In 2018, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 1,513 yards and 14 touchdowns through his first five games. In 2019, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson threw for 1,271 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for 308 yards through his first five games. Now in 2020, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen has thrown for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns with three rushing scores through his first five games. Both Mahomes and Jackson went on to win MVP in 2018 and 2019 respectively and are now household names.
On Oct. 13, after winning their first four games of 2020, Allen and the Buffalo Bills took their first loss against the Tennessee Titans. In a blowout game riddled with mistakes and penalties, Allen still shined and the Bills still seem to be among the best teams in the league.
Before being drafted, at the NFL Combine, Allen weighed 237 pounds and measured 6-foot-5 inches. On top of that, Allen broke the record for throwing velocity at 62 mph and ran the second fastest 40 yard dash among quarterbacks in his class, trailing only Lamar Jackson. It’s always been obvious that Allen is an athletic specimen but there were still looming questions about his throwing accuracy.
“Before the 2020 season, I thought Allen was a good talent, but he wasn’t quite there. Sometimes I saw him struggle with accuracy and some decision making, but I thought he’d develop into a good quarterback like he is now,” said junior Nilesh Gupta.
After being drafted with the seventh pick of the first round by the Bills, he started most of his rookie season and all of his sophomore season, leading the Bills to winning records and the playoffs in both seasons. Still, 2020 is different for Allen. After five weeks, he leads the AFC in yards and touchdowns due to improvements he’s made in the offseason.
“His [Allen’s] throwing mechanics are significantly better and that has helped him improve his accuracy. His completion percentage is up about 12.5 percent, which may not sound like much, but it’s a gigantic improvement. He has also improved in his diagnosis of opposing defenses. He put the time in to understand defensive concepts and he recognizes them more quickly now that he’s in his third season. This helps him make quicker and more correct decisions on where to throw the ball,” said Bills Insider Chris Brown.
Helping foster Allen’s growth is offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll. Daboll has been rumored to leave Buffalo for a head coaching gig in another city, but while he’s still in New York, he’ll continue making a difference.
“I think 50 percent of the credit goes to Brian Daboll because he’s schemed up some really great plays for the Bills’ offense and has put Josh Allen in a position to succeed,” said ABC WKBW Buffalo’s Sports Director Matt Bove.
After being eliminated from the playoffs in 2019, the Bills held a young core of players that projected to be in the playoff mix for several years to come. In the offseason, however, the Bills made a questionable trade with the Minnesota Vikings that sacrificed their future to immediately improve their team. They gave up a medley of draft picks including a first rounder for star wide receiver Stefon Diggs. The bet on Diggs quickly paid off, however, as he now leads the AFC with 509 receiving yards.
“[In 2020, Diggs has helped Allen] more than words can explain. He is a game changer that this team needed. What would look like a routine play can turn into a huge play, and the trust that he has with Josh Allen is remarkable for guys who have only played together for a couple months. When Josh Allen needs to do something, he knows that that’s the guy he’s going to be looking for. In all, Diggs has been worth the price that the Bills paid and then some,” said Bove.
Though Allen’s initial success in 2020 should certainly be credited to him, Diggs and other teammates have helped him make the leap to stardom. In his rookie season, Allen’s weapons were sparse, causing him to struggle. Since then, the Bills have made a noticeable effort to improve the team around their centerpiece to help him improve. Before 2019, Buffalo acquired free agent wide receiver John Brown to help stretch the field for what was a relatively one dimensional offense the year before.
“John Brown is one of the most underrated receivers in football. Because he began his career in Arizona, mostly as a one dimensional deep threat, people have slept on his ability to constantly get open. He can run a full route tree and is as good of a number two receiver you’re going to get,” said WGR 550’s Bills pregame host Joseph Dibiase.
Also before the 2019 season, Buffalo drafted running back Devin Singletary in the third round.
“I’m not sure that Singletary can be a workhorse back but he is very good. When he inevitably splits work with another running back, he’ll still be the running back one,” said Gupta.
With great pieces like Diggs, Brown and Singletary surrounding Allen, the Bills can now rely on their offense to win games but that wasn’t the case in 2019. Prior to the offense’s breakout, the Bills had one of the best defenses in the league, now that the offense is putting up so many points though, the defense has faltered a little.
“I think there is reason to believe that the Bills’ incredible season on defense last year was in part because of their easy schedule. Part of the Bills’ regression on defense is because of that, but you also have most defenses around the league struggling. This has been the most offensive start to a season in league history, the only defenses in the NFL playing great right now are Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. That doesn’t mean the Bills will definitely get back to that level, but they have the talent to get back to top five play. Right now I’d consider them to still be a very good defense, but you can’t call them elite through four games,” said Dibiase.
A big part of the Bills’ defensive success is their remarkable secondary. With only the tandem of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, it’s hard to get anything done against Buffalo. On top of that, they have one of the best players in the league in Tre’Davious White.
“When [White] is playing his best, he basically takes away an entire side of the field. That’s why, for a little bit, he was the highest paid cornerback in the NFL,” said Bove.
Other than the secondary, the Bills have some hidden gems staggered around the field that consistently make plays for them.
“[Matt Milano] is so important in pass coverage and he makes a bunch of tackles that go unnoticed in games that are huge difference makers. If he misses those tackles, those plays could go for 20 or 30 yards, but he makes them routinely and they instead turn into two or three yard gains. He’s also great in coverage,” said Bove.
With the newfound firepower of the offense and proven defense, the Bills have now made themselves known as a very threatening team.
“I think they’re capable of being a 12 win team, but I’ll conservatively say 11-5 for a final regular season record in case an unexpected situation arises,” said Brown.
Though it’s a small sample of only five games, the Bills seem like they’re the real deal and will be for a long time. For years, names like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have led their teams to rule the AFC but now that they’ve moved on, new stars like Mahomes, Jackson and potentially Allen are filling their shoes.