Bills have botched QB is­sue but can fix it

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS | NFL - Mike Jones Colum­nist

It took only one week for it to be­come ap­par­ent that the Bills botched their quar­ter­back sit­u­a­tion.

Trad­ing away AJ McCar­ron and set­tling on Nathan Peter­man as the place­holder for rookie Josh Allen was not the way to go. Af­ter Peter­man’s dis­as­trous sea­son de­but, coach Sean McDer­mott on Wed­nes­day did the only thing he could do and named Allen his starter go­ing for­ward.

There’s no deny­ing Allen’s im­pres­sive skill set. The No. 7 over­all pick of the draft has great size at 6-5 and 237 pounds. He has a strong arm as well as good ath­leti­cism and the abil­ity to ex­tend plays, giv­ing him an over­all skill set some com­pared to that of Ea­gles quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz.

How­ever, he has ac­cu­racy is­sues and has dis­played strug­gles with reading de­fenses and mak­ing quick de­ci­sions. Given those is­sues, McDer­mott and the Bills didn’t feel com­fort­able play­ing Allen right away and in­stead hoped to let him learn in a backup ca­pac­ity.

But now it’s go time for Allen. “It’s the right move for our foot­ball team,” McDer­mott said on Wed­nes­day. “I’m not go­ing any fur­ther than that. I’ve got con­fi­dence in Josh, and it’s the right move for our foot­ball team.”

Throw­ing Allen into the fire now could wind up hurt­ing his chances for long-term suc­cess. But with no more com­pe­tent passers on the ros­ter, the Bills have few other op­tions as their coach works to main­tain cred­i­bil­ity with his locker room and po­si­tion his team to win games.

So what can McDer­mott and of­fen­sive Brian Daboll do to help mask Allen’s de­fi­cien­cies, po­si­tion him for ef­fec­tive­ness right now?

The key is to both sim­plify things for Allen and to pro­tect him.

The run game is a young quar­ter­back’s best friend. LeSean McCoy, who topped the 1,000-yard mark in each of the past two sea­sons, should have an even more prom­i­nent role mov­ing for­ward as Buf­falo looks to con­trol the clock and avoid shootouts. A healthy run game also sets the Bills up for an ef­fec­tive play-ac­tion at­tack be­cause it will buy Allen more time to op­er­ate.

The Bills also need to use an of­fen­sive at­tack that fea­tures a healthy dose of run-pass op­tion plays. This will en­able Allen to use his ath­letic abil­ity and force some hes­i­ta­tion for his op­po­nents.

Spread­ing out the de­fense by putting McCoy into mo­tion and cre­at­ing an empty back­field might also be a so­lu­tion. In those sit­u­a­tions the Bills should load up three re­ceivers on one side of the field and two on the other and in­struct Allen to key on that three-re­ceiver side of the field. If there are no open­ings, he can quickly shift fo­cus to the other side or dump the ball off un­der­neath to beat the pass rush.

This is very much the ap­proach that has not only worked with other young quar­ter­backs, but also the play­book the Ea­gles used to po­si­tion Nick Foles for suc­cess all the way to the Su­per Bowl. Foles also thrived in this type of sys­tem un­der Chip Kelly but has strug­gled with more tra­di­tional ap­proaches. The Pack­ers and Red­skins even used RPO plays to buy veter­ans Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith time Sun­day and help their of­fense get into a rhythm.

As chal­leng­ing as it might be, Allen does have a chance to find suc­cess as he ac­cli­mates to the speed of the NFL game. As he be­comes more com­fort­able, the Bills can grad­u­ally ex­pand his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. But for now, this is the way to de­velop Allen, be­cause the al­ter­na­tive is mak­ing him a sta­tion­ary tar­get sub­jected to big hits while strug­gling to make up his mind on where to throw.

Now for a few im­pres­sions from else­where around the NFL en­ter­ing Week 2.

Be­lieve

… In James Con­ner. No, he’s not Le’Veon Bell, but scouts will tell you he’s a le­git­i­mate starter. He has an above-av­er­age skill set, and he trusts the Steel­ers of­fen­sive line­men and run con­cepts. He can pro­duce at a level that will en­sure the of­fense re­mains bal­anced.

… In Sam Darnold. Sure, he threw a pick-six on his first pass. But the way he re­sponded to ad­ver­sity spoke vol­umes about his men­tal makeup and re­solve. Lead­ing up to the draft, Car­son Palmer raved to USA TO­DAY about the for­mer Tro­jan’s abil­ity to shrug off neg­a­tiv­ity and re­spond with re­silience. Sure enough, Darnold proved un­flap­pable and led his team to a blowout vic­tory against the Lions.

Pump the brakes

… On the Browns. Yes, they have pro­gressed. But don’t anoint them as play­off con­tenders. The de­fense is le­git, as the group showed vs. the Steel­ers. Myles Gar­rett and rookie cor­ner­back Den­zel Ward are ris­ing stars. But the of­fen­sive line isn’t good enough and will ul­ti­mately crip­ple the unit. Still, ex­pect­ing five to six wins seems rea­son­able.

… On the con­cern about the Raiders’ lack­lus­ter start against the Rams. Jon Gru­den will get the of­fense right. He has much work to do to el­e­vate Derek Carr into a top-notch quar­ter­back. The de­fense does have is­sues, par­tic­u­larly in the sec­ondary and in the post-Khalil Mack pass rush. But Gru­den is de­ter­mined to get this ship righted.

Worry

… About the Lions. First-year head coach Matt Pa­tri­cia’s team give up 48 points at home to a squad led by a rookie quar­ter­back. Matthew Stafford threw four in­ter­cep­tions. You can’t blame Pa­tri­cia en­tirely, but his play­ing style might al­ready be cre­at­ing some fric­tion.

… About the Seahawks. Par­tic­u­larly their of­fen­sive line, which strug­gled might­ily to pro­tect Rus­sell Wil­son. If the front doesn’t im­prove, Wil­son will be at height­ened risk of get­ting hurt. If that hap­pens, this team has no chance at all.

… About Dak Prescott and the Cow­boys. Af­ter a promis­ing rookie sea­son, Prescott still hasn’t made suf­fi­cient progress. In the 16-8 loss to the Pan­thers, he was of­ten guilty of try­ing to do too much. It’s ev­i­dent there’s more pres­sure on Prescott with his of­fen­sive line beat up and no go-to wide re­ceivers. Thus far, coaches haven’t done a good job of eas­ing the load on him. Some­thing needs to change, quickly.

MITCH STRINGER/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

The Bills hoped to let rookie Josh Allen de­velop in a backup role, but he’ll start Sun­day.

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