Josh Allen is a big reason oddsmakers and football pundits — in recent weeks — have made Buffalo the AFC favorite to reach the Super Bowl.
Allen outplayed NFL defenders in many games last season and in a wild-card game opposite Philip Rivers. When on his game, he has resembled a stronger-armed, faster version of a young Ben Roethlisberger, who reached three Super Bowls in his first seven years with Pittsburgh.
Allen reached the AFC Championship Game last year and assumed the AFC’s pole position in this season’s first half when the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs offense turned into a turnover machine and Allen’s Bills breezed at Kansas City.
The best from Allen may be yet to come, perhaps as soon as this winter, given that he’s 25, durable and supported by one of the NFL’s more stable football outfits.
A concern is NFL defenses have found Allen’s Kryptonite.
Dating to January, when he struggled in a pair of playoff games, a spate of subpar showings have slowed the Allen train.
There were a few clunkers in there, most recently Sunday when the Jaguars held Buffalo without a touchdown and won as a 14.5-point underdog, 9-6.
The increased turbulence can be traced to the Baltimore Ravens dealing Allen a rough game in Buffalo’s defensively-driven playoff victory last January, one week after the QB’s athletic playmaking overcame Rivers and the Indianapolis Colts.
The Ravens, more varied in their tactics than the Colts, limited Allen to a 43.5 QBR (Total Quarterback Rating). While QBR isn’t definitive, NFL teams regard the ESPN-devised statistic as useful.
Allen had posted an excellent 76.6 QBR last season. Only Aaron Rodgers (79.8) and Mahomes (78.1) were better.
A week after the Ravens vexed him, the Chiefs confused Allen in the Super Bowl qualifier. A big night by Mahomes put additional heat on Allen, who had a 52.0 QBR that night.
Were those outings predictive?
It may be too soon to know, but half of Allen’s performances this season have produced a QBR below the 54.3 rating Mahomes has that currently ranks 16th in the 32-team league. There was his 38.6 in the Week 1 loss to Pittsburgh, a 51.1 in the Week 4 route of last-place Houston and a 49.2 two games ago, at home, against last-place Miami.
Then the low point: A 26.0 against the Jaguars drawn from two interceptions, a meager 5.6 yards per pass and two interceptions against no touchdowns.
Allen stands to rebound this week against the Jets, a 13.5-point underdog.
But unlike last year, the Bills offense doesn’t bristle with electricity
Herbert over Allen
AFC rival Justin Herbert of the Chargers may be in the midst of passing up the Bills star.
Herbert leads the AFC in QBR. Fifth overall, Herbert (64.1) is seven spots ahead of Allen (57.5).
Most NFL teams would love to employ either Allen or Herbert, 23. The two could square off in the upcoming playoffs and compete for Super Bowls for many years to come.
But Herbert seems headed to the better career for three reasons: Significantly better “innate” accuracy going back to college where his career completion rate was eight points higher; fewer NFL games in which his movements were frantic; and less reliance on hazardous running.
Allen is a better playmaker than Herbert on the move, a far more dangerous rusher. Give him an A+ for the big accuracy gains he has made under private coach Jordan Palmer and Bills coaches such as David Culley (now Houston’s head coach), Brian Daboll and Ken Dorsey.
It comes down to this: Herbert, who has comparable arm strength and good sprint speed, is setting a very high bar for a second-year player.
Already, Hall of Fame talent man Bill Polian has projected Herbert to rival Mahomes as the NFL’s top QB in the next several years. Asked if Allen could join Herbert and Mahomes in that group, Polian didn’t hesitate.
“No,” he said on his podcast last month. Without providing details, Polian added: “He does not have the natural gifts that those two have.” (He praised Allen, saying he’s a good quarterback.)
- QBR understates Lamar Jackson’s value to a Ravens team (6-2) that lost its top-4 running backs since late in the preseason and has faced other severe personnel challenges. Even as a decoy, Jackson is a running game unto himself. He has created running space for the substitute running backs — none of them explosive — as they tried to acclimate to Greg Roman’s nuanced system. As a passer, Jackson has nurtured the rise of WR Marquise Brown. He set aside his 58.0 QBR, which ranks 11th, just ahead of Allen. Jackson had the best first-half season of any AFC quarterback, including Herbert.
- Mahomes is still dangerous, but his struggles have changed the AFC playoff picture and can’t be rationalized as no big deal. Mahomes has five consecutive games with a QBR under 50 (a 50 is an average game). Before this year he had just two career games with a QBR under 50. His footwork from him has unraveled; it’s consistently poor, said Dan Orlovsky, a former NFL QB with ESPN. The career-worst beating Mahomes took against the Saints late last season behind a patchwork line was a blinking yellow light, as was the porous blocking in the Super Bowl. Philip Rivers’ footwork deteriorated after similar beatings in 2011-12.
- If it could hire Kliff Kingsbury a second time, USC would have to decide to make him the head coach instead of allowing Clay Helton to hire him as his offensive coordinator. Helton bolstered his job status with his hire of Kingsbury, coming off a six-year run (35-40, three bowl games) as Texas Tech’s head coach. But only briefly. Barely a month later, in January 2019, Arizona Cardinals GM Steve Keim hired Kingsbury as head coach (a paltry $150,000 buyout served as a green light). Kingsbury is now contending for Coach of the Year honors. Minus QB Kyler Murray, WR DeAndre Hopkins and RB Chase Edmonds, the Cardinals (8-1) ripped the 49ers for their fourth road victory by at least 14 points. The others were against the Titans (7-2), Rams (7-2) and Browns (5-4). Helton, meantime, was fired in September.
- QB Sam Darnold had an impressive career at USC, but his problems with turnovers and decision-making under duration have persisted in the NFL. Darnold’s deepening struggles with the Carolina Panthers, including three interceptions Sunday in RB Christian McCaffery’s return, argue against Darnold pulling a Ryan Tannehill-like turnaround in his own post-Adam Gase reset. The Panthers, meantime, may have misgivings about trading the Jets three draft picks, including a two and a four, for Darnold and sending their 2020 starter, Teddy Bridgewater, to Denver for a six. Denver is 5-4 with Bridgewater ($4.4 million salary, 50.5 QBR); Carolina is 4-5 with Darnold (35.8 QBR; 2022 salary of $18.9 million).