1. Josh Allen sharp early, Barkley solid too
It was a promising performance from Josh Allen on Friday night against the Panthers defense. Allen led a pair of scoring drives going 9-11 passing for 102 yards to stake the Bills to an early 10-0 lead before his night was over.
“Coming here coach McDermott came up to me before the game and said, ‘I called the coin toss. We want the ball.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ And we won the coin toss and from that point on I was ready to go,” Allen said. “The first couple of throws we were still trying to find a rhythm. Ball placement a couple of times. I wish I could front pad Cole there on the underneath route and let him run and get some more yards. He caught the ball and made the first down. We made some first downs. Offensive line held the pocket really well. It was good to see looking at the pictures and having a clean pocket. I made sure they knew I appreciated that too.”
On the opening drive, Allen had a pair of third down conversions to keep the drive alive before it ultimately stalled at the Panthers 13-yard line. Carolina turned up the pressure after Buffalo cracked the red zone and Allen was sacked twice on the last two plays. So they had to settle for a field goal.
The second drive by Allen and company looked even better. The offense overcame an early holding call that put them in long down and distance with back-to-back pass plays of 14 and 25 yards to set up 1st-and-goal from the four-yard line.
LeSean McCoy took it in on the ground to finish the drive.
Allen’s decision making looked fluid for the most part as he showed good touch, an ability to hit the crossing route and seam pass accurately and showed a willingness to take the check down.
“It’s something I’ve been working on. It’s no secret,” Allen said. “Just making smarter decisions and quicker decisions with the football. Obviously they’re not playing all their guys on the other side. But they’re a good defense over there. Just trying to understand where their weak points are and let our guys make some plays.”
Allen averaged a gaudy 9.3 yards per attempt and his passer rating for the night was a solid 105.3.
“He did look like the game slowed down this week a little bit for him. That’s good to see,” said head coach Sean McDermott. “Again I’ve said this before, whether it’s a quarterback in this case or another position, a young player that continues to grow and the game slows down for him is a good thing.”
Backup Matt Barkley, who had a good week in Spartanburg in the joint practices, was just as solid going 8-10 passing for 110 yards and a touchdown pass.
“It’s good to have Matt. I really appreciate, not only the way he plays, but his leadership on this football team, and the way he works,” said McDermott. “That’s an important piece, that backup quarterback position.”
Buffalo’s top two QBs went a combined 17-21 passing for 212 yards and a touchdown.
2. Cole Beasley and Tommy Sweeney were busy
As we reported during the week in joint practices there was budding chemistry between Josh Allen and Cole Beasley. They were seeing opposing defensive coverages the same way and it made for quick decisions by Allen and opportunities for yards after the catch for Beasley.
There was a lot of the same on Friday night. Four of Allen’s first six completions went to Beasley, who converted a 3rd-and-5 and a 2nd-and-10 for first downs. Beasley proved to be a tough cover for the Panthers and proved to be a reliable target for Allen whether he was the first read or a check down option.
“I’m glad to finally get in a game and see us matching,” said Beasley of his chemistry with Allen. “It’s one thing to do it in practice, but it’s another thing to get in the game. Dude is a gamer. He gets in the game, puts his game face on and runs the huddle and just leads with his play and it’s awesome to be a part of that and to help him out.”
Beasley finished the night with five catches for 44 yards.
“I started to get in a rhythm with Cole there and we obviously like what we’re seeing there,” said Allen. “We’ve still got to work on a few things.”
Meanwhile, rookie Tommy Sweeney continued to impress at tight end. The seventh-round pick has put together a strong camp and on Friday took advantage of the absence of Tyler Kroft, Jason Croom and Dawson Knox in the lineup.
Sweeney pulled in a 22-yard pass from Allen on the opening drive to help set up a field goal. Then on the team’s second possession, Sweeney won on a seam route and Allen hit him again for a 25-yard pickup.
The two receptions were the two longest pass plays in the first half for the Bills.
“Tommy has been fantastic,” said Allen. “He’s answered when his number has been called. Obviously he’s been forced into a lot of action with the ones. He’s made some big plays for us already. He comes to work every day, ready to learn, ready to work. He doesn’t complain. He just puts his head down and goes. So I really appreciated what he’s been doing and the results are showing.”
Sweeney is making a strong case for himself to not only be on the roster, but to be a contributor on offense in the passing game.
“He’s done a good job. He really has,” said McDermott. “I thought the one thing we noticed early on is that he’s good in a lot of areas. He’s smart and tough and tonight he caught the ball well and it was good to see another young player do some good things for us.”
3. Defense turns up the heat
Last week the Buffalo defense looked solid in the run game. Against the Panthers, the Bills pass rush turned up the pressure. Granted, Cam Newton did not play for Carolina, but against the Panthers starting offensive line, Buffalo’s starting D-line won most of the passing downs.
Ed Oliver batted down a Kyle Allen pass for an incompletion on third down to force a three-and-out on the Panthers first possession.
Trent Murphy brought an end to the Panthers second drive when he won on an inside rush move to trip up Allen for a sack on a 4th-and-2 from the Bills’ 18-yard line to force a turnover on downs.
On the next possession Shaq Lawson had a batted pass that he almost tipped to himself for an interception on a 2nd-and-19 and on the next play Jordan Phillips flushed Allen out of the pocket with pressure and Mike Love got a hit on Allen as he threw for a short gain to force a punt.
“I thought line of scrimmage-wise we did a good job. We were active up front on the defensive front,” said McDermott. “That’s important to our success. Got our hands up on defense and got our hands on a couple of balls. It was good to see, but a lot of work to do.”
Carolina third-string quarterback Will Grier didn’t fare any better against Buffalo’s second-string defense. On his second play from scrimmage his pass intended for Torrey Smith was off the mark and picked off by Kevin Johnson, who returned it 70 yards for a touchdown.
Though the Bills only had one sack in the time the first and second team defense were on the field, their pass pressure helped the secondary on the back end as they had five pass breakups and an interception in the first two quarters of the game.
The defense finished with three sacks, seven quarterback hits and eight pass breakups for the game.