New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Josh Allen lost his first three starts vs. the Patriots but has since won four of five. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

  • In the five seasons since Josh Allen was selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Jim Kubiak has analyzed every game of the Bills quarterback’s career for The Buffalo News.

    Kubiak, who spent time with several NFL teams (Colts, Panthers and Jets), played in NFL Europe and starred in the Arena Football League, writes about what he sees in a weekly column supported by videos and play diagrams. On Tuesday, I reached out to ask him to share some of those same observations over the phone.

    Mainly, I sought Kubiak’s perspective regarding aspects of Allen’s remarkable improvement against the Patriots, in particular. After throwing six interceptions the first four times he faced New England, Allen has piled up 13 touchdown passes without a pick in his last four games in the series.

    He enters Thursday night’s affair, albeit following an elbow injury amid an erratic stretch, after leading the Bills to an average of 35.5 points per game their past two visits to Foxborough. Winning by 29- and 12-point margins, Allen completed 68.7 percent of his passes for 634 yards and seven scores.

    Following is an edited transcript of my conversation with Kubiak. While touching on Allen’s recent rash of three straight two-interception games and red-zone mistakes, Kubiak explains how a once physically-gifted youngster easily overwhelmed by the Pats matured into the overwhelming force who led seven straight scoring drives the last time they met.

  • How did former Buffalo offensive coordinator Brian Daboll help Allen develop to the point where he was virtually unstoppable in last January’s postseason? 

    Allen

    Allen was the seventh pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. (Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

    I would first say, Bob, that it’s multifactorial. It’s not one element that makes him great, you know, and I think you have to credit Josh Allen himself and Brian Daboll and the Bills organization. They were able to take a guy with this incredible raw material — to give you some names — like Jamarcus Russell or Jeff George or Vinny Testarverde. I’m going back a long way, but those are guys who could throw the ball 80-plus yards. And that’s a rare thing. So you take this guy with a low completion percentage (and) raw (skills) and marry him with a guy like Daboll who developed a great relationship with him. 

    He was able to show Josh what he needed to learn. To Josh’s great credit, he was willing to learn. A guy with that kind of ability, oftentimes, at least in my experience, doesn’t want to listen all that much. Sometimes guys get stuck on what they do — ‘Look, I’m a first round pick and this is how I play’ — and Josh was never like that. He was very open to adjustments and changes in the way that he played. And I think that they grew together a philosophy of, ‘How can we win with what we have? How can we make the most of what we have?’

    It developed into this ‘11’ personnel (one back and one receiver) kind of game plan and, you know, these crazy motions with guys like (Isaiah) McKenzie and quarterback runs, where for most people the philosophical belief is that you don’t want to have your quarterback hit. 

    (Meanwhile) Ken Dorsey, who is just a fantastic quarterback coach, who’s played at a high level, could really get into the intricacies of (Allen’s) technique and where his eyes were and how his footwork (looked). So it’s also just some really good moves of personnel, in my opinion, (but) I don’t think Allen gets enough credit for his willingness to learn new things, his willingness to adapt himself. I think that’s been the thing that gets overlooked the most. He’s really tough and he’s incredibly fast for a guy his size, and he’s seems to always be going forward when he gets hit and he’s very durable and all of those things. But at the end of the day, he doesn’t get better unless he has that willingness to to adjust. 

  • To Kubiak, Allen’s ability and willingness to run and improved situational awareness have made him much more difficult to defend.

    Allen

    At 6-5 and nearly 240 pounds, Allen is dangerous on the move, whether looking to throw or deciding to run. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

    Now he’s willing to run when it’s man-under coverage. Right. He sees that and takes off or when they’re in ‘cover zero.’ Maybe Bill Belichick (decides) to blitz him and bring (pressure) from all over the place. (Allen’s) developed an operational awareness that is, you know, incredible where he understands who’s picked up and who isn’t, and he understands where to go. And he’s not just running out of the pocket. You know, he’s deciphering where to attack when someone is attacking him. I think that’s a rare thing. 

    The other thing about him that is so rare is that he has this incredible arm strength. And that arm strength literally changes the way people play defense. I mean, I’ve seen him throw it over ‘cover two.’ He’s out-throwing cover two, which is a near impossible task in itself. I’ve seen him this past week throw a middle-of-the-field, open-seam post, caught at 34 yards. (Usually) that has to be caught between 18 and 22 yards (downfield) because the safeties can get over the top and have time to make the play. Well, he gets it in there at 34 yards in the same time that a normal quarterback would get it there in 20 yards. It’s that incredible velocity. He’s also developed touch. 

    I’m a huge Bill Belichick fan. So when I talk about Belichick, I think he’s revolutionary with what he’s done with his defenses. He loves man-to-man coverage. And the reason that he loves that man-to-man coverage, in my opinion, is because so few quarterbacks can throw the ball with touch and trajectory over the top of that coverage and beat it. That has been his hallmark. That’s why he plays ‘zero’ (no deep safety). He forces quarterbacks to have to throw it early and soft and in a place where only the receiver can get it. Most guys with huge arms want to drive the ball everywhere. You can’t drive the ball against Bill Belichick because those guys will run under and undercut it. 

    So it’s a really interesting thing to watch him play against Belichick now. Does Bill play more zone now? Maybe, you know, maybe he makes him check it down 45 times, rather than come after him with cover zero and cover one. 

  • In the past, it seemed like the Patriots were comfortable defending the Bills in the red zone. Often, Allen would wind up going backwards and throwing off-balance. Against New England, that’s no longer the case.

    Allen Sitting

    In Buffalo’s last loss in Foxborough, a 24-17 final in 2019, Allen’s final play was an incompletion under duress from the Patriots’ 15-yard line. He picked himself up to throw seven TDs in his next two games at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Well, I definitely agree with you. If you look at the last seven games, I think he’s turned the ball over six times in the red zone. But before that, it was astronomical. He was having great success in the red zone. I think it’s the situational awareness that has grown. The double-edged sword for Josh Allen is that he believes he can make every throw, he believes he can make every play. So sometimes when you get in tight, the field shrinks and it’s harder to throw the ball

    What are you going to run? Crossers, slants, ‘beats?’ I mean, really, you’re pretty limited. Maybe you have an option route…I think he’s been pressing a little bit in trying to make these plays, whereas in the past you know he would throw it away and take the field goal. That’s part of his evolution that continues. 

    I think running the quarterback inside and being a better running team is is really important down there. You can see that in the last (few) weeks they’ve relied more on Devin Singletary and Nyheim Hines and trying to get McKenzie the ball on jet sweeps. 

    Part of their success in the red zone is (Josh) running the ball, right? I mean, him on the perimeter, to boot him on quarterback counter, you know, those kind of things. They do some really cool stuff, maybe a little less with Dorsey than than they did with Daboll. But a lot of their plays have like three or four options on them.

  • Singletary, as you said, has been more involved lately. Three rushing touchdowns in Weeks 10 and 11. He ran 32 times for 158 yards the last two games combined. 

    Singletary

    Devin Singletary rushed for 158 yards in Buffalo’s last two games. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

    It’s a numbers game, you know, and who’s in the box. If Buffalo goes to four wide receivers or an empty formation, you really can’t play with two safeties (low) unless you bring in a (third). Now it’s a trade off. And I think Buffalo is finding ways to run the ball and they’re more committed to running the ball, I think, this year than in the past, which is a welcome sign. I think balance is going to be really important. 

    But the thing with (Stefon) Diggs is that they’re moving him all around. I mean, you could have (Dawson) Knox outside and Diggs in the slot. They’ve got a nice complement of guys who can fill in different places and get different matchups. They’ve done a nice job of that. But I think committing to the running game has taken some pressure off Allen. 

    He’s been playing with this UCL injury. A few weeks ago I posted a video in my review of the actual play and it was a tremendous strain on that joint when you see him get hit at the end of that game (vs. the Jets). It’s amazing to me that he’s even playing. I’ve seen since the injury less of him throwing those big long shots down the field. In games prior to that, he was throwing over cover two and I mean, the ball was 65, 70 yards down the field where the defensive backs are like, ‘Holy cow!’ His intermediate passing game has been solid. But I think he’s hampered. I really do. He hasn’t taken the shots down the field like he was. So that’s another consideration. 

  • How do you assess the play of their receivers?

    Diggs

    Stefon Diggs is enjoying his fifth straight 1,000-yard season, the last three as Allen’s favorite receiver. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

    (Diggs) is always open. He’s a terrific player. They’re moving him everywhere. He’s the go-to guy. Great patience. But super competitive. And really the leader of that receiver corps. 

    (Gabe) Davis has been more of a vertical guy. What I’ve seen from him has been, you know, he’s the post (route) guy or the ‘go’ (route) guy on the outside on vertical, long passes. He’s struggled a little bit, not so much with the route running but with finishing the touches on some of the other shorter routes; some of the curls and the digs where he might be in traffic. I’m not sure why that is. He just has had some some bigger drops and he hasn’t been as consistent. But down the field, I mean, he’s the guy that has had the most success with those big long throws. 

    McKenzie, they use in motion. He’s the option guy. He’s the guy that runs the crosser versus man coverage really fast. He’s really quick. But from a route running standpoint, I don’t think he’s dependable. I don’t think he’s the little Wayne Chrebet, that kind of guy, or Julian Edelman, where you always know where he’s going to be. I don’t know if McKenzie knows where he’s going to be sometimes.

    I think (tight end) Dawson Knox goes overlooked. I mean, he’s a great receiver and a pretty good blocker. So when you put all of that together, it’s a pretty good stew, you know? And Singletary can line up anywhere and is very durable. So it’s a really nice group that’s dangerous. And I think it forces defenses to have to choose who they gonna take away. Obviously if they double Diggs, then that’s going to give someone else an opportunity.

  • Do they miss Cole Beasley, who wasn’t brought back, or Jamison Crowder, who was signed in free agency before suffering a season-ending injury?

    McKenzie

    Isaiah McKenzie, seen here vs. Minnesota, caught 11 passes for 125 yards and a TD last year in Foxborough. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

    I was more of a Crowder fan. Crowder is that veteran guy, that interior receiver that works off the linebackers and nickel backs. Beasley had a better feel for some of those option routes that they ran a lot of, but he was limited when he got to the outside. He was the jet sweep guy, so I could see where Buffalo would see McKenzie as more valuable just because of his skill set. He’s also able to be a backup returner or kickoff guy. He’s got a different skill set than Beasley.

    Bob Socci is in his 10th season calling play-by-play for the Patriots Radio Network. He’ll join Scott Zolak for tonight’s broadcast of the Pats-Bills on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

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