It was a cringe-worthy moment when the Buffalo Bills announced that Josh Allen would be making his first NFL start in career game No. 2, with all of 15 passes under him and for a team that impressed no one in Week 1.
But on Sunday, Allen, the seventh overall pick in the 2018 draft, did some good things. The Bills lost to the Chargers 31-20. Allen was sacked five times and intercepted twice. But he made some plays with his feet, hit 18 of 33 passes including his first career touchdown to Kelvin Benjamin to close a 12-play, 75-yard drive.
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From here it could go well, or poorly. That is up to the Bills, who do have solid models to use in developing the Firebaugh native, should they choose to follow them.
They have a lot of obvious issues in Buffalo – guys quitting at halftime, for instance. They also don’t have the personnel on offense right now to be successful so it’s going to be tough for Allen going through this season. But his ability to move and buy time and the fact that he’s a big guy and has a big arm, that can cover up a lot of issues.
Like I say all the time, “Good spaghetti sauce covers up bad noodles,” so if he can be pretty good spaghetti sauce then he can make some good spaghetti. We’ll see.
The Bills utilized LeSean McCoy last week, but I would feature him more. I would just try to find a way. I think you have to say, “We’re going to give McCoy the ball a lot. We’re going to throw it to him a lot out of the backfield. We’re going to lean heavily on the run game and play-action pass and throw the ball down the field.”
Quarterbacks have done that before in their first year and then developed into more pocket-oriented quarterbacks. That’s what you want. What you don’t want is to put him in situations where he can’t be successful no matter how well he plays.
Example A is Pittsburgh and Ben Roethlisberger. Obviously, the Steelers in Roethlisberger’s first year were a lot better than Buffalo now, but the Steelers didn’t ask Roethlisberger to throw the ball a lot. They were running the football. They used play-action pass. It was Jerome Bettis, a heavy ground game and good defense.
Roethlisberger his first season averaged just 21.1 passes per game. In his second season it was 22.3. Then in his third season it jumped up to 31.3.
If the Bills can use that same model, maybe they’re not as effective, but they can still bring a quarterback along that way.
Allen has more arm talent than Roethlisberger and he has the same if not better mobility and an ability to extend plays. He may not throw guys off him, but he’s faster and more elusive. He can have success. But you have to be really careful not to ask the kid to throw the football 40 times a game where you’re not going to be successful, so don’t put him in that situation.
The hard part is the Bills are probably going to be down a lot. I was in that situation. When Dom Capers came in with me in Houston I think he had that thought process to run the ball and we’ll keep it close and try to play good defense.
But you get down and you end up having to go to three-wide receiver sets, four-wide receiver sets and throwing the ball to try to get back in the game.
That’s when you can take a lot of hits and create some bad habits. That’s what you want to try to avoid, especially with Allen. He didn’t come in where you’re saying he ran a pro-style offense and he’s ready to go. He needed some work to begin with.
But he doesn’t have to be Drew Brees. He doesn’t have to complete 90 percent of his passes like Derek Carr did last Sunday against Denver. So don’t gear your football team up for that. Be a run-oriented football team that uses play-action and throws big routes on the outside, throws deep comebacks. Allen can make those throws effortlessly.
You can utilize his big arm and push the ball down the field. You can make it work. You can utilize your quarterback’s strengths and be a team similar to Pittsburgh or maybe what the Panthers were when Cam (Newton) was MVP of the league.
He didn’t hit a high percentage of his passes – 59.8 percent.
They were a run-and-chunk team.
They ran the football and they took big shots down the field and he won MVP, so there are models out there for the Bills making the most of a guy with Josh’s ability.
Question of the week
A lot of NFL teams feel pressure to start a rookie quarterback. How do you know when they’re ready to start? – Steve Robles
Every situation is different, but if I would say the one thing that I would look for is a guy that is able to protect himself, and that has a couple of different meanings.
He has to protect himself from a mental standpoint. Does he understand protections? Does he understand where free rushers are coming from? If you don’t know where the free rushers are you can’t be on the field because you’re going to get yourself hurt. We can only protect the guy you tell us to protect, so if you’re making calls and you’re missing assignments and you’re getting hit unnecessarily, then you can’t be out there for that. He has to be able to protect himself within the scheme.
Then, physically, he has to be able to protect himself. Young guys, they have a hard time with that. I struggled with it, Derek struggled with it, Andrew Luck … a lot of guys come into the league and they try to do so much physically, especially when your team is not great. You try to make plays and you put yourself in a situation where you’re trying to get a first down and you’re sliding a little late or going in head first.
You’re not going to last that way. There are too many guys out there looking to put their face mask right between your numbers. You have to be smart there.
David Carr answers your questions
Each week, David Carr will answer a reader’s question in his column. Submit your questions by email to firstname.lastname@example.org (please put “David Carr” in the subject line)