Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen entered Week 1 of the 2021 NFL Season with sky-high expectations. Coming off an MVP-caliber season that earned him a $258 million contract, Allen was expected to pick up where he left off from last year’s regular season. But instead, the 25-year old looked like the erratic passer we last saw in the AFC Championship Game in Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Allen was inconsistent and rather disappointing in Buffalo’s 23-16 loss to the Steelers, completing 30-of-51 passes for 270 yards and one touchdown, adding 44 rushing yards on nine carries. He fumbled twice, losing one during a T.J. Watt sack.
Allen, who was under pressure for most of the game, seemingly tried to do too much, forcing passes that simply weren’t there. And when the deep plays were there, he missed them. Following the game, Allen spoke to the media and took the blame for the loss, saying that he was too aggressive at times and possibly had some first-game jitters to shake off.
“We go into each game expecting to win, but we understand that it’s a long season,” Allen said in his post-game press conference. “[There is] a lot to learn from with this tape, starting with me. Early on, just maybe being too aggressive instead of finding some easier things, some easier throws. But hats off to a really good team, they had a really good plan today.”
While opportunities for big plays in the passing game were limited, Allen missed on two deep passes. One in particular – to Emmanuel Sanders – stung the most. When asked if he was possibly pressing the issue too much due to the lack of productivity on offense, Allen pointed to that throw as one that he wishes to do over.
“Certain situations in the game, you have to figure out how to get something going,” said Allen. “We didn’t have everything today. Early on, missing some things. Missing Emmanuel [Sanders] on the deep throw, obviously that’s one I want back. When a defense like this gives you that opportunity, you got to execute and make those plays happen. I didn’t.
“Whether it be first game nerves or jitters, or feeling stuff with my feet. I’ve got to be better, play better. I know that. But we’re going to learn from this, we’re not going to panic. There are 16 games left. We know what we need to do, we’re going to look at the film and work and strive to get better.
The Steelers’ defense harrassed Allen all game, thanks to some incredibly poor play by Buffalo’s offensive line. In addition to allowing three sacks and eight quarterback hits, the Bills were flagged for holding a whopping five times. Pittsburgh was able to do this by rushing just four, and sometimes three rushers.
The ease in which Pittsburgh generated pressure without blitzing allowed the Steelers’ back seven to play tight coverage on the Bills’ wideouts, even when they went five-wide in empty formations.
“I was talking to some of the wideouts in there. There weren’t many times we got 1-on-1’s,” wide receiver Cole Beasley said. “It was someone playing hard leverage on one side and someone waiting for us on the other side. So they have a good scheme and they made it tough. But we’ve got to be better and we’ve got to make plays.”
This swarming coverage and tight spacing in the backend limited what Buffalo’s receivers were able to do after the catch. When Allen did have time to throw, he force-fed his top two receivers – Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley – who saw a combined 27 targets in the game. They combined to make 17 catches for just 129 yards, averaging a measly 7.9 yards-per-reception.
Allen wouldn’t blame his offensive line for the amount of pressure he faced, though. Instead, he acknowledged that he should’ve went for more quick, simple completions that would extend drives and wear down Pittsburgh’s pass rushers.
“Finding completions early on, quick ones, to help myself and the line,” Allen says is what he should have done on Sunday. “Try to get these guys’ hands down and tired. That’s something I didn’t do. Against a good team like this, you can’t give them an opportunity to pin their ears back in third-and-long situations and I think we did that too many times. We’ll learn from it.”