To take the next step

How can Josh Allen take the next step as the Bills' quarterback this season?

Howard Simon
July 17, 2019 - 6:43 am

Photo: Rich Barnes - USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago, we had Chris Simms from NBC Sports on our show to talk about Josh Allen. Simms had put together a top-40 countdown of quarterbacks and Allen was ranked 23rd. I knew he was a fan of Allen, but was still taken aback by his unbridled enthusiasm for the Bills quarterback going into season No. 2. Simms talked about the idea of Allen being considered one of the top-10 quarterbacks in the NFL by the end of the 2019 campaign.

I wish I could share Simms’ enthusiasm.

When it comes to my opinion of Allen as we approach Year 2, I’m not far removed from where I was a year ago at this time. I still don’t know exactly what the Buffalo Bills have, and it's more hope than belief that Allen will be the long sought after answer at that critical position. While there were some positives in Allen’s rookie season, we are far from where the Cleveland Browns are with huge expectations of Baker Mayfield after an impressive rookie showing.

The day after we had Simms on our show, we asked Bills fans where their level of optimism was for Allen using a scale of one to 10. My answer was six. One means you think he is a complete bust and has no chance at all. 10 means he is destined for stardom. Five means you still have no idea based on his 11 starts last season.

I nudged it up to six because Allen cleared the incredibly low bar I have for quarterbacks who start in their rookie year. My bar is set at don’t throw up all over yourself. Don’t have the deer in headlights look while also becoming a turnover machine. The bar should probably be higher for a guy like Mayfield, who was a star at the highest level of Division-I football while earning personal and team accolades at Oklahoma as opposed to Allen, who had a middling career at Wyoming.

Allen took over as the starter in Buffalo sooner than I had anticipated, and certainly went through some growing pains before being sidelined by injury. I also nudged my number on Allen up to six because I thought he looked better after returning from the injury. He seemed to be a little more comfortable in his role as leader of the offense. He did a better job of taking what the defense was giving, in terms of short-to-intermediate range passes. He developed a nice chemistry with second-year pro Zay Jones, as well as rookie receiver Robert Foster.

I don’t think there were ever any questions about his toughness, but he certainly showed it by hanging in the pocket, at times, and taking a big hit to complete a big pass play.

The Jacksonville Jaguars game comes to mind for that category. His running ability turned out to be the best weapon the offense had over the final half of the season. Allen was the reason why the Bills came back in the second half and almost pulled out a win over the Miami Dolphins on the road. That would have been a nice addition for his list of memorable victories along with Jacksonville and the Minnesota Vikings because Allen’s arm and legs would have been the key factors in that triumph. He was playing the role of quarterback carrying his team that day.

Having said that, there is obviously plenty of room for improvement. I don’t think Allen will ever be a high completion percentage quarterback, but can he get to 60%?

I do believe there were a number of reasons for his 52% showing last season, including the weapons (or lack thereof) in the passing game, as well as his inclination to go for bigger throws downfield rather than settle for the higher percentage but shorter throw. I like a quarterback who believes he can always make the big play, but it just doesn’t happen that way and the adjustment of his mindset and ability to take a four or five-yard gain, at times, will be something to look for this season.

Allen will also be expected to take the next step in his development after an offseason that saw the Bills overhaul the offense and for good reason.

Opening day will likely feature four new starters on the offensive line and two new wide receivers. There are three new running backs on the depth chart and three new tight ends, although Tyler Kroft is injured and might not be ready by Week 1.

The coaching staff was part of the overhaul too.

The Bills have new assistants working with the line, the receivers and the quarterbacks. The good news is Allen gets to work with the same offensive coordinator for a second straight season in Brian Daboll, so hopefully continuity will aid in his development.

I haven’t spent much time thinking about what I’d like to see in Allen’s stat line this season, but since you probably would have asked, I already mentioned a better completion percentage. Can he get to 60%?

Last season, of the quarterbacks who had at least 10 starts, Allen and fellow rookies Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen were the only ones who had a completion percentage under 60%. Asking for at least 3,200 passing yards (an average of 200 yards per-game) doesn’t seem like a big ask. Last season, 3,200 yards would have put Allen 21st overall. How about 24 passing touchdowns, which is an average of one and a half per-game? Mitchell Trubisky threw for 24 touchdowns last season, and that was good enough for 14th best.

Numbers like that won’t move Allen into top-10 consideration like Chris Simms is thinking, but they should be good enough to have the Bills in playoff contention, if not in Wild Card weekend.

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