How Josh Allen's progress with pre-snap reads is helping the Bills offense evolve

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) surveys the field during the Buffalo Bills vs Cincinnati Bengals game at New Era Field, September 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) surveys the field during the Buffalo Bills vs Cincinnati Bengals game at New Era Field, September 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes

Josh Allen would be the first to tell you it’s a part of his game that is far from a finished product. As he begins what amounts to his second season of NFL experience now with 17 starts under his belt, Buffalo’s quarterback is trying to raise his level of play each week in several areas. One in particular that appears to have taken a noticeable step forward is his pre-snap diagnosis of defenses.

“He’s definitely progressed in that phase of his game,” said guard Jon Feliciano. “That’s the hardest thing a quarterback has to do is understand protection and what the defenses are trying to throw at them.

“In the first six games we’ve had, the defenses we’ve gone against have thrown a lot at us because Josh is a mobile guy. When you have a guy like Josh you try to make him get in his own head and make him make wrong reads and hurry up his process. He’s done a great job of just staying calm back there. Last game he was making a lot of checks out there and you love to see that.”

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll pointed to a specific play where Allen got everything right pre-snap. It was a 1st-and-10 play at their own 35 after the Tre’Davious White interception against the Dolphins last week.

Allen read blitz from Miami’s alignment expecting the slot corner to come as well as the ‘mike’ linebacker on an overload to the left of Buffalo’s offensive formation.

He changed the protection to slide to the left, which left Dion Dawkins in position to pick up the blitzing linebacker and kept Devin Singletary in off play action to pick up the corner. The result of the play was a 23-yard completion to Duke Williams on a crossing pattern.

“On that pass to Duke Williams, he did a good job,” said Daboll. “We were going up tempo, and he saw a pressure look coming from the weak side, made a read, identification of a backer, put us into a good protection, had some pressure in his face, did a good job with his feet, stood in the pocket, had some good arc and pace on his throw over the top to Duke. It was a good example of what he needs to do and what helps our offense.”

“I feel like I’ve seen a good amount of football in my first year and I think being in the same system and the same protections, understanding where my answers are and where I may not be protected. That’s where I’ve really improved,” Allen said. “I’m not going to say I’m there yet. There is still a lot to learn and a lot to see. I haven’t seen everything in the game of football.

“Each week is going to present a different opportunity to learn and a different challenge for me to go up there and make the right protections and get ourselves in a suitable position where we can make a good play.”

Bills center Mitch Morse has been a direct witness to Allen’s progress in the pre-snap diagnosis area of his game. The pivot man clearly appreciates the time the Bills signal caller puts in to get those calls right.

“I think every week he takes a little more command of that huddle and what he wants,” Morse said. “He knows what he wants and he communicates that to us and what he wants us to do. When you can be that concise, and it’s not going to be perfect for anyone, but it’s something he strives to get better at every week.”

The more Allen’s recognition skills improve, the more his athletic ability can take over to deliver more production for Buffalo’s offense.

“When you can go back there as a quarterback and be comfortable in what is called, you have a clear vision of what the route concepts look like and you know you don’t have to worry about the protection once you have it right and when you know where your answers are it allows you to play free and very confident,” Allen said.

And though the progress Allen has made in reading defenses prior to the snap is promising, it’s not a continuous upward arc for a quarterback because the defenses change week to week and opposing coordinators spend all week devising ways to cross up a young quarterback.

“Honestly it depends on the defense that we go against each week,” said Feliciano of Allen’s pre-snap read improvement. “So it’s not always like a steady climb with that part of a quarterback’s game because each game is different. But I know last week he was on point with his checks.

“I’m definitely encouraged. Defenses have brought a lot at us and that’s only helping Josh. He’s getting to see live reps of things that our defense doesn’t run in practice. Honestly it’s been a lot.”

Daboll has especially liked Allen’s pre-snap reads in the team’s past two games feeling he’s understanding how important his choices are to the fortunes of the offense.

“I thought he made good decisions, and I thought he made good decisions a few weeks ago, minus that one play,” said Daboll in reference to Allen’s interception at Tennessee. “Again, he’s started and he’s completed 15 games to this point in his career. There are going to be things that pop up. He’s a young, athletic, competitive guy. He’s done well. He has a firm grasp of what we’d like to accomplish. I have a lot of confidence in him and I’m glad he’s our quarterback.”

Scroll through to see the best photos from Buffalo's practice as they prepare for Week 8 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

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