Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen starts season slow statistically

Franchise quarterback sluggish in numerous areas of strength from his breakout 2020 season

Josh Allen against the Miami Dolphns on September 19, 2021. Allen led the Bills to a 13-3 record and was the runner-up as MVP of the league in 2020, but has started slow in his first two games of 2021.  BILL WIPPERT, BUFFALO BILLS

Success begets high expectations, and in sports, high expectations beget immediate criticism and over-reaction if those lofty standards are not met. 

This is certainly the case for Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who after a tremendous breakout campaign in 2020 that saw him finish runner-up to Aaron Rodgers in MVP voting, has started slow in both of his games in 2021, despite the Bills bouncing back from a week one loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers with a dominant 35-0 victory over the Miami Dolphins in week two.

While the sample size for the 2021 season is still miniscule with just under 100 dropbacks for the California native, having an off-game or two is something that can easily sway the outlook of a potential MVP campaign.

Allen’s 2020 campaign had little in the way of off-games, dipping below an 80 quarterback rating five times in 16 games, and below a 60 per-cent completion percentage just twice – a total he has already matched this season.

The Bills success last year had Allen firmly at the forefront given how much he was tasked to carry the load for the offence.

Per Sharp Football Stats, no team in the NFL used more three or more wide receiver sets than the 2020 Bills, which accounted for 88.6 per-cent of their offensive plays, more than six per-cent above the Cincinnati Bengals in second. 

This led to Allen completing 302 passes to his wideouts, the most by any quarterback in the past six seasons, most of which went to the league-leader in targets, receptions and receiving yards, Stefon Diggs.

This year’s iteration of the Bills seemed primed to expand upon that success, bringing in veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders, along with Allen having a full offseason to train with Diggs and Gabriel Davis for the first time, but the results have been shaky to start.

The Bills have still been using wide receiver-heavy sets (they’re using three or more wide receiver sets on 88 per-cent of plays) along with keeping up on the volume of targets to the position (31.0 targets per game in 2021 compared to 25.7 per game in 2020), but the efficiency hasn’t been the same. 

Allen has been on-target on 61.3 per-cent of his throws to the wideout position in 2021, with an average depth of target of 11.4 yards downfield, compared to being on target on 82.7 per-cent on an average depth of target of 9.9 yards downfield.

The intermediate and deep game has been the difference so far, with Allen being on target on 41.4 per-cent of his throws 10+ yards downfield, nearly 25 per-cent lower than last year’s stellar 66.1 per-cent on the same throws, something NFL Hall of Famer Kurt Warner largely attributed to passing up on his checkdowns to try to force bigger plays.

“[Josh Allen struggled with his] technique,” said Kurt Warner in his breakdown of Josh Allen’s week one game against the Steelers. ‘[His] throws [were] getting away from him, [he was] missing a number of reads, [and was] a little bit late on a number of things that I expect him to clean up on.”

While the University of Wyoming alum may be rusty on his reads, he’s been more trigger happy this year, releasing the ball an average of 2.79 seconds after the snap (12th in the NFL, as tracked by Pro Football Focus), compared to 2.99 seconds last year, which ranked behind only Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson.

This may be due in part to being pressured on 40.4 per-cent of his dropbacks compared to 37.1 per-cent in 2020, but Allen possesses a rare combination of speed, poise, and a rocket of an arm, which can be deadly when he holds onto the ball as long as he can. 

This patented ability made an appearance on Sunday with his first touchdown connection of the year to his favourite target Stefon Diggs.


It should be noted that the Bills have also drawn arguably the most difficult secondary assignment in the NFL to start, with the Steelers and Dolphins ranking second and fourth respectively in expected points added per play in 2020 according to Sports Info Solutions.

While the Steelers used their cornerbacks in man coverage on only 21.2 per-cent of coverage snaps against the Bills according to Pro Football Focus, the Dolphins, who were one of only two teams to use their corners in man coverage on over 50 per-cent of coverage snaps in 2020, dialed that usage up to 65.4 per-cent against the Bills in week two. 

While this should suit the Bills considering Allen led the NFL in EPA against man coverage in 2020 per Sports Info Solutions, and Diggs led the league by a longshot in receiving yards versus man coverage, Allen ended up with a dismal stat-line of 4/12 completions, 55 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception when the Dolphins utilized their corners in man coverage.

In the grand scheme of things, the Bills are 1-1 and still heavily favoured to win their division, so these early season struggles will likely be forgotten.

But for Bills fans with aspirations of some individual accolades for their star quarterback, he’s behind the eight ball to start.

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Posted: Sep 23 2021 10:22 am
Filed under: Football Sports