Over the first two years of his career, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen did not just walk the fine line between spectacular and head-scratching play: he zig-zagged across it on a week-to-week and oftentimes play-to-play basis. He was certainly good at times but one could not shake the feeling that he may have just hold his team and its tremendous defense back a bit with untimely turnovers and inconsistent decisions, among other issues.
That said, he did progress along the way: Allen improved his numbers across the board from his 2018 rookie campaign to 2019, and repeatedly showed why the Bills were willing to invest the seventh overall draft pick in him. This is even more true given his play during the 2020 season.
While he did cool off a bit recently after a hot start, Allen has still proven himself a viable franchise quarterback through seven games this year. His completion rate (67.6), passing yards per game (288.3), touchdown and interception percentages (6.2 and 1.5, respectively), and passer rating (105.0) are all the best of his career. His rushing output has taken a bit of a hit, yes, but the trade-off was worth it.
This is not the same Josh Allen we have seen in 2018 and 2019, and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick also acknowledged this during a media conference call earlier this week.
“I thinks he does a better job of going to his second or third reads; not as quick to pull the ball down and run, although he will do that. He has a good feel of when to stay in the pocket and go to a second or third read, and if things open up, when to take off and take advantage of it,” Belichick said ahead of his team’s first meeting with the 24-year-old this season.
“I think he’s less apt to just start running around and more patient, more confident to stay in the pocket and go to the second guy, go to the third guy, come back to the check down, like any quarterback who’s gained two or three years of experience. That’s just a common progression. He’s done a good job of that.”
Belichick and his team will be in for a tough battle given Allen’s growth this year, and his ability to get the ball in the hands of his newest weapon: Stefon Diggs. Buffalo sent a first-round draft pick to the Minnesota Vikings in spring to bring Diggs aboard, and the investment has paid major dividends so far: with Diggs as his number one guy — the two have connected 48 times so far this season for 603 yards and three scores — Allen has flourished so far this season.
Of course, Diggs is not the only reason for Allen’s growth in Year Three. Added experience and the scheme built by offensive coordinator and former Patriots assistant coach Brian Daboll have also helped. For Belichick, however, the biggest development has come elsewhere.
“I’d say that’s probably the biggest thing is just his overall execution of the passing game and seeing the field, using all the players that are involved in the pattern,” he said. “If the guy he’s looking at is open based on the coverage, then he gives it to him, but sometimes a defense takes that away, and then he’s been able to get the ball to other players and still have positive yards on the play. So, that’s a good thing for a quarterback to do.”
On Sunday, Belichick and the Patriots defense will try to bring Allen back down to Earth — something they have been very good at during their previous three meetings: Allen has completed only 48.4 percent of his passes for 578 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions against New England over the course of his career. His combined passer rating of 56.4 is the second worst against any opponent he has faced so far.
And yet, New England knows that the Josh Allen of 2020 is a serious threat.
“He’s got a great arm and he can run, he’s athletic, he’s hard to tackle,” Belichick noted. “I’d say his overall execution in the passing game has improved each of the last three years.”