It's Time For Josh Allen to Prove This Progress Isn't a Fluke
By Liam McKeone
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen is your AFC Player of the Month. Allen has gotten off to a scalding start in 2020. Some might call it even MVP-level. I'm not there quite yet, but the numbers are impressive.
He leads the AFC in most statistical passing categories. He's thrown for 1,038 yards, 10 touchdowns, and only one interception through three weeks of football. His team is undefeated. Some of Allen's big issues from the first two years of his career (holding the ball for much longer than he should, wildly overthrowing receivers) are still seen in his play, but by and large he's shown significant progress since we last saw him on the field in Buffalo's season-ending loss to the Houston Texans in the 2019 playoffs. But can he keep it up?
Any mention of Allen's success so far would be remiss without mentioning the defenses he's gone up against. The Bills opened their season against the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. The Jets are the Jets. Nothing more to say there. The Dolphins have some talent on their defense but are far from an elite unit. Buffalo's Week 3 win against the Los Angeles Rams was a quality one against a talented secondary, but overall that defense was average at best last season. The point is that Allen has yet to go up against elite competition, although all great players beat up on the worse competition as he has over these first three weeks.
One reason for optimism that this isn't a fluke is the Bills' change in playcalling. Specifically, they're incorporating way more play-action into the gameplan, which is helping Allen immensely. Last year, Allen only attempted 105 passes off play-action for an average of 7.5 yards per attempt. This year, Buffalo has already run 45 play-action passes and gained 489 yards on those plays for an average of nearly 11 yards per attempt. There doesn't appear to be any discernible reason as to why they're calling more of these plays, but averaging over 10 yards per play is a pretty damn good number in the NFL.
Just as there are reasons to hope, there are reasons to doubt, too. Allen had 88 "bad throws" as defined by Pro Football Reference in 2019. This season, he has 17 through three games, which puts him on a very similar pace. Fifteen percent of his passes this season have been "bad," whereas in 2019 it was up to 20 percent. That's not a particularly big drop and one that seems like it'll average itself out towards the 2019 numbers, given that his actual quantity of bad throws is pretty much the same as last year so far.
What that means is that Allen's biggest issue -- wild throws to nobody -- hasn't gone away by any means. Allen's successes are just far more successful than they were last year at this time. His touchdown percentage, coming in at 8.8 percent this year, is more than double last year's 4.3 percent. The incorporation of more play-action and the addition of Stefon Diggs as a legit No. 1 receiver likely plays a significant role in that.
It's possible that Allen keeps up this statistical play. But the numbers show that his improvement is coming from more hits on big plays rather than a substantial improvement in the accuracy department. Allen and the Bills are riding high, but it only takes one patented Allen airmail at the wrong time against the best teams to lose a game. He still has more work to do if we're to consider Buffalo legit contenders this year.