Allen primed to advance development
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.
The Bills’ LeSean McCoy had his best game of the season the last time he faced the Jets last month.