In this series of articles, our resident tape wizard Greg Cosell will take an in-depth look at some of the more interesting fantasy players for the 2020 NFL season. It’s a peek behind the curtain of the film room, as these are Greg’s raw, unfiltered notes he takes as he watches a player.
One of the most debated players in all of football is Bills QB Josh Allen. The #BillsMafia defends him like a first-born son. The non-affiliated Twitter crowd likes to poke the bear and troll. Allen is fascinating because his strengths and weaknesses are readily apparent, and both his strengths and weaknesses are explosive. But does the film show an improving player throughout the 2019 season, or someone who will forever struggle to get past his shortcomings?
Allen is Imposing physically both with arm strength and movement ability.
Allen is of course capable of “wow” plays with his arm and his legs. He flashed the ability to make outstanding velocity and ball-placement throws off movement.
Allen is much more of a “see it, throw it” passer than a timing and anticipation passer. But elite arm strength, at times, allowed Allen to drive the ball for completions even when he was a beat late.
Allen’s ball placement is erratic and inconsistent. There were times as the season progressed it looked like he had improved, but then he would miss routine throws.
One area in which there was clear improvement throughout the sea was the short throws to slot WR Cole Beasley, throws that demanded some pace and touch and precise ball placement. These are drive-sustaining throws on third down.
Allen really struggled with accuracy on deep throws. He overthrew open receivers consistently.
Allen’s lower-body mechanics continued to be an issue throughout the season. He made too many throws without a firm base and the needed balance, and too many throws in which his front foot did not step to the throw.
There was a random and, at times, reckless feel to Allen’s play. You did not get a sense of discipline and precision studying his tape.
Allen must continue to get better before the snap of the ball – overall he needs to improve his elimination and isolation acuity.
Allen left too many throws on the field with poor ball placement. That must improve, or there will always be an inconsistency to Allen’s game that his teammates and coaches will need to compensate for.
Week 1: Jets
- Allen stats: 24/37 for 254 yards with 1 TD and 2 INT.
- Quick game and mesh (second-and-2, a man-to-man defense situation) were the concepts on the first two Allen drop backs. This creates defined reads and throws.
- “Mesh” is clearly a part of the Bills pass game approach. It’s an effective concept versus man and zone, with a sit route behind the crossing mesh concept.
- Good plan by Bills OC Brian Daboll with calculated pre-snap formation changes to minimize Jets DC Gregg Williams multiple alignments and looks. That can ease the burden on a young QB.
- Empty sets were also part of Daboll;s game plan, predominantly out of “21” personnel, but also out of “11”: this creates quick-game throws versus a defense that had to declare its intentions before the snap.
- Bills featured 21 personnel with fullback Patrick DiMarco as a game-planned foundational approach, DiMarco lined up all over the formation.
- Bills pass game featured quick-game throws, all a part of the plan to limit Allen’s reading and define the reads and throws.
- Bills featured 2-man boundary concepts out of 3x1 and 1x3 sets — basic reading concepts for Allen.
- TE Tommy Sweeney 29-yard gain in the second quarter came on a well-designed three-man boundary cover-2 beater concept.
- Allen worked the outside one-on-ones effectively on the game-winning TD drive. The route concepts to trips isolated the #1 WR.
- Allen has a tendency to lack pace and touch on short throws. He puts too much velocity on them, negatively impacting ball placement and catchability.
- Allen is early in his development as a progression reader. He has a tendency to focus on the primary read, then pull it down and move if the read isn’t clean.
- Allen has a tendency to be impatient in the pocket. At times, he perceived pressure and broke down and abandoned the pocket too early.
- DiMarco played 31 of 66 snaps. Cody Ford and Ty Nsekhe rotated at RT, with Ford playing 36 snaps and Nsekhe 30 snaps.
Week 5: Titans
- Allen stats: 23/32, 219 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT.
- FB DiMarco played only 9 of 64 snaps in this game. The Bills played many more snaps of 11 personnel.
- Empty sets continued to be a foundational formation concept for Buffalo. Against the Titans, they came predominantly out of 11 personnel.
- Beasley featured on pivot routes, choice routes, option routes, and sit routes, especially on third down.
- The Titans are among the best defenses in the NFL at third-down pre-snap disguise, showing pressure looks/fronts, then dropping into zone coverage concepts behind four and five-man pressures. These concepts were predominantly cover 2, but also cover 3 and cover 4.
- Allen flashed controlled pocket movement, avoiding inside pressure, then resetting and making a tough, accurate throw.
- Allen also showed a more advanced sense of pocket patience and progression reading than he had in Week 1.
- WR Duke Williams 7-yard TD came on a well-designed shotgun power run action with a quick inside throw by Allen. Allen made a great throw with precise ball placement with needed touch.
- Overall, Allen looked more comfortable versus Titans (coming off a bad game versus Patriots) — a positive sign in his development.
Week 11: Dolphins
- Allen stats: 21/33, 256 yards, 3 TD.
- This was an 11 personnel game for the Bills: WRs John Brown (70), Cole Beasley (64) and Isaiah McKenzie (55) all played at least 55 of 71 snaps.
- One thing that continued to show up with Allen was that he had too much head movement in the pocket. There were snaps in which he did not have a “calm helmet” — that results from lack of clarity and an inability to eliminate and isolate.
- Throughout the season, the Bills featured Brown as the boundary X on the back side of trips out of 11 personnel.
- Brown 40-yard TD bea thet Dolphins disguised late movement to cover 2: big-time hole shot throw by Allen with velocity and precise ball placement. Allen made an excellent progression read versus coverage he did not expect when the ball was snapped.
- What consistently stood out was Allen could just “flick it” and get excellent velocity.
- Bills “shot plays” feature verticals and crossers and digs – Allen missed one badly to a wide-open Brown on the crosser.
- Allen still has too many snaps in which his ball placement is lacking on routine NFL throws, and too many snaps in which he predetermined his read and throw – Allen has scattershot tendencies.
- Bills featured the RPO game as the season progressed – what was important with these is Allen made improvement in quick-game throws that demanded some pace and touch.
- Empty sets again part of Bills pass game: against the Dolphins, empty was featured out of 11 personnel.
Week 13: Cowboys
- Allen stats: 19/24, 231 yards, 1 TD
- This was another heavy 11 personnel game for the Bills – McKenzie and Robert Foster played about same number of snaps as the third WR.
- Allen is not a pure anticipation passer at this point, he’s much more of a ‘see-it/throw-it” passer.
- Allen showed the ability to make outstanding throws off movement. He can utilize velocity and ball placement at the intermediate levels while on the move.
- Bills showed RPO game with quick slants and flat routes.
- Cowboys featured multiple stunt concepts out of sub fronts, including long sticks.
- Bills “shot play” concept: double post from twins or trips with back side crosser from the boundary.
- My sense watching the Bills tape was RB Devin Singletary needed work in pass protection, both with front recognition and blocking execution.
- Bills again featured empty sets as a foundational part of their pass game.
- Allen’s movement ability was a big factor in this game. He made some big-time throws reacting to pressure and moving to his right, including Beasley 25-yard TD.
- Allen was more consistent with his ball placement as the season progressed – he will likely never be a true precision passer but was less scattershot.
- Beasley is excellent at creating separation at the top of his route stem on his staple short and intermediate routes.
- Allen was given more responsibility at the line of scrimmage as the season progressed – it resulted in the Bills playing more snaps of tempo.
- There were snaps in which Allen was quicker to eliminate and isolate in regards to route concepts versus anticipated coverage.
- Bills continued to feature 1x3 sets out of 11 personnel with TE Dawson Knox the boundary X in multiple splits.
- Allen was very efficient throwing the short game vs. Cowboys with better pace, touch and ball placement – the pass game had a sustaining element.
- Bills did an excellent job versus Cowboys man coverage with man-beater concepts to define throws for Allen. They were especially effective on third down.
Wild Card: Texans
- Allen stats: 24/46, 264 yards.
- Fullback DiMarco more snaps in this game: 19 overall snaps, his third-highest total of the 2019 season.
- Bills continued to run mesh — good-man beater concept, but also gives the QB an answer versus zone
- Bills continued to feature shot plays off play action, out of 12, 21, and 11 personnel – they used different vertical route concepts based on personnel and formation.
- Bills showed “bang” play action concept out of 21 personnel straight I formation: Allen was given a five-step timing drop off power run action, hitting Duke Williams on a five-step slant route.
- Bills featured empty sets out of 21 personnel, DiMarco would predominantly line up as the #1 to trips.
- Bills plated more base personnel groupings versus Texans with 12 and 21 personnel. TE Lee Smith (25) and Tyler Kroft (20) both played significant snaps.
- Allen had too many snaps in which he broke down in the pocket prematurely, the lack of discipline crept back into his game.
- Allen at times was too reckless and undisciplined. He also had issues with ball placement – two areas that have been consistent concerns.
Allen vs. Patriots: Weeks 4 and 16
- The Bills knew they would get man coverage from Patriots: started with quick-game man-beater route concepts.
- CB Stephon Gilmore was the matchup on Brown in Patriots man coverage.
- On Buffalo’s first third down, the Patriots showed pressure front out of dollar, and rushed five with two more defenders “green dogging.”
- Bills took a shot play on the first possession after Patriots penalty — post-cross concept.
- Allen’s first interception: throw was late on post to Brown versus 2-shell zone coverage, Bills had no route to control back side safety Devin McCourty – Allen never should have made that throw.
- Allen with scattershot ball placement on first couple of possessions. He missed easy quick game man beater throws.
- Patriots dialed up a zero blitz out of base in Bills plus territory on the third possession . The Patriots had an aggressive game plan with pressure fronts and multiple pressure concepts.
- Patriots game plan featured high percentage man coverage, at times with a spy on Allen depending on down and distance. LB Jamie Collins was predominantly the spy.
- Bills receivers struggled to separate and win when they ran isolation routes, Allen got stuck in the pocket with no defined throw on too many snaps.
- Allen’s second interception: shot play and Allen underthrew WR Zay Jones on the deep over route versus cover 1. Allen slid left in the pocket (did he need to?) and flicked the pass with no firm base and poor lower-body mechanics.
- Allen missed too many throws with poor ball placement – consistently poor lower-body mechanics. His feet and eyes did not work together.
- Bills started the third quarter with an excellent man-beater concept: mesh with Allen quickly hitting open RB TJ Yeldon on the wheel for 23 yards.
- Allen made two big second-reaction throws on the Bills’ first possession of the third quarter.
- Patriots mixed coverages more in the third quarter, playing more snaps of zone.
- Singletary clearly the #1 back, He played all but two snaps; Bills featured 11 and 12 personnel, DiMarco only played six snaps.
- Gilmore again the matchup on Brown in man coverage – Patriots again featured higher percentage man coverage.
- Bills game plan featured play-action boot, getting Allen outside the pocket by design.
- Bills again did a good job with man-beater concepts in the quick game – this defines the read and throw for Allen.
- Bills continued to feature 1x3 sets out of 11 personnel with Knox the boundary X – Knox has the receiving ability to be a factor as a boundary receiver.
- Bills ran some RPO concepts featuring slant routes – they ran them throughout the season.
- Patriots were not as aggressive with pressure concepts in the second matchup. However, they did go zero blitz out of dime with less than four minutes remaining in Bills plus territory.
- Allen overthrew an open Knox in the end zone from the 9-yard line at the 2:00 warning, for a TD that would have tied the game – it’s the kind of throw Allen needs to make in that situation. You could see his feet were unsettled in the pocket.
- Patriots went off coverage zero blitz on fourth-and-goal from the 15-yard line. The Bills protection concept (unless Singletary made a mistake) had no blocker to account for blitzing Collins.