Allen has short passes for the tak­ing

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - By Mark Gaughan

This is the first of a two-part series an­a­lyz­ing the ins and outs of Buf­falo Bills quar­ter­back Josh Allen’s com­ple­tions in his rookie sea­son.

Josh Allen has a lot of low-hang­ing fruit to grab in his quest for bet­ter ac­cu­racy in the NFL. Allen com­pleted an NFL-low 10.1 passes per game within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage in 2018.

The league av­er­age for the 32 start­ing quar­ter­backs was 16.5 com­ple­tions per game on “short passes,” within 10 yards of the line, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of data from Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus.

Allen also had the low­est com­ple­tion per­cent­age on short passes. The Bills’ rookie com­pleted 75 per­cent of his throws within 10 yards of the line, which isn’t quite as good as it sounds.

The league av­er­age for start­ing QBs was 81 per­cent.

There are many rea­sons the Bills’ short pass­ing game was poor in 2018. And there’s no doubt Allen has plenty of im­prove­ment to make in his ac­cu­racy.

But in the­ory, it’s not hard to imag­ine Allen’s ac­cu­racy im­prov­ing by some de­gree sim­ply by tak­ing more “easy” com­ple­tions. Six com­ple­tions a game, in fact, should be there for the tak­ing, be­cause that’s what the av­er­age start­ing QB is get­ting.

Bills of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Brian Daboll ac­knowl­edged at the end of the sea­son that Allen needs to hit his check­downs bet­ter.

“People are play­ing Josh a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent than they play some other people, whether it’s a deeper safety, the cor­ners bail­ing off,” the Bills’ of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor said. “I think we can help our­selves, too, by tak­ing what they give us on some of those ver­ti­cals.”

The Bills did not try to be a hor­i­zon­tal, pos­ses­sion-pass­ing of­fense for most of 2018. That’s not nec­es­sar­ily best suited to a rookie quar­ter­back. Allen’s big arm is a deep-pass­ing threat to the de­fense, and the emer­gence of Robert Fos­ter helped the deep pass­ing game im­prove the sec­ond half of the sea­son.

“I think that’s the thing go­ing back to Josh in col­lege and then this year,” said Bills Gen­eral Man­ager Bran­don Beane. “He didn’t have a lot of the check­down throws. Now,

some of that is ma­tu­rity on his part, which he un­der­stands. It’s find­ing those out­lets when it’s not there down­field. That’s just part of the growth process.”

“We love his ag­gres­sive­ness,” Beane said. “He thinks he can make any throw, and he can phys­i­cally, but some­times that’s not the smart play. I think that’s what Josh is learn­ing. That’s nat­u­ral. He’s so com­pet­i­tive that he wants to pick up that first down now, and some­times it’s OK to take the swing pass for 5 yards and get it to sec­ond and 5, in­stead of a harder throw 18 yards down the field in a tight win­dow that has a 50-50 chance and now it’s sec­ond and 10.”

The Bills, in fact, had the fourth­fewest pass at­tempts over­all in 2018 on throws within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, ac­cord­ing to the ESPN NFL Matchup show. The Bills av­er­aged 14.8 a game. Pitts­burgh led at 23.7 a game.

“I do think there are other of­fenses that do check it down a lot and it re­ally boosts those guys’ com­ple­tion per­cent­ages,” Beane said. “Right now, that’s not been in ours, but we’ll con­tinue to try and evolve the of­fense, and it will be fun to watch Josh grow.”

Of course, win­ning and scor­ing is the mis­sion of an of­fense, not lead­ing the league in short pass­ing — or dink­ing and dunk­ing. Only one of the top eight quar­ter­backs who com­pleted the most passes un­der 10 yards (In­di­anapo­lis’ An­drew Luck) made the play­offs.

But six other play­off quar­ter­backs, in­clud­ing Kansas City’s Pa­trick Ma­homes, New Or­leans’ Drew Brees and New Eng­land’s Tom Brady, ranked be­tween ninth and 16th. Brees com­pleted 18.2 a game, Brady 17.3 and Ma­homes 16.9.

Asked about the op­por­tu­nity for more short com­ple­tions, Allen put it in the con­text of his quest for all-ar­eas im­prove­ment.

“Yeah, I want to com­plete ev­ery pass I drop back and try to make,” Allen told The News. “I’m get­ting bet­ter and fa­mil­iar with the out­lets, where my an­swers are. It’s div­ing into the play­book and learn­ing that as best as I can. So, yeah, I’m def­i­nitely look­ing for­ward to that.”

Im­prov­ing Allen’s me­chan­ics will be key to get­ting more com­ple­tions in the pos­ses­sion pass­ing game.

“The first or­der of busi­ness for Allen is to be­gin the process of re­fin­ing his foot­work and throw­ing tech­nique,” said Jim Ku­biak, the for­mer pro QB, head of the WNY Quar­ter­back Academy and Buf­falonews.com con­trib­u­tor. “His feet are of­ten undis­ci­plined and too wide. This cre­ates an ‘over­strided’ po­si­tion, which pre­vents his hips from get­ting over his front knee, re­sult­ing in high, all up­per-body throws. This over­strided po­si­tion at times makes him a ‘low-el­bow’ thrower.”

In an an­nual study by PFF, Allen’s “ac­cu­racy per­cent­age” was a leaguelow 33 per­cent on “un­derneath” throws. Those are spe­cific routes de­fined as longer than screens and swing passes but shorter than in­ter­me­di­ate cross­ing routes in which the re­ceiver needs to be led with the pass. And that 33 per­cent isn’t the ac­tual com­ple­tion per­cent­age, it’s the rate of ac­cu­rately de­liv­ered balls, es­sen­tially into the frame of the re­ceiver. Only two other QBs were un­der 50 per­cent on such passes (both Ea­gles QBs, Car­son Wentz and Nick Foles).

On the plus side, Allen’s ac­cu­racy per­cent­age on “stick routes,” es­sen­tially in­ter­me­di­ate routes, on a line with the re­ceiver fac­ing the QB, was 71 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to PFF. That was bet­ter than the league av­er­age of 68 per­cent.

Another in­di­ca­tion of the need to im­prove the Bills’ pos­ses­sion pass­ing game is how long Allen held the ball (3.2 sec­onds on av­er­age) – the long­est in the NFL, ac­cord­ing to PFF. Of course, part of that fig­ure stems from the fact Allen has more abil­ity to ex­tend plays than most QBs.

But when Allen got rid of the ball in 2.5 sec­onds or less, his com­ple­tion per­cent­age was 75.7 per­cent, near the league av­er­age of 78.6 (and ad­justed for drops, throw­aways, etc.) When Allen held the ball 2.6 sec­onds or more, his com­ple­tion per­cent­age was sec­ond worst in the league, at 53.5 per­cent (with the league av­er­age at 68.9).

Im­prov­ing the re­ceiv­ing corps by get­ting a cou­ple more play­ers who are good at get­ting quick sep­a­ra­tion from de­fend­ers will be one thing the Bills can do to im­prove their short pass­ing game.

Another year of ex­pe­ri­ence for Allen should help, too. A big part of get­ting good at hit­ting check­downs is rec­og­niz­ing very early in the down that the un­derneath pass is the best op­tion. That early recog­ni­tion, some­thing vet­er­ans like Brees and Brady have mas­tered, in­creases com­ple­tion rates and max­i­mizes yards af­ter catch.

James P. McCoy/Buf­falo News

Bills quar­ter­back Josh Allen com­pleted an NFL-low 10.1 passes per game within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage last sea­son. The league av­er­age was 16.5.

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