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Bills-Jets rewind: Does Josh Allen need to help his offensive line more?


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The day after Josh Allen cost the Bills a chance at beating the New York Jets by throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble, Sean McDermott was asked about how Allen needs to balance his competitiveness with a willingness to live to see another down. McDermott’s mind didn’t immediately go to the turnovers.

“When you say living to see another down, the thing that comes to mind No. 1 is physically his health and just playing smart,” McDermott said. “We don’t need Josh to sacrifice his body as much as he does.”

Allen not only played one of the worst games of his professional career Monday, but he did so while taking a beating.

This wasn’t an unusual day for Allen in terms of his average time to throw or how often he was pressured. He got rid of the ball in an average of 2.77 seconds, which was just under his career average of 2.82 seconds. The Jets blitzed him on 22 percent of his dropbacks. Last season, Allen was blitzed on 25 percent of his dropbacks.

Still, Allen took five sacks and nine hits. He was hit on five of his scrambles, too. So where did the pressure come from? According to TruMedia, Spencer Brown was the main culprit with four pressures allowed. O’Cyrus Torrence and Connor McGovern each allowed three pressures, and Mitch Morse and Dion Dawkins each allowed two. Assigning credit and blame for pressures and sacks isn’t always cut and try, so we went back through to see where things went wrong.

Sack one: Brown was walked back into the quarterback and clearly deserves blame for the sack.

Sack two: This one actually looked like a design run on which Allen got poor blocking and had nowhere to go.

Hit three: Allen was hit on an incomplete pass early in the Bills’ only touchdown drive. Again Brown got overpowered and thrown back into Allen, who rushed an off-target throw that Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley dropped.

Sack three: With 40 seconds left in the first half, Allen dropped back and had a decent pocket. But the Jets sent six rushers, and Allen didn’t get rid of the ball quickly. Instead, he stepped forward into the pocket and fell into a sack for a short loss.

Sack four: Midway through the third quarter Allen had a clean pocket after faking a handoff to James Cook. He dropped his eyes almost immediately and then stumbled to the ground for a sack. This one was entirely on Allen.

Hit six: On the next play, Mitch Morse got beat clean, knocking Allen off his spot. Allen launched a pass into double coverage intended for Stefon Diggs that became his second interception of the night.

Sack five: Early in the fourth quarter, the Jets sent five rushers. Again, Allen’s eyes dropped when he thought he saw a running lane. But Jermaine Johnson beat Connor McGovern and brought Allen down for the sack.

Hit eight: The Jets got a free blitzer through, which happens. Allen made a great play to avoid the rush and flip the ball to Latavius Murray for a decent gain.

Hit nine: With 16 seconds left in regulation, Torrence allowed pressure but not before Allen got plenty of time to hang in the pocket and try a deep pass to Gabriel Davis down the sideline. This wasn’t much of a negative play for the offensive line.

Brown’s inconsistency is a problem but not a surprising one. The Bills started to give him extra help, so they understand this is an issue. The more concerning trend was Allen dropping his eyes early on multiple occasions. That’s a habit that was more common from him in 2018 and 2019. He’s either not trusting his protection, not trusting his receivers to get open or not trusting what he’s reading in the defense. Maybe it’s a combination of the three.

Allen also had four separate scrambles on which he could have avoided a hit and instead initiated contact. On one he already had a first down and decided not to step out of bounds. Shortly after, he tried to hurdle multiple Jets defenders despite being more than five yards away from a first down. On two other runs, he had a chance to slide and lowered his shoulder.

There’s no sense trying to remove the running from Allen’s game. It’s part of what makes him special and changes how defenses play him. When Allen is working on instinct and creating plays with his legs, he’s at his best. But there’s no reason he can’t run and also protect himself. Everybody on the team already knows how tough he is. There’s no need for it.

It feels as if all of this is tied into the turnovers, too. For whatever reason, Allen isn’t trusting the structure of the offense and choosing to do everything himself too often. His first two interceptions were long heaves down the field into coverage. His fumble was an inexcusable lack of focus. Allen is only one person, but when you isolate all of the variables, he still ends up with a lot of blame for why everything went so wrong Monday.

Here are some other thoughts from a re-watch of Bills-Jets.

1. The Bills’ pass rush looks legit

Greg Rousseau and Leonard Floyd both had five pressures each, while Ed Oliver had six pressures. Given that each only had 16 pass-rushing opportunities, all three players rank in the top five of Pro Football Focus’ pressure percentage stat. That’s a great sign for what Buffalo’s pass rush could look like in 2023.

These are three of the Bills’ most important players on defense, and they all came out of the gate flying. Oliver is fresh off signing a lucrative extension in the offseason. Rousseau is entering a crucial third season, and the team is optimistic about a breakout season. Floyd was signed to help ease the loss of Von Miller, who is still recovering from a torn ACL.

When Miller is back, there is a chance the Bills could have four top-flight pass rushers in their defensive line rotation to go with other capable players on the depth chart. The Bills’ defense had a few letdown moments, and the Jets didn’t present too big of a challenge without Aaron Rodgers. But the way that trio of pass rushers played warrants optimism.

2. Stefon Diggs was dominant

Stefon Diggs caught 10 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown against the Jets despite seeing a healthy dose of top cornerback Sauce Gardner throughout the night. His connection with Allen was one of the only redeeming aspects of an otherwise rough night for the offense. Allen and Diggs had their relationship in the spotlight since the end of last season, so this was a performance Diggs needed in the national spotlight.

The Bills are still waiting for another target to step up, though. Gabriel Davis had only two catches in this game, and Diggs almost matched the total yardage of every other Bills pass catcher by himself. Diggs is one of the best receivers in football, but Allen needs to find another receiver to trust to keep defenses guessing.

3. The Bills’ new philosophy on display

The Bills ran 12 personnel (two tight ends on the field) on 64 percent of their offense’s snaps in this game. That was by far the most in the NFL in Week 1 with the next closest team running 12 personnel on 35 percent of snaps. The addition of rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid has caused the Bills to shift their offensive philosophy a bit. Kincaid had a decent debut with four catches for 26 yards. It’s encouraging that the Bills are willing to involve Kincaid in the offense early even if it means playing a different personnel package than they typically lean on.

The Bills need to run the ball better out of 12 personnel, though. The Jets matched that set with nickel defense all night long, and the Bills still only ran for 3.6 yards per carry with two tight ends on the field. Consider this a work in progress.

4. Christian Benford could provide stability

Christian Benford got the start for the Bills and played 100 percent of the defensive snaps. Dane Jackson played only on special teams, and Kaiir Elam was a healthy scratch. It’s clear Benford has earned the coaching staff’s trust. McDermott praised his tackling. Benford was the one who chased down Breece Hall on his 83-yard run and helped the Bills hold the Jets to a field goal on that drive. The Bills have been looking for stability at the cornerback spot opposite Tre’Davious White, and Benford may give them that.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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