Is Josh Allen an Elite QB?

On Saturday night, led by an amazing performance from QB Josh Allen, the Buffalo Bills embarrassed the New England Patriots in their AFC Wild Card matchup. While the Patriots were clearly outmatched in the contest in all aspects of the game, Allen was the star of the show for the Bills and once again beat the Pats with his arm, legs, and decision-making. In his 4th year in the league, Allen has now had 2 consecutive really strong campaigns with 4,400+ yards and 35+ TDs to go along with a career high 763 yards rushing this season, with a staggering 6.3 yards per carry average. Allen has led the Bills to AFC East dominance with 2 consecutive division titles and now has delivered 3 playoff victories and counting for Bills Mafia. Allen certainly seems to be beloved in Buffalo and the future is bright for the Bills fanbase.

A big question for me is whether Allen has maximized his talent yet or will continue to get even better. He is certainly surrounded by some really nice receiving weapons, including WRs Stephon Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, and TE Dawson Knox. The depth of fast and talented pass catchers make a QB’s life a lot easier because they can create space and open passing lanes. As a defense, you have to respect each receiving option because Allen has done a solid job of spreading the ball around. When you add in a solid run-game, it makes the defense open up even more for Allen. The biggest growth I’ve seen from Allen the last few seasons has been his decision-making. Overall, he’s been slightly more careful with the ball this season and is making less egregious mistakes while using his legs more when no receiving options are open. He did have more interceptions this year than last (5 more), but he also had 74 more passing attempts and an extra game on the schedule. He doesn’t lack confidence that definitely edges into the cocky-territory, which sometime hurts him, but also allows him to shake off mistakes and keep going.

For me, the most dangerous part of Allen’s game and the piece that improved the most this year is his rushing ability. He’s not a typical QB when scrambling, he is a big and strong runner who is tough to take down and has some burst speed and elusiveness defenders don’t see in QBs very often. While his primary weapon is his arm, his ability to rip off a 10-15 yard run when all his receiving options are covered will keep drives alive and makes the offense significantly harder to defend (just as the Pats defense). This season, he averaged just under 45 yards per game on the ground, 18.6 yards more per game than 2020 when he made the pro bowl. His average per rush jumped over 2 yards compared to 2020 and was the best of his career by a large margin (6.3 yards per carry). His rushing numbers put him in the top 3 for QBs in total yards on the ground and rushing TDs, which is impressive for a pass-first QB. Down the stretch this year, he converted countless 3rd and 4th downs with his legs, both designed runs and improvised scrambles that helped to keep drives moving.

You’d be hard-pressed to find many other QBs that have the skillset of Allen and I believe he is still getting better and will improve over the next year or two. He passes the eye test and his numbers support that he is an elite QB right now and has the potential to get even better. The other teams in the AFC East are going to have to compete with the talented QB 2x a year for the foreseeable future and that’s a scary thought. The Buffalo Bills AFC East dynasty is in full swing, but how long will it last?

The Revenge Tour of Antonio Brown

Ever since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown took off his jersey and walked out of MetLife stadium during Sunday’s matchup with the New York Jets, social media has blown up with theories, stories, and rants. The millions of tweets and posts about the incident snowballed after the game when Bucs head coach Bruce Arians stated that he “is no longer a Buc”, but as it turns out, that was just the tip of an ugly iceberg. As the hours passed, more information was revealed about Brown’s ankle injury and then the next morning, Brown told his side of the story.

It was at this point that my opinion began to shift. Brown has a checkered history on and off the field (to put it nicely) and frankly hasn’t earned the benefit of doubt that others with cleaner histories might have received in this situation. My initial reaction to Brown stripping and leaving the field mid-game on Sunday was to say “well, it was only a matter of time”. This is not the first organization he left under bizarre circumstances and it may not be his last, but his clearly-written-by-someone-else side of the story was compelling and completely believable.

Brown claimed, among other things, that he was given dangerous painkillers and forced to play on Sunday despite a serious ankle injury. During the game, there was a confrontation with Arians and Brown in which, according to Brown, the coach told him that “if [he] didn’t play hurt, then [he] was done with the Bucs” and when Brown refused to go back into the game, Arians told him “YOU’RE DONE”. Brown then left the field (in the most Brown-like way, half-naked and riling up the fans). His description of the events struck a chord with me and screams old-school football. Professional football for decades was a place where players were forced take shots of painkillers and sacrifice their long-term health for the betterment of the team on any given Sunday. While it’s still a part of the game, there have been a lot of health and wellness policies in place over the last decade or so that prevent some of the abuses of old.

Bruce Arians has been a coach in some capacity since the mid-70s and grew through the ranks of football when the consideration for a players body wasn’t even on the radar. While I believe the truth is somewhere between Brown’s statement and Arians’ statement, Brown’s statement is both believable and potentially seriously damaging. If he was in any way forced to take painkillers and play through a chipped bone in his ankle, then Arians has no place in the NFL as a coach. That’s a big if, but still. The main issue preventing us from learning the truth and believing his story? Brown himself.

If Brown had left his initial statement as is and just moved on from Sunday, the narrative would be very different today. Instead, he decided to use the opportunity to scorch the earth and make everyone around him pay (or so he thinks). In a fit of anger or delusion, Brown chose to post pictures of text conversations with Arians and trainer Alex Guerrero while also calling out Tom Brady for his connection with Guerrero. Oh yeah, and he accidently put an image with his bank account information in it for all to see (he later deleted it, but not before a ton of people saved it). Anyone who was sympathizing with Brown, myself included, is now left to once again question their own feelings on the clearly mentally unstable receiver.

And did I mention he dropped a new song, “Pit Not The Palace” just after he grabbed headlines by running off the field mid-game? It’s getting hard to find redeeming qualities about Brown and I’m already regretting sympathizing with the man on Monday. For his sake, I hope he is getting the support he needs and that the network around him is strong.

The story is clearly not over and I’m guessing we won’t ever have the true version of what happened, but as of Thursday, Brown is officially no long a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and is headed for ankle surgery with the intent, it seems, to return to the NFL next season. Regardless of how you feel about Brown, Arians, or the Bucs, this story has been drama-filled and exhausting to follow. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Reason for Positivity on Offense: The New England Patriots

As we sit less than a week from the first 2021 pre-season game for the New England Patriots, there is reason to be hopeful of what this season, and the future, will bring. In the landscape of the four major Boston professional sports, there is a lot of negative energy at the moment: Red Sox are 1-6 in their last 7 and hope is dwindling, the Celtics haven’t gotten much better in the offseason while others have improved, and the Bruins lost some key players and at best are a tick worse than last year. The Pats bring optimism and hope to the landscape after a rocky season last year. One main reason: the offense.

Whether you believe QB Cam Newton, QB Mac Jones, or a combo will be the starter this season, they both have a significantly improved receiving core to target. Both TE Hunter Henry and TE Jonnu Smith would have come into New England as the #1 option, but with the addition of both, it creates a ton of flexibility in play-calling for Josh McDaniels. He loves multiple tight-end sets and is best calling plays in those situations. Both Henry and Smith can hold their own blocking and obviously have made names for themselves catching the football. Maybe most importantly, two talented pass-catching TEs can create massive match-up issues for opponents (i.e. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez).

The WR depth is better than last season, although it didn’t take much to make that happen. The additions of WR Kendrick Bourne and WR Nelson Agholor add depth to the rotation with WR N’Keal Harry and WR Jakobi Meyers. All four have flaws and frankly, don’t always instill confidence, but they can all catch a football on occasion and when not the #1 target, will likely have success as a group. Both Bourne and Agholor are good size targets with ok speed (Bourne is 6’1″ around 200lbs and Agholor is 6’0″ around 200lbs) and can hopefully create separation from a #3 or #4 corner. They should thrive when not getting attention from top corners and their combined 11 years in the league will help the younger Harry and Meyers (combined 4 years) continue to develop.

The running game of the Pats looks similar to last year, but with RB Damien Harris potentially moving up the depth chart. He had some strong moments towards the end of 2020 and is looking to carry that into this season, potentially becoming the focus back over RB Sony Michel. If they are both healthy, the competition should help drive better performance from both. The Pats still have depth at the position with RB Brandon Bolden and receiving back James White. The only real changes are the exit of RB Rex Burkhead and the addition big rookie RB Rhamondre Stevenson from Alabama, but I don’t expect him to see much of the field this year unless the injury bug hits hard or he seriously overperforms. Of course, if Cam Newton is the QB, there will be a lot of designed option plays to use his legs as an advantage as well.

The offensive line for the Pats will look pretty similar to 2020, but with one large addition: OL Trent Brown. My biggest concern with the OL is injuries. Only last year’s rookie OL Mike Onwenu played all 16 games in 2020, so there is some reason for concern. OL Isaiah Wynn has shown some potential when healthy, but has only appeared in 18 games in his 2 seasons in the league and OL Justin Herron who may be the starter at LG appeared in 12 games (6 starts) in his first year in the league in 2020. Veterans C David Andrews and OL Trent Brown bring the experience with a combined 11 seasons in the league, but again, have had trouble playing a full season recently. The other likely starter is OL Shaq Mason who is also solid when on the field. The OL is a solid group as long as they can stay healthy, which is a big concern.

Overall, the offense got significantly better over 2020. They have their QB of the future at least practicing and learning the playbook, if not starting at some point, and they have a significantly stronger receiving core. The TE group will have the biggest impact on the entire offense if healthy, opening up more holes for the run game and making defenses cover more receivers leaving others more open. While last year was almost entirely a running play or a pass to Meyers, this year the offense should be more varied and more interesting to watch and difficult to cover. A real reason for optimism.