Remember all of those times you’d be watching another NFL quarterback throw the ball all over the field and score lots of points and you were jealous? You’d think about how much fun that is and you’d wish the Buffalo Bills had an entertaining, pass heavy, attacking game plan. If you’re an older Bills fan, all you have to do is think back 30 years.
You can stop being envious because the Bills are in the club now. That's right. It took a while, but the Bills have a real NFL passing game.
2020 has been a lousy year, but it will also go down as the year the Bills changed identities as a team. They’ve gone from scratch out some points and live and die with a stout defense to put the ball in the air, trust your quarterback and win games by having the better offense.
Fielding the deepest group of receivers since the Bills last went to a Super Bowl, the decision makers are giving the keys to the car to Josh Allen, and so far, so good. Very good actually.
I’m not sure you could have scripted the first two games any better for the third-year quarterback. Amidst preseason talk about whether the Bills could contend for an AFC East title, or even be a threat to teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens in the conference, the biggest question mark was Allen. Could he take his game to another level this season?
Allen is off to a flying start, albeit, against two of the weaker opponents on the schedule.
In the season opener against the New York Jets, Allen picked apart their defense, while registering career highs in attempts, completions and yards. The Jets couldn’t match up man-to-man with the Bills' wide receivers, so they opted for zone and Allen found open targets all game long. The Jets did everything in their power to prevent Allen from throwing over the top, so he spent the afternoon hitting on short-to-intermediate throws.
This past Sunday, the Miami Dolphins played more man coverage and Allen and company just picked that apart. Allen succeeded on a wide variety of throws, including the deep ball, connecting on three of those to three different receivers.
That long ball accuracy was an area Allen focused on during the offseason and the work paid off. It continues a positive theme for Allen’s Bills career to this point - improvement.
Following his rookie season, Allen was told he needed to be better, in terms of decision making, not forcing throws downfield and improving his ball security. He checked off all of those boxes in 2019. Allen has proven to be extremely coachable as he grows into the job of offensive focal point.
Throws of 20-plus yards downfield have been another weak part of Allen’s game. Over the last two seasons, Allen completed just 22% of those throws and had nine touchdowns to go along with 12 interceptions. Through the first two games this season, Allen is 6-for-10 (60%) on the 20-plus-yard passes and has one touchdown.
According to Mike Clay of ESPN, Allen’s off target percentage on passes has gone from 23% in his rookie season to 22% last year and 16% after the first two weeks.
The majority of the credit goes to Allen, but credit should also go to offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and quarterback coach Ken Dorsey, who have helped make Allen successful in this new pass-first approach. Of course, general manager Brandon Beane and the front office get an "A+" for bringing in wide receiver Stefon Diggs after previously overhauling the entire offense in an effort to build around the man they hope will be their quarterback into the next decade.
Allen has progressed to the point where he has earned the trust of Daboll, who has definitely been aggressive with his play calls during the 2-0 start.
Look at what took place in Miami: After the Bills fell behind 20-17, the very first play when the Bills got the ball back was a bomb to Diggs. The Bills would eventually score a go-ahead touchdown on that drive and then go for the throat the next time they had the ball. They didn’t opt to run the ball or go with safe passes so they could run down some clock or, at least, force Miami to burn their remaining timeouts. Allen was throwing downfield, looking for a touchdown to make it a two-score lead. He threw back-to-back deep balls for John Brown, the second of which was caught and run into the end zone for that decisive touchdown.
Did you look at this week’s NFL stats? The Bills' passing game leads the league in yards, 20-plus-yard completions and 40-plus-yard completions. They are tied for second in touchdown passes, fourth in both completion percentage and yards per-attempt, and Allen is eighth in completion percentage (70%).
The test gets harder this Sunday when the Los Angeles Rams come to Bills Stadium.
Allen will face one of the best, if not, the best pass rusher on the Bills' schedule in defensive tackle Aaron Donald. You’d also figure the Rams will put one of the league’s top cover corners in Jalen Ramsey on Diggs. We will see how Allen and company handle the challenge.