game rank him first in the NFL among quarterbacks.
Limiting Allen’s impact on scrambles therefore has to be imperative for the Patriots defense on Sunday, when the team welcomes the Bills to Gillette Stadium. “He’s a strong guy,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said about the 22-year old yesterday. “We’ve seen him stiff-arm some people. He’s definitely fast. He can outrun guys. You have to take good angles and obviously wrap him up and try not to let him get started.”
When Allen gets started, he is indeed a dangerous player — one that actually leads his team in every major rushing category except attempts. “I’d say most of Allen’s long runs have been off scrambles,” Belichick said when asked about how Allen gains his yards. “He’s got some designed plays, quarterback draws and keeps and things like that. I’d say most of the big runs — the 30, 40-yarders — have come off scrambles.”
Just last week, the Detroit Lions found out how dangerous of a runner Allen is. The team coached by ex-Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia saw the rookie play arguably his best game of the season, and it included Allen carrying the ball nine times for 16 yards. One of the runs was a three-yard touchdown in the second quarter:
Allen started in the shotgun formation and it appears as if the play was originally designed for him to pass the football. He goes through his reads but ultimately does not feel confident throwing against a nickel package that saw seven players drop into coverage and an eighth — linebacker Jarrad Davis (#40) serving as a spy. Instead, the rookie decided to take off against the three-man rush.
The quarterback moved to his right, quickly faked a pass to freeze Davis, and outran him and the rest of Detroit’s defense to the pylon for six points. While the play gained only three yards in the stat sheet, it illustrates what makes Allen such a dangerous player with the ball in his hands. He displayed tremendous vision to recognize the opening to the formation’s weak side, was patient enough to use a pump-fake, and showcased his straight-line speed to get to the perimeter.
One week earlier, the New York Jets fell victim to Allen’s scrambling. Displaying the same traits, the rookie gained 101 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries — the longest of which coming in the early first quarter, again on a scramble play:
New York rushed five players to attack the pocket, and was actually able to come close to Allen. In the process of doing so, however, the Jets’ defensive line opened up the left-side A-gap for the Wyoming product to exploit. And exploit it he did: as soon as he felt the pressure coming close, he took off. On the way to a first down, Allen also ran through a tackle attempt by standout defensive lineman Leonard Williams (#92).
With nobody guarding the underneath zones and the wide receivers reacting quickly to the scramble drill to try and block the defensive backs guarding them, the rookie was able to gain 31 yards. His speed and vision were on display once again, as was his strength — as mentioned by Belichick yesterday — to fight off a takedown attempt by a defensive lineman.
Safe to say that the Patriots will have their hands full when it comes to containing Allen. “He’s a hard guy to defend,” Belichick noted. In order to successfully defend him, his team will have to learn from past mistakes made by both the teams that allowed Allen to gain considerable yards against them as well as by the Patriots themselves against similarly mobile quarterbacks.
The Chicago Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky, for example, was able to gain 81 yards and score a touchdown on just six carries. New England’s major problem when it played the Bears in week seven was keeping the quarterback from breaking the pocket. Trubisky’s first scramble of the day is a perfect example of that:
Just like Allen’s run against the Jets, this 14-yard scamper to convert a 3rd and 6 was made possible by the defense giving the quarterback room to run: The Bears were able to create an opening for Trubisky, and the second-year man was happy to exploit it, while New England did not keep a defender near the box to prevent a potential quarterback scramble from happening.
On Sunday, the Patriots need to show that they have learned from the mistakes they made against Trubisky. Their gap integrity up front needs to be on-point while the edge defenders need to be able to set a hard edge if need be — something that has worked well on one side of the line, but not so much on the other: Trey Flowers is one of the NFL’s better run stoppers from the edge but Adrian Clayborn, John Simon and Deatrich Wise Jr. as well as the linebackers coming down have been inconsistent in this area.
In order to slow down Josh Allen, the NFL’s most dangerous scrambling quarterback, New England needs a solid performance from everyone in the front seven. Discipline, sound technique and a game plan respecting the passer as a ball carrier are imperative in order to find success against the talented rookie.