NFL News & Analysis

Monson: Nobody can stop the Buffalo Bills if QB Josh Allen continues to play as he did against the New England Patriots

Bills quarterback Josh Allen rolls to his left against the Patriots.

Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills ascended to a new level in their wild-card win over the New England Patriots.

The 47-17 scoreline somewhat flatters New England, but the win marked the first time in NFL history that a team pitched a “perfect game” on offense. Allen & Co. scored a touchdown every time they touched the ball until they kneeled out the final seconds of the game in victory formation.

The former first-round quarterback has always had a messianic following among the Bills' faithful, but this game represented his apotheosis and laid down a marker that this team is coming for a championship. Simply put, if Allen plays at that level for the duration of the playoffs, there isn’t a team in the league that can stop them from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 13.

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Obviously, that’s a significant caveat. Allen earned a 94.8 PFF grade for the game, and he was the only passer to top 90.0 on wild-card weekend. That mark is also the best single-game grade from any quarterback this season, so it’s an unrealistic expectation that he replicates it next week against the Chiefs.

But, if we set a more realistic benchmark of 90.0, we can start to get somewhere.

Most EXPECTED POINTS ADDED (EPA) per play on offense in a single game since 2006
Rank Team Season Week Snaps EPA/Play
1 Bills 2021 WC 56 0.632
2 Patriots 2007 11 70 0.598
3 Eagles 2010 10 67 0.579
4 Ravens 2019 1 77 0.578
5 Cowboys 2021 18 62 0.552
6 Chargers 2019 14 61 0.544
7 Packers 2019 7 58 0.528
8 Broncos 2008 1 61 0.523
9 Patriots 2010 12 57 0.522
10 Saints 2008 16 70 0.516

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was also fantastic this week, and his performance netted a PFF grade of 89.7 — just shy of that 90.0 mark. Allen has surpassed that figure four times this season, including the Patriots win. He hit that mark twice a season ago, with four more grades of 87.0 or better. In the game immediately following a 90.0-plus grade, his average PFF grade was 66.6, and none of those games earned a mark above 80.0.

Simply put, it’s incredibly hard for any quarterback to maintain a level of play that is as good as it gets, and that’s not unique to Allen.

What has become a defining characteristic of this Bills offense is that the entire thing rests on the quarterback's shoulders. They are now paying him big money, and they are doing so because he is the catalyst for everything they do on offense. When they need a big play, it’s Allen that makes it happen, whether it's with his arm or with his legs in the running game.

ALLEN THE RUNNER

His much-discussed development as a passer has been phenomenal, but his growth as a rushing threat has flown under the radar.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is the best rushing threat at the quarterback position in the league — and arguably ever — but you can make a strong argument that Allen is No. 2.

The Bills quarterback has the highest PFF rushing grade at the position this season (93.0) and leads the league in yards per carry (6.5) among all players with at least 50 carries.

Allen’s rushing numbers hint at how unique he is, but the tape shows it, as well. He has speed and the moves to make defenders miss in the open field, but he also uses his size and strength to generate yards after contact. He has broken 37 tackles this season and averaged 3.4 yards after contact per attempt. For comparison, Arizona Cardinals signal-caller Kyler Murray has broken three tackles and averages less than a yard after contact per attempt.

Allen will hang in the pocket, but defenses are faced with a major issue when he takes off scrambling. On the play above, he evades Patriots edge defender Matthew Judon — a player whose primary responsibility is chasing quarterbacks — as though he wasn’t even there. Judon is simply overmatched athletically, and Allen tears off into open real estate for a major gain.

Then there is a whole other world of opportunities Allen creates as a designed ball carrier. He can win with speed, moves, or power and sometimes a combination of all of them on the same play.

His rushing prowess is a threat on any given snap, but it also gives the Bills a wealth of options on “gotta have it” plays. Allen can force mismatches and schematic advantages defenses can’t easily counter, and the Bills can dial one of those up whenever they need them.

Take the above play as an example. It’s third-and-4 at the end of the first quarter, and the Patriots can force the Bills to settle for a field goal with a stop. This is the drive that immediately followed Micah Hyde’s incredible interception.

This play was actually a potential pivot point in the game. Holding Buffalo to just three points here would have been a win for the Patriots, making it 10-0 with a chance to answer instead of the 14-0 hole they ended up in.

The Bills went empty, spreading the Patriots defense out horizontally to cover five eligible receivers and leaving Allen alone in shotgun. In doing so, they created an absurdly light box, with just five players against the Bills' five offensive linemen and Allen.

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Buffalo simply called Allen’s number and let him lower his shoulder to drive through contact to pick up the four yards. The look was favorable for any quarterback, but Allen’s size and power virtually guaranteed a couple of yards through contact, even if one of the linemen didn’t execute the best block in the world.

It isn’t simply how good Allen is, but it’s that his skill set opens up new playcalling possibilities and schematic advantages that simply aren’t on the table to most teams.

Realistically, the Bills don’t even need to make the right playcall to get the right result because Allen can bail you out.

Take this fourth-and-1 play in a previous game against the Patriots. Here, the Bills had just a few minutes left on the clock and needed to keep the drive alive.

They decided to fake the run up the middle and get Allen out on the edge into space. The Patriots were actually ready for it and had players in position to make the play, but they couldn’t get it done. Allen put a move on linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. and another one on cornerback J.C. Jackson before diving forward through contact to make sure he picked up the first down.

There’s effectively no legislating for what Allen can do on the ground, and that’s only a side hustle to his primary area of responsibility — passing the football.

Josh Allen: Rushing statistics in 2021 (rank among 93 players with at least 50 carries; postseason included)
Metric Rank
PFF rushing grade 93.0 1st
Total rushing yards 837 19th
Yards per attempt 6.5 1st
Yards after contact per attempt 3.4 19th
Missed tackles forced 37 19th
Missed tackles forced per attempt 0.29 3rd
Explosive runs of 10 or more yards 30 5th
% of runs resulting in a first down or TD 43.80% 3rd

When you combine that rushing threat and the options it opens up on the highest-leverage plays with his passing ability, the Bills offense becomes almost impossible to defend if Allen is on his game. They tore the New England Patriots to ribbons, and the only defense over the season that has allowed a lower scoring rate than the Patriots is the Bills.

Only Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady has more big-time throws than Allen’s 42 this season, and the young passer's arm strength puts throws in his arsenal that few quarterbacks can even think about matching.

We saw last season what Josh Allen was capable of, but this year we are seeing a complete picture of how thoroughly it permeates everything the Bills do on offense.

Allen is certainly still capable of bad games — he has six games with multiple turnover-worthy plays this season — but if he shows up playing anything like his best football, there isn’t a team in the playoffs that can stop the Buffalo Bills.

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