NFL Analysis

1/15/24

5 min read

Josh Allen's Improved Maturity Gives Bills Chance to Win AFC

Josh Allen breaks tackles from Steelers defenders
Jan 15, 2024; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) runs the ball in the first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 2024 AFC wild card game at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Everything pointed to the Buffalo Bills vs. Pittsburgh Steelers wild-card showdown being one of the dumbest games of the year. 

The Bills are prone to turning the ball over and losing in an impossible fashion. The Steelers snatched victory from the jaws of defeat a dozen times despite never looking like a serious team. Even beyond the teams themselves, this game had to be moved from Sunday to Monday for weather issues, adding one more layer of weirdness on top of a matchup already primed for chaos. 

Then, that just didn't happen. The Bills let the Steelers hang around a little closer than they should have, but it was a relatively tame, unceremonious 31-17 Bills win. If anything, Bills-Steelers might have been the most normal wild-card game of the weekend outside of the Los Angeles Rams vs. Detroit Lions boxing match. 

Allen's 'Normal' Performance

So much of the normality of this game can be ascribed to QB Josh Allen's good, clean performance. Any game can turn into an acid trip when Allen is behind center, but it doesn't always have to. Allen is perfectly capable of playing the slow and steady game if the defense isn't pressing the issue. That wasn't the case three years ago, but it is now. 

Allen was almost exclusively a buttoned-up pocket passer against the Steelers. Most of the passing game was designed to let Allen grip it and rip it, using the passing offense as a complement to the run game to whittle away at the Steelersā€™ defense. 

According to TruMedia, all but three of Allen's 30 attempts came from inside the pocket. Moreover, 21 of Allen's 30 attempts were inside the pocket and within 2.5 seconds from the snap. Allen was making quick and clean decisions for long stretches.Ā 

He hardly put the ball in danger. Instead, he let the offense run itself, save for a few select moments here and there. 

Again, that would have been a wasteful approach with this bazooka of a quarterback a few seasons ago, but he's proven he can handle that kind of game plan. 

Allen played a handful of smart, consistent games like that this season, including the Thursday nighter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in October. That was with Ken Dorsey still calling plays, too. Now Allen has done it with Joe Brady as the offensive coordinator. 

All that said about Allen as a tidy pocket passer, the secret to these games isn't that Allen fully suppresses his urges to go into attack mode. It's more that he does a better job of calculating exactly when and where he can unleash himself. 

Allen Can Still Sling It

On Monday, Allen picked his spots to perfection. 

Take Allen's second touchdown throw of the day to Dalton Kincaid. It's first-and-10 just outside the red zone ā€” the perfect time and place to take a shot and see what happens. 

The Steelers give Allen a split safety look pre-snap and commit to it post-snap, letting Allen know the only person capable of immediately covering Kincaid down the seam is LB Myles Jack, who didn't have a job for parts of this season. Allen attacked the matchup and put it on his man for a touchdown. 

Allen took one or two other shots during the game but never pressed the way he is prone to at times. He mostly played a reserved game and let the "aggressive" downfield throws come naturally. 

Well, as a passer, anyway. Allen still had to let the energy out somewhere, and he chose to do so as a runner.Ā 

Allen's third touchdown was a 52-yard game of "red light, green light" on third-and-8. As he does, Allen went into creation mode the moment he recognized man coverage and found a lane to leave the pocket. 

Allen picked up the first down yardage right away but faced a decision about five yards after the sticks: slide and take the yards, or be a legend. That is never even a debate for Allen; he chose the latter. 

A Good Omen

At some point in the playoffs, Allen will probably need to indulge his intrusive thoughts and play like a madman. The Bills aren't a complete enough team to go all the way without unleashing the beast. 

It could be only for a couple of quarters. Maybe it's for a full game, but leaning into the volatility will be Allen and the Bills' best bet when it boils down to it. 

It's extremely encouraging that Allen could have a (mostly) normal performance to kick off the postseason. That maturity is the story of the season for him as a quarterback, but doing it in the regular season and in January is different. 

Allen proving he can largely be a steady operator with sprinkles of calculated chaos in a playoff game gives the Bills a chance to win without immediately letting the game spiral into madness. 


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