The expectations for the Bills in 2019 are reaching a fevered pitch among their fan base. One of the major reasons why is because for the first time in a long time Bills fans believe their team has a franchise quarterback on the roster.
Josh Allen provided some very encouraging signs of the kind of quarterback he can be for the Bills for years to come in his 11 rookie starts in 2018. The most exciting performance coming in the season finale against Miami when he completed more than 65 percent of his passes for 224 yards with three touchdowns and rushed for 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 42-17 victory.
Here are three reasons why Josh Allen's play in his second NFL season should take a noticeable step forward.
1. Improved accuracy
One of the biggest knocks on Josh Allen's game as a rookie was his passing accuracy. His completion percentage of just over 52 percent in 2018 didn't do much to quiet the naysayers. However, during spring practices there was clear improvement in Josh Allen's ball location.
"Ball placement is huge, especially in this league," said Allen. "The type of concepts that we have, trying to get the ball to our playmakers where that can make some plays. That was a huge emphasis, we're still working it. That is something that will never change, you always want to try to work on ball placement. Every day you come out, it's kind of a new thing and sometimes the ball comes out of your hand a little bit differently. You have to make adjustments and understand what your body is trying to tell you and try to go with it."
On the whole, Allen's ball location was significantly better than where it was last season during OTAs and minicamp. He was not only hitting receiving targets in stride, so they could make plays after the catch, but he was also putting the ball on a receiver's proper shoulder.
If Zay Jones had a receiver on his left shoulder when he sat down in a zone coverage, Allen would put it on his right shoulder, so he could turn away from that defender and gain extra yardage.
Allen also displayed an array of different kinds of throws depending on the situation. Everyone knows the Bills QB can throw the ball a mile, but in the spring he demonstrated an improved touch pass, an anticipatory throw and various timing throws downfield where he would put the ball up and let the receiver run under it. He even had a sidearm throw to deliver the ball underneath the arm of an oncoming defensive lineman.
"I think the more reps we get, the better off it is for him," said offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. "And that's just not out there on a seven-on-seven or team skeleton or perimeter period. That includes routes on air that we've been doing since phase one and phase two (of OTAs) and making him move off the spot and reset by location on underneath throws where we have a better opportunity to catch and run.
"It's also making sure the skill guys are in the right spot doing the right thing when they're supposed to do it too. If you're off here or there it can be a big difference. So we've been working on it, and Josh has been working on it very diligently."
All of those improvements point to what will likely be a higher completion percentage, which means the offense is staying on the field and drives are getting into scoring territory more often.
2. Command of the offense
As a rookie, Josh Allen was in a learn-as-you-go mode with respect to Brian Daboll's offensive scheme. Having been immersed in it for more than a calendar year and being in game situations where he has had to execute it has given the quarterback a firm grasp of the system coming into the 2019 campaign."As far as knowing the playbook, I'm leaps and bounds ahead," Allen said. "Having that year under my belt in the same system is huge, for a young quarterback especially. You look at some of the better quarterbacks in the league, they've been under their offensive coordinator for a few years. That helps, just knowing what's going on, you don't really have to think about it; you just play football."
"It's his second year in this system. Our guys are really responding to him. I think he had a really good spring from a leadership standpoint," said GM Brandon Beane. "I think Daboll gave him opportunities in practice where he calls the plays. That's a big step from where he was a year ago when he was drinking out of a fire hose so to speak knowing the offense he came from at Wyoming.
"That's the maturation process of learning it and then understanding where your outlets are immediately and get it to a running back or a tight end who is sitting on a curl route or back side. Those are types of things that I think Josh has shown this spring that he's got a grasp of, so we'll have to see that carry over when we get to August and September. We feel good with where he's at. He's worked really hard and I think we'll definitely see some steps of progress."
"Just like any young player, you want the game to be able to slow down," said head coach Sean McDermott. "So that what seemed fast last year, maybe six, eight months ago will just slow down exponentially this year. And as he continues to grow and get more reps, it'll continue to slow down."
3. Comfortable as a leader
A year ago, Allen was in the middle of a three-man quarterback competition. He also was a rookie, so even when he did enter the starting lineup it was tricky figuring out just how vocal to be and what kind of latitude he had in holding his teammates accountable on offense.Now as the clear-cut starting quarterback, Allen is comfortable taking on more of a leadership role, not only on offense but for the team as a whole."He's grown mentally, physically off the field, on the field as a leader," said Daboll. "I think Josh is a good leader. I think the guys respect both his work ethic and his ability and his command in the huddle. And, you know, we just got to keep growing that and building it with him. But he's done a good job."
"One of the major things I've seen in his growth as the quarterback and leader of this team is how he carries himself," said Zay Jones. "He's truly a franchise quarterback. When he speaks, we listen. He runs the huddle really well. He has a great eye and knack for the game. He handles a lot of the things on the field well. He gives checks and calls. If he wants to put a double move on something, or if he sees something in the defense he doesn't like he communicates it. So definitely he's done a great job of becoming that leader."
"He's the ultra-competitor. He's the commander in the huddle and a leader on the team," said receiver Andre Roberts. "That's what we expect out of him and we see it each and every day."
"I want to improve. I want to win football games," said Allen. "The quarterback's job is to put the ball in the end zone and lead a group of guys. But it takes all 11, so we're going to continue to do that and continue to grow as an offense.
"Myself personally, I'm going to get bigger, faster, stronger. Try to gain more depth inside the playbook and try to get inside Coach Daboll's mind and understand what he's trying to do when he calls a certain play. I know we're a long way out from football games, but ultimately, that's our goal. We want to be on the field together and start winning football games."