After the third preseason game, in which the Bills’ first-team offense and defense were dominated in every phase of the game, we are left wondering what changes will be made over the next two weeks leading up to the season opener against the Ravens, specifically in regards to the most discussed and overanalyzed position: quarterback.
So far this offseason there has been a legitimate quarterback competition. It started out as a three-way battle for the starting job between AJ McCarron, Nathan Peterman, and Josh Allen. At the start of training camp, it appeared that Allen, more than the others, needed to earn his way up the ladder to get any type of significant practice with the first unit.
Over the last month, the competition has started to sort itself out. AJ McCarron appeared to be relatively pedestrian throughout the summer. Nathan Peterman had a nice summer, displaying what the Bills saw out of him during his first preseason. His quick release, timing, and putting together of the best drives with the starters of the preseason have made him a strong candidate to win the starting job. But then Josh Allen hit all the milestones that the staff needed to see from him, not only to gain more reps with the starting unit in practice, but also to be named the starter for the third, and typically most important, preseason game. While his first start didn’t yield ideal results — and his stat line looks pretty bad — there is still a very sound case to be made to hand over the reins of the starting quarterback spot to the first round pick.
The main feature on display since the start of the quarterback competition has been Allen’s physical abilities, especially in comparison to the other two QBs. McCarron and Peterman essentially share the same physical traits: average size, average arm strength, and not particularly athletic. Then there is Josh Allen, standing tall at 6’5” with a solid frame of 238 lbs. Without even throwing, Allen simply “looks” different than the other two.
Early reports out of camp started to indicate what many expected. Tweets from beat reporters who have been to a decade or more of training camps absolutely gushing about how strong of an arm Allen has. Many said they had never seen anything quite like it, all things we heard throughout the draft process about the big-armed, small school prospect.
While his arm talent stood out in the practice setting, we weren’t fully able to see his athleticism and the separation he possesses over the other quarterbacks until the Bills played the Panthers in the first preseason game. Allen was the third QB that night, playing mostly with third and fourth string units. While Allen never forced using his athleticism, he did display it, rushing three times for 29 yards (9.7 yards per carry) and extending a few other plays, including a beautiful pass to Khari Lee towards the end of the game, on which Allen escaped the pass rush and delivered a throw off his back foot to a spot where only the receiver could get it. This is something neither of the other QBs on the roster has the ability to do.
This natural athletic ability, matched with his size, gives Josh Allen an edge over the other QBs, particularly on a team with a shaky offensive line and wide receivers who appear to struggle to gain separation. The ability to stand tall and see the field is important, but so is the ability to both extend plays and extend drives using his legs. Allen gives the Bills this additional ability to turn a broken play into a positive gain. That’s a huge asset and will be sorely needed throughout the regular season.
When the Bills traded up to draft Allen with the seventh pick in the first round, many assumed it would be a huge project to clean up the flaws in his game, which many saw. While he possessed the natural abilities mentioned above, Allen had a number of issues in his game. He showed sloppy footwork and mechanics, displayed poor decision making at times when trying to do too much or play “hero ball” forcing bad throws, and most of all had infamous struggles with accuracy.
Throughout training camp and the preseason, many of those who were against the Allen pick had their minds changed as they watched the young first-rounder progress before their eyes. While he didn’t play perfectly by any means and still had a low completion percentage this preseason, Allen showed a lot of progress from his time at Wyoming, not only in his footwork and mechanics, but also in his ability to process what was happening in the game. You saw it on his first touchdown pass to Ray-Ray McCloud in the Panthers game. He saw what the defense was doing, manipulated the cornerback into squatting on a route by using a slight shoulder movement, then delivered a throw only he could’ve made.
The coaching staff has been raving about how coachable Allen is, and this is apparent in his ability to progress so quickly from the moment he was drafted. He’s much further ahead than many expected he would be in such a short time. Playing against top NFL defenses who are game planning against him for a season is only going to give him more ability to continue to grow and progress.
Keeping His Cool
There were a number of examples of Josh Allen being able to stay cool in big moments throughout this summer. Starting in the first game against the Panthers, Allen had one of the “hero ball” moments that made many analysts nervous of him as an NFL prospect. On a 3rd down, he extended the play, didn’t have anything, and tried to force a pass on his way to the ground. It was deflected and almost intercepted. Allen came back after that and played an excellent game, seemingly unshaken by his mistake, including a very nice drive late in the fourth quarter that led to a touchdown and featured Allen extending plays and making throws only he has shown the ability to make.
During the game against the Browns, Allen was given the opportunity to lead a two-minute drill to end the first half. Granted, he was given good field position, but Allen led the team into field goal range and kept his cool, even when plays broke down around him. Again, he used his athletic ability to move the ball and extend the drive.
Then, due to his play the previous two weeks, progress throughout camp, and ability to hit the milestones put in place for him, Josh Allen earned the start against the Bengals for game three. His performance ended up less than ideal for fans watching and hoping that Allen would take the reins as the franchise QB. However, if you ignore the stat line and take a deeper look into the game and what happened, you will see a young QB who kept his composure in a very difficult situation. The pressure of knowing you need to perform well to win the starting job and having nothing go right for you and the unit you are leading can frustrate young quarterbacks. Allen remained calm, didn’t regress to poor mechanics, did not force the “hero ball” style everyone feared, and just kept going out each possession and trying to get the team in a rhythm. It never happened. Allen and the first unit didn’t play well. Things were far from ideal for the first-round pick in his first start with all eyes on him. Yet he showed that he can stay level-headed when his team is committing penalties, when pass protection is nonexistent, and when guys are missing their assignments. While it doesn’t look good to fans and the boxscore looks even worse, that performance is another milestone checked off for the young QB because he showed composure. That’s an experience that you can’t practice for.
Best Chance to Win
At the end of the day, all of the aforementioned assets of Josh Allen give the Bills the best chance to win games in 2018. This isn’t to say that Nathan Peterman hasn’t done enough to win the starting job throughout the preseason, because he’s played well. However, Josh Allen has shown the coaches that he is much farther ahead in his development than almost everyone expected he would be at this point. Add that to the fact that his natural ability gives the team much more versatility in their ability to attack a defense, as well as being much more difficult to gameplan against.
The sky’s the limit for a prospect like Allen. There will be plenty of conservative arguments to ease him into the starting role over time. However, there is still a sound case to be made that he indeed gives the team the best chance to win and that playing will only allow him to continue to develop into the franchise quarterback he was drafted to be.