Allen primed to ad­vance de­vel­op­ment

The Buffalo News - - NFL -

Here are my five takes on the Buf­falo Bills’ game against the New York Jets Sun­day at New Era Field:

1. Josh Allen should take an­other sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward with his play against the third bad team in a row the Bills will face.

The rookie had his best game to date in last Sun­day’s loss against the Mi­ami Dol­phins. He showed su­perb com­mand and did a mostly strong job of read­ing the Dol­phins’ de­fense and mak­ing the proper cor­re­spond­ing de­ci­sions. His ex­cep­tional run­ning skills, which have been a ma­jor part of his game since his sec­ond ca­reer start Sept. 23 at Min­nesota, have only im­proved with time be­cause he’s do­ing a bet­ter job of choos­ing when to take off and pro­tect­ing him­self when he does.

The Jets’ de­fense, which had a ter­ri­ble time in the teams’ pre­vi­ous matchup on Nov. 11 when Matt Barkley started while Allen was out with a sore el­bow, is likely to have ma­jor is­sues try­ing to han­dle the rookie’s multi-di­men­sional tal­ent.

The Bills’ 41-10 vic­tory at MetLife Sta­dium was a com­ing-out part of sorts for Buf­falo’s younger re­ceivers. Since then, Zay Jones, Robert Foster and Isa­iah McKen­zie (who is listed as ques­tion­able with a toe in­jury suf­fered in prac­tice) have blos­somed into play­ers who are ca­pa­ble of mak­ing an im­pact with their speed and abil­ity to get open. They’ve also de­vel­oped some good chem­istry with Allen.

2. Get­ting a chance to see Sam Darnold in ac­tion is pretty much the sec­ond rea­son, af­ter mon­i­tor­ing Allen’s con­tin­ued de­vel­op­ment, that makes this game even marginally in­ter­est­ing.

It might sound like a bit of a stretch now, given each team’s strug­gles, but this does mark the begin­ning of a highly an­tic­i­pated divi­sional ri­valry be­tween two of the more prom­i­nent faces from the Quar­ter­back Class of 2018. Darnold missed the Nov. 11 game with a foot in­jury, leav­ing vet­eran Josh McCown to make his first start of the sea­son and strug­gle might­ily.

There were many Bills fans who wanted their team to trade their way higher in the draft to land Darnold, the for­mer USC stand­out whom the Jets traded up to select third over­all, rather than go­ing to the sev­enth over­all spot for Allen.

Darnold prob­a­bly is go­ing to have some rust, es­pe­cially as a rookie who is play­ing for the first time since the Jets’ Nov. 4 game at Mi­ami. In nine starts, he has thrown for 1,934 yards and 11 touch­downs, with 14 in­ter­cep­tions.

3. Once and for all, the Bills must do a bet­ter job when it comes to avoid­ing penal­ties.

Draw­ing 13 ac­cepted yel­low flags in each of the past two games is sim­ply un­ac­cept­able. For­get that the officiating wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily the great­est in the Mi­ami game. Get­ting pe­nal­ized that much is not all about bad calls. It’s more about a team that ei­ther lacks the dis­ci­pline or the tal­ent to play within the rules.

When the Bills last faced the Jets, they had four ac­cepted penal­ties. What­ever hap­pened in the bye that fol­lowed to men­tally put them in a sloppy place rem­i­nis­cent of the sort of thing you see in the pre­sea­son needs to change. Other­wise, those poor habits can have a way with car­ry­ing over into next sea­son.

4. This time, the Bills’ run­ning game should come back to life. Hon­est!

That has been in­cor­rectly pro­jected in this space since LeSean McCoy’s sea­son-high 113 rush­ing yards on 26 car­ries when these teams pre­vi­ously col­lided. For the past two weeks, how­ever, the team’s best rusher by far has been Allen, and that isn’t a good thing.

The Jets’ overly ag­gres­sive front seven should cre­ate open­ings for the Bills to ex­ploit as they did on Nov. 11. McCoy had no prob­lem finding room at the sec­ond level and tear­ing off chunk gains.

Allen’s run­ning threat, which the Jets have yet to face, should also do its part to in­vite the Jets to have a line­man or line­backer ded­i­cated to a “spy” role and, there­fore, va­cate an area that the run­ning game can at­tack.

5. These teams might only be sep­a­rated by one vic­tory, but are other­wise headed in very dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions.

At 4-8, the Bills are all but elim­i­nated from post­sea­son con­tention. The 21-17 loss at Mi­ami was heartbreaking, es­pe­cially with Allen’s last-ditch throw com­ing just short of be­ing caught in the end zone by Charles Clay.

Still, they’re re­mark­ably up­beat and con­duct­ing them­selves as if they are play­ing for some­thing through these fi­nal four weeks. Why? Be­cause they are. Allen’s con­tin­ued growth as a passer and the im­proved play of most of his sup­port­ing cast is a sign of en­cour­age­ment and a source of in­spi­ra­tion to per­form at a higher level than is nor­mally ex­pected from teams on the fringe of the play­off pic­ture. So, too, are the ex­cel­lent chance the sched­ule – which only has one strong team (New Eng­land) left – gives them to fin­ish strong and the fact jobs for fu­ture and even the present are be­ing closely eval­u­ated.

James P. McCoy/Buf­falo News

The Bills’ LeSean McCoy had his best game of the sea­son the last time he faced the Jets last month.

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