Slowing down QB Josh Allen is no easy feat, but blitzing has proven effective

Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) runs the ball against Miami Dolphins safety Elijah Campbell (22) during the second half in a NFL wild card game at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

You have to pick your poison as a defensive coordinator against Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen.

Want to generate turnovers? Want to lower Allen's completion percentage when throwing to Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis, among others? If so, the data says to bring the blitz. But it’s not just as simple as that.

Allen’s passing grade against the blitz this season (64.6), including the playoffs, is nearly 30 points lower than when not blitzed (90.7) and ranks 26th out of 42 qualifying quarterbacks. This has been a consistent theme throughout the star signal-caller’s six-year career. Allen’s career big-time throw rate gets cut in half by the blitz (6.5% vs. 3.4%), which is huge when matching up against such an aggressive passer who can beat you deep on any given play no matter the down or distance. Allen’s completion percentage (65% vs. 58%) and yards per attempt (7.6 vs. 6.4) also bear this out.

Now, you might be wondering, “Well if Allen struggles against the blitz as much as you say, why don’t teams take advantage of this more? Why was he blitzed on only 29% of his dropbacks this season (10th most out of 42 qualifying QBs)?”

The answer is that problems can arise when blitzing Allen. He is the most productive scrambling quarterback in such situations since he came into the league, and his league-leading 83.9 grade when under pressure — different from the blitz, we should note — during the regular season points to his ability to make the most of tough situations. Allen’s career rushing grade against the blitz is an astonishing 93.4 (ranks first among quarterbacks). His 11 rushing touchdowns when blitzed since 2018 are nearly three times as many as second place (Ryan Tannehill, 4).

Allen actively looks to beat the blitz this way, as well. His career scramble rate when blitzed (7%) ranks third highest since 2018, behind only Justin Fields and Deshaun Watson. Allen has 65 recorded scrambles in his career when blitzed, 17 more than any other quarterback during that time. He’s either scored or gained a first down on 60% of those attempts while averaging 9.7 yards per carry. If the opposing defense isn’t disciplined enough and lets Allen break away from pressure and get past the line of scrimmage, all bets are off.

That was what made the Miami Dolphins’ defensive game plan so tantalizing in the Bills' wild-card win. Then-defensive coordinator Josh Boyer brought it. The plan was clearly to disrupt the timing of the offense via the blitz and force Allen into making bad decisions, and the Boyer got exactly what he wanted. The Dolphins blitzed Allen on 19 of his 48 dropbacks, the second-highest blitz rate (39.6%) the signal-caller has faced this season.

Josh Allen vs. Dolphins | Wild-Card Round
No Blitz Blitz
Passing Grade 90.9 51.2
Attempts 15 8
Completions 24 15
TDs 2 1
INTs 1 1
Big-Time Throw % 24% 6.3%
Turnover-Worthy Play % 3.3% 10%
Adjusted Comp. % 72.7% 57.1%

Allen struggled on these plays. His 51.2 PFF grade when blitzed in the game paled in comparison to his 90.9 mark on all other dropbacks. Both the Xavien Howard deep-shot interception and the scoop-and-score fumble at the start of the second half came on the blitz. At the same time, the Dolphins were able to limit Allen on the ground, allowing only 20 yards on four attempts (two scrambles). If Miami had been able to pull off the improbable, the story of the game would have been this defensive game plan.

Looking ahead, none of the AFC teams remaining in the playoffs have an above-average blitz rate, but history shows that a disciplined blitz-heavy attack is the best way to level the playing field against what is one of the premier offenses in the NFL.


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