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Jim Kubiak: Bills' Josh Allen's 'bad misses,' protection errors are undoing vs. Chiefs

Jim Kubiak: Bills' Josh Allen's 'bad misses,' protection errors are undoing vs. Chiefs

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Jim Kubiak has been analyzing the play of Buffalo Bills quarterbacks for BNBlitz.com. Kubiak is the all-time leading passer at Navy, has played in the NFL, NFL Europe and the Arena Football League and has been a coach and executive in the AFL. He spent eight years as the radio analyst for the University at Buffalo and runs the Western New York Quarterback Academy to help develop the next generation of quarterbacks.

Quarterbacks are evaluated each quarter using a “Doing Your Job” grading system for every play that takes into account the quarterback’s responsibilities and outcome. 

Overall

Josh Allen completed 14 of 27 attempts for 122 yards, threw two touchdowns and one interception, and struggled to find his rhythm in compiling a season-low performance grade of 87.38% in the a 26-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. 

The Chiefs’ secondary was physical with the Bills receivers, which affected the timing of routes, and the defensive pass rush agitated Allen in the pocket and elsewhere. Allen and Patrick Mahomes appeared to have difficulty with the wet footballs, but Mahomes finished with 80.7% completion percentage to Allen’s 58%. The difference was Mahome’s ability to sustain drives with his movement and patience, continuously completing passes underneath and between the Bills’ zone secondary schemes.

Allen had six passing attempts that can be best described as “bad misses.” There were opportunities, either running across the field or out in the flat in which Allen was simply not able to get the football to the open receiver. In the NFL, execution on these open throws is expected to be flawless. If Allen had completed these basic throws, his 58% completion percentage would have jumped to 74%, and might have led to a different outcome. Six misfires of 27 opportunities is 23% of the passing game.

The Bills had little to no chance of defeating the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs while operating with a passing game tank that was only three-quarters full.

First quarter

Play selection: 19 plays – 10 passes, nine runs.

Allen: 3 for 10 for 21 yards, three carries for 17 yards.

Performance grade: 84%.

Score: Chiefs, 7-3.

Allen missed his first two passes of the game as he looked indecisive and fundamentally askew.

Cole Beasley was lined up in the slot to Allen’s left and ran an option route. He used his outside leverage and turned into the open flat. Allen appeared to correctly read the defense and the play, but he misfired with a low and inside throw.

John Brown was the outside receiver to Allen’s right and was lined up tight to the end man on the line of scrimmage.  He came across the field with a man-to-man defender chasing. Allen recognized it was man and had an opportunity for an easy completion on the 8-yard shallow route but misfired over Brown’s head. 

Unfortunately, throws like this early in the game set the tone and put the Bills’ offense in third-and-long situations. 

On the next play, Allen made an amazing throw while shuffling to his left from pressure to Brown. Allen made this off-balance throw look effortless as Brown came out of his break on the out route. Brown slipped and a great throw bounced off Brown’s facemask incomplete.

Allen showed off his remarkable running ability on the second series, scrambling on third-and-9 for an important first down.

Three plays later, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll called a flea-flicker, faking the run inside to Singletary, who then pitched it back to Allen. Allen sent a 60-yard rocket down the field to a streaking Brown on the post route.

Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill was able to deflect the pass away at the last second, preventing the touchdown.  This was a powerful throw in the rain by Allen, who was under duress, again demonstrating his arm strength.

On this third-and-7 play, Allen showed how he sometimes reverts to his college days and tries to run against the blitz. In the NFL, he must learn to take advantage of his hot receiver.

The Chiefs had blitzed seven rushers into the Bills’ five-man protection. Singletary got a free release into the right flat for the purpose of being Allen’s “hot” receiver, in the event the defense blitzed six or seven defenders. If Allen responded appropriately, Singletary might have scored as the Chiefs failed to account for him in coverage and he was wide open.

Protections are a quarterback’s first priority in the NFL. Each passing play has a protection that has rules for hot throws. If the defense blitzes players who are not accounted for the quarterback’s job is to throw the football to the hot receiver. This acts as a counterpunch to an overly hostile defensive posture. If a defense blitzes linebackers and leaves the flat open, quarterbacks must take advantage. Unfortunately, Allen’s reaction was to fade away and escape rather than decisively stand in there and deliver the ball to the flat.

Allen would have been hit, but he also would have countered the Chiefs’ attacking nature with a huge gain on a quick, short pass. This must be Allen’s area of improvement if he is going to take the Bills to the next level.

Buffalo kicked a field goal on the next play and took a 3-0.

Second quarter

Play selection: 16 plays – six passes, 10 runs.

Allen: 3 for 6 passing, 21 yards, one touchdown. Three carries for 16 yards.

Performance grade: 93.75%.

Score: Chiefs, 13-10.

The Chiefs did an excellent job defensively in disrupting and confusing Allen with various secondary looks and creating pressure in the pocket. On the third play of the second quarter, Allen launched a deep post to Stefon Diggs down the middle.

The Chiefs’ defensive secondary initially looked like they were playing man to man. At the snap, however, both cornerbacks jumped to outside leverage and bailed out. They showed Cover 1 (man-to-man with one deep safety), but after Allen had the ball in his hands they played Cover 4 (zone 4 deep).  Allen was unsure due to the great disguise and this caused him to hesitate on the throw. Allen should have recognized the four-deep coverage and known immediately that the routes in the flat would be open based on what he knows about Cover 4. Brown was wide open in the left flat, on a pivot route. It was this kind of a night for Allen, who struggled for completions.

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll went back to the running game in the second quarter and called on Allen for some of that production.

This lead-draw scheme allowed the Bills to have one more blocker (Moss) at the point of attack that provided an added dimension to their ineffective rushing attack. This lead-draw blocking scheme differs from the zone-read concepts because the zone-read concept blocks for the zone running play, with Allen reading the unblocked player. Allen’s job should be to keep the ball, without any blockers, if the unaccounted-for defender can tackle the zone running back.

In the lead-draw scheme, Allen has a wall of blockers in front of him on the left side, including his running back, Moss, to account for every defender. Allen is bigger and more physical than he is quick.  Blocking for him makes more sense and fits his skill set better than putting him in situations in which he has to avoid unblocked defenders on his own.

A couple of plays later Allen recognized an impending blitz and audibled to a fade route to Diggs.

Allen aggressively changed the play when he realized the Chiefs were coming after him with an all-out blitz. Cover 0 is man-to-man with no safeties and Allen knew he would have one-on-one coverage down the field on Diggs. Cornerback Charvarius Ward grabbed Diggs as Allen’s throw was in the air, preventing him from making a play on the ball. It was an exceptional job by Allen in changing the play and attacking the coverage weakness down the field. The pass interference resulted in a first-and-goal.

On the next play, Allen rolled to his right off of a play-action fake, and found Diggs for the touchdown.

Here, Diggs adjusted his pivot route to the extended nature of the play as Allen drifted to his right waiting for something to open. This was intelligent movement by Diggs, who took his defender inside, then outside. The key to Diggs getting himself open was his movement up the field, which created defensive momentum in that direction, and then coming back to Allen at the sideline. Allen put the ball in a terrific spot where only Diggs could get his hands on it. This highlighted the connection that has developed between Diggs and Allen as they seemingly knew what the other was thinking.

The Bills had a late opportunity for a field goal, trailing 13-10 following a Kansas City Chiefs’ turnover. They had 6 seconds left and knew they had to get out of bounds immediately following a reception.

Diggs and Allen were again on the same page. This adjustment by Allen and recognition that Diggs was uncovered allowed Diggs an easy catch and the opportunity to get into field goal range and out of bounds uncontested. This was a coverage mistake defensively by the Chiefs, who played extraordinarily deep in the secondary. The Chiefs were guarding against a long throw by Allen into the end zone.

Unfortunately, for the Bills, the field goal attempt went wide and was another missed opportunity.

Buffalo ran 35 plays in the first half as Allen completed 6 of 16 attempts for 42 yards. The Chiefs’ defense did a super job of changing their defensive coverage as well as creating pressure with various blitzes.

Allen had difficulty recognizing what was happening and reacting properly. This combined with his desire to take deep shots down the field led to his 37% completion percentage in the half, his lowest production of the year.

Third quarter

Play selection: 6 plays – five passes, one run.

Allen: 3 for 5 passing, 24 yards.

Performance grade: 83%.

Score: Chiefs, 20-10.

Allen and the Bills’ offense executed only six offensive plays in the third quarter as the Chiefs’ running game dominated the time of possession (12:42 for the Chiefs to 2:18 for the Bills).

Allen, who made some great throws in the game, again struggled to make an easy completion on a drag route by Beasley on third-and-6.

Beasley lined up in the slot to Allen’s left and ran a drag route across the field at 5-yard depth. This was a highly effective concept for Allen to attack the Chiefs’ man-to-man coverage. Beasley created more separation by adding a tiny stutter in his route, which caused cornerback Rashad Fenton to hesitate. Allen had Beasley open for the easy throw but missed.

Allen’s low elbow throwing technique negatively affected his ability to be accurate. 

Tom Brady’s former quarterback coach, Tom Martinez, described how important it is for quarterbacks to have an “elbow to ear” relationship during the throw. This allows for the quarterback’s handle on the football to make a “C” rather than a “U” underneath the ball as a player’s arm follows through. Allen sidearms the ball and a result of the “sling-it” technique is that some of his force is not going at the target.

This rotational technique, which he sometimes gets away with due to his amazing strength, can affect his accuracy on the simple throws. Martinez used to say that players who sling it rotationally often miss to the right or left of their targets. In this case, Allen struggled to get all his throwing momentum on Beasley because of his low elbow rotational technique. Minimizing this rotation with a high elbow delivery would increase Allen’s accuracy because more of his energy would be going in the direction of his target.

Had Allen completed this throw, the Bills would have had a first down at midfield with a chance to either tie the game with a field or take the lead with a touchdown. Instead the missed opportunity resulted in a punt and a Chiefs scoring drive that pushed the lead to 20-10.

Fourth quarter

Play selection: Nine plays – six passes, three runs.

Allen: 5 for 6 passing, 56 yards, one touchdown, one interception. Two carries for 9 yards.

Performance grade: 88.8%.

Score: Chiefs, 26-17.

Allen’s best sequence of the game came in the fourth quarter with the Bills trailing 23-10. Following another Allen rushing first down, he found Diggs settling down between zone defenders on the left side.

On the next play, Beasley settled his read route into the middle of the field again versus a Cover 2 zone defense. Allen stepped up into the pocket and delivered a strike, which resulted in first-and-goal.

Allen and Beasley beat the blitz as safety Juan Thornhill blitzed from his defensive position lined up over Beasley in the slot. Allen and Beasley read the blitz simultaneously and Beasley broke into the voided area for the touchdown.

This efficient three-play cluster closed the gap to a six-point game with 6:39 remaining.

Allen’s only turnover came on the Bills’ final play.

Allen was trying to get the ball to Beasley as he was crossing the field from right to left, but with the pressure bearing down on him, Allen was not able to step up and into the throw. This desperation attempt was ill-advised and thrown directly into a zone coverage whose sole purpose was to take away deep throws.

Conclusion

The Kansas City Chiefs outplayed and outmuscled the Bills in a lopsided victory that featured two outstanding quarterbacks. Mahomes and the Chiefs dominated every offensive category, including the time of possession (37:45 to 22:15), first downs (27 to 20), third down efficiency (64% to 44%), total plays (73 to 50), total offensive yards (466 to 206), passing yards (225 to 122) and perhaps most importantly total rushing yards (245 to 84).

The combination of the Chiefs continuously changing looks with pass pressure and disruptive man-to-man coverage put Allen in situations in which he had to be accurate while under duress. Despite the successful defensive strategies executed by the Chiefs, Allen had opportunities for easy completions that would have made a difference. Misses on hot throws in the flat and drag routes versus man coverage are staples of successful quarterbacks. Allen’s season low in passing yards and completion percentage should have been higher if not for unnecessary misses and his incessant desire to press the ball down the field. 

With Allen, the Bills’ most effective offensive production has come from quick and decisive rhythmic throws out of the spread formation. When Allen is willing to throw underneath coverage and set his feet decisively to attack, he is an elite quarterback. When Allen tries to manufacture more than is there, deep down the field, the Bills find themselves in long situations, which exacerbates the likeliness that Allen again looks for more down the field. This self-perpetuating cycle, as well as Allen’s grave misses, gave the Chiefs more opportunities than they actually earned.  

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