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Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) scores a touchdown against Houston Texans strong safety Jahleel Addae (37) during the first quarter in the AFC wild-card game at NRG Stadium last season.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen communicates at the line of scrimmage during the first half against the Baltimore Ravens last December at New Era Field in Orchard Park, N.Y. BRYAN M. BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES
Bills quarterback Josh Allen sits on the field during the AFC wild-card game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium last January. TIM WARNER/GETTY IMAGES
Must become a much more accurate, dependable passer
There’s seldom immense pressure to win right now on any NFL team that’s forever rebuilding.
But become a contender? More particularly, a favourite to win a division for the first time all century? Right. Expectations sky-rocket, and pressure instantly zooms.
That’s the case with the Buffalo Bills in 2020.
Most NFL prognosticators see the Bills winning the AFC East for the first time since the year Tom Brady graduated high school (1995) — which was a year before current Bills starting quarterback Josh Allen was even born.
New England has won the division for the past 11 years, and 17 of the past 19. Nuts, eh? But Bill Belichick’s 21 st Patriots team has lost so much talent, besides Brady, on both sides of the ball — due to free agency, trades and a whopping eight COVID-19 opt-outs — that talent-wise it appears to be a remade, lesser husk of its former, championship-calibre self.
On paper, Buffalo indeed is the team to beat in the East, and could well win a playoff game for the first time in a quarter-century.
It’s just that the bazooka-armed Allen must make huge strides in Year 3. There’s no more waiting.
“Obviously, it’s a quarterback league. We know that,” Bills GM Brandon Beane said in a phone interview. “As your quarterback goes, a lot of the times is how you go. So we’re looking for Josh to take another step. He’d be the first to tell you he expects very good things out of himself.”
It’s good that he’s expecting it, because all that pressure this year truly does fall onto the big, broad shoulders of 6-foot-5, 237-pound Allen, as well as on his offensive coordinator of the past three seasons, Brian Daboll.
Should the team stumble out of the gates, those two are likeliest to take the instant heat, especially should the offence again let down one of the league’s top defences of the past two seasons, as masterminded by head coach Sean McDermott.
Daboll and Allen must figure out how to raise a Buffalo offence that was bad in 2018 and frustratingly mediocre much of the time in 2019, to consistently good in 2020.
For that to happen, Allen must become a much more accurate, dependable passer. It’s just that simple.
Look, from an arm talent standpoint, you couldn’t want an NFL passer possessing more strength.
And as a runner, few QBs in the league have better instincts or more of a nose for the end zone than Allen; if he should score eight TDs on the ground this season he’d become the first QB in league history to do so in three straight years.
And as an accountable team leader, hard worker, community presence, face of the franchise — you name the intangible — and Allen is what you’d ever want in your QB.
But the three most important traits of a successful NFL passer are — in order — accuracy, accuracy and accuracy. And here are two stats that really should concern you if you’re a Bills fan.
First, Allen ranked among the bottom three starters in the league in 2019 in completion percentage, with 58.8%. How important is that stat? Well, last season 10 of 11 playoff games were won by QBs who in the regular season had completed at least 65% of their throws. Sixteen QBs last season finished below that percentage, and above Allen’s. With a 56.3 completion percentage through his first two seasons, 65% sure seems a ways away.
That stat speaks to things beyond a QB’s root accuracy, yes. Play calling. Drops. How reliably receivers get open. But mostly, it’s on the QB himself.
Secondly, Allen finished tied for 34 th in the league in longest pass completion (53 yards), which speaks to his terrible accuracy last season on deep throws. Doesn’t matter how strong your arm is. So what if you can heave a ball 70, 80 or more yards? If you can’t complete them, doesn’t matter.
Now, can new star wide receiver Stefon Diggs — whom the Bills acquired in March, in a trade with Minnesota — help in that regard? Sure. Diggs is as good and as sure-handed a field-stretching threat as you’d want. But if Allen’s passes don’t hit his hands often enough, it doesn’t matter how open he gets.
Allen made noticeable, appreciable strides in Year 2. A gnawing tendency to roll right and make disastrous throwing decisions poisoned his play early in 2019, to the point that following an ugly homefield loss to the Patriots in Week 4, McDermott publicly scolded him.
Down the stretch, Allen weeded that affliction mostly out of his game, and ever more often made eye-popping throws, all the while driving defences mad with his surprising speed and agility when pulling down the ball and running.
He’s a potentially explosive NFL quarterback, indeed, if he can just hit the easy, shorter throws most of the time, and find the right range on his long bombs.
Also, Allen needs to calm his mind more, especially in big games. He sometimes appears too sky-high. The best quarterbacks are collected, smooth and completely under control upon taking the field.
The last time we saw Allen play, in January’s AFC wild-card playoff loss at Houston, he was the player of the game in the first half, helping Buffalo take an eventual 16-0 lead. But he came unglued by the fourth quarter. Like, really rattled.
Over the last couple minutes of regulation of that game, and in overtime, we saw both the best and worst of what Allen can be.
He completed one of the best passes I saw all last NFL season, in overtime — a throwback, laser-guided dart inside while rolling right to keep a potential game-winning drive alive. Elite stuff.
He also threw three balls that weren’t intercepted but for all the world should have been, including a flat-dropped pick-six that would have sealed Buffalo’s fate earlier.
In basketball terms, Allen must learn to be the stoic point guard, not the hyper shooting guard who wants to dominate himself. He must be more often content to distribute the ball to arguably the best collection of both pass receivers (that also includes wideouts John Brown and Cole Beasley) and running backs (Devin Singletary and rookie Zack Moss) the Bills have had this century.
“The biggest thing I hope to see out of Josh,” Beane said, “is don’t try to do it all yourself. You’ve got weapons. Let these guys (do it). Get them the ball and let them do what they do. It’s up to those guys — when given the opportunity — to make plays.”
BUFFALO BILLS 2020 SCHEDULE:
Week 1 — vs. Jets
Week 2 — at Miami
Week 3 — vs. Rams
Week 4 — at Raiders
Week 5 — at Titans
Week 6 — vs. Chiefs (Thursday)
Week 7 — at Jets
Week 8 — vs. Patriots
Week 9 — vs. Seahawks
Week 10 — at Cardinals
Week 11 — BYE
Week 12 — vs. Chargers
Week 13 — at 49ers (Monday)
Week 14 — vs. Steelers
Week 15 — vs. Broncos (maybe Saturday)
Week 16 — at Patriots (Monday)
Week 17 — vs. Dolphins
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020