Early returns exciting for Josh Allen in Bills’ revamped passing game

Early returns exciting for Josh Allen in Bills’ revamped passing game

Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane’s goal this offseason was clear — improve the offense, specifically the passing game. He knows for the Bills to contend in a conference with explosive juggernauts such as the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo cannot be one-dimensional.

It’s why Beane traded for wide receiver Stefon Diggs and drafted receivers Gabriel Davis and Isaiah Hodgins this spring. After producing the third-fewest passing yards in the NFL over the past two seasons, the Bills’ weakest point was clear. With a developing quarterback in third-year starter Josh Allen, that statistic wasn’t lost on Beane.

“The key in this league is you have to be able to throw it when other teams know you’re going to throw it,” he said in April. “You can’t control things. Penalties happen, lost yardage, whatever. You’re going to be in third-and-long when everyone in the building knows you have to throw the ball. In those situations, that is an area we have to improve.

In his first opportunity to show he can beat teams with his arm, Allen passed with flying colors. He completed 33 of 46 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-17 win against the New York Jets in Week 1, eclipsing the 300-yard mark for the first time in his pro career. Facing the league’s second-best rush defense from a season ago, the Bills figured they would have to move the ball effectively through the air in order to get their offense going Sunday. As a result, Allen tied his career-high in passing attempts and set a new one for completions.

Allen said after the game one of Buffalo’s goals was to get the ball in the hands of its playmakers. In order to do so, coordinator Brian Daboll dialed up 22 plays with four receivers on the field, according to NFL Next Gen Stats data, something he seldom called for in 2019. In fact, the Bills ran six plays with four receivers on the field all of last season.

This isn’t a complete shift in Buffalo’s offensive focus; on the contrary, Beane said the team wants to “be able to run that rock when it’s windy or snowy,” particularly late in the season. But the latest wrinkle to the Bills’ offense gave Allen plenty of options whenever he dropped back, and he said it made him “100%” comfortable when he did.

Allen was the league’s second-least accurate quarterback with at least 16 starts over the past two seasons, but he looked in command on Sunday.

“We started off with some really good playcalls to get me in a rhythm,” Allen said. “I did a good job today of letting the game come to me and not try to force things early on. I know people want to see the deep to Stef, the deep to John [Brown], and shoot, I want to throw those but you’ve got to be smart and check down when necessary.

“That’s what I think we did a good job of today. Our guys underneath were patient, and when they caught the ball, they made some guys miss and got some yards after the catch.”

The Bills won convincingly against New York, in large part because of Allen’s proficiency through the air. On the ground, Buffalo’s eighth-ranked rushing offense from a season ago struggled to move the ball. Allen ran for 57 yards and a score on 14 carries, but outside of his production, the Bills ran for 41 yards on 18 carries.

Sunday’s win might not be the new normal as Beane previously mentioned, the Bills still want to run the ball. They might return to a more run-heavy approach Sunday in Week 2 on the road against the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS). But their first win inspired confidence they could survive a shootout with one of the seven top-12 offenses from a season ago they will play this season.

“We don’t want to throw it every game. It will still be team-specific, opponent-specific,” Beane said. “If we feel we’re playing an opponent who is weak with us running up the middle or running on the edges or the screen game, whatever it is, Brian Daboll and his staff will see that, and that’s what they will attack.

“I wouldn’t say, ‘Hey, the Bills are going to go out and throw it 40 times a week.’ But if it’s a game where we have to throw it 40 times because we’re playing against one of these high-powered offenses and we have to keep up, that’s what we’ll do. We want to be able to play any style that we need to.”