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Friday, September 22, 2023

Is Josh Allen just stubborn, or are his coaches failing him?

It’s a packed Bills Mailbag this week, so let’s get right to your questions …

Gary from New York asks: For eight months, all we heard from the Bills was how they wanted Josh Allen to avoid unnecessary hits and turnovers caused by poor decision-making. After the first 60 minutes of football, it seems Allen absorbed neither lesson. Is he too stubborn or too wedded to his instincts to change for this team to thrive this year?

Jay: Allen said this week that he’s in his sixth season and should know better about when to take those chances. At this point, talk is cheap. He needs to go out and actually do it. He has shown before in his career that he can, and one thing Allen has done well is bounce back. I think back to the lessons he learned from an ugly loss to New England early in his second season. Allen has frequently referenced that game as a turning point, when he realized he needed to change his play style. The hope for the Bills has to be he looks at this most recent loss to the Jets in the same way, because Allen cost the team a win Monday. I’m sure Allen realizes that, and I’m betting we see a much-improved performance starting Sunday against the Raiders.

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“The good news for the Bills and Allen is this Raiders defense is no match for that of the Jets,” Jay Skurski says.

GaryLo200 asks: Do you see this as a failure on Josh Allen’s part, by simply refusing to respect the coaching he’s getting? Or do you think it’s more a failure of the Bills’ coaches, for not figuring out a way to get through to him?

Sam Ruggiero asks: Do you attribute the mistakes, misreads and ultimate interceptions in the second half squarely on Josh Allen, or can Ken Dorsey be blamed for not providing him with a better, more efficient and subsequently successful game plan against a very aggressive Jets defense?

Jay: This seems like it’s on Allen. You don’t need a doctorate in football theory to know launching the ball down the field into the middle of double coverage isn’t a great idea. Allen’s mistakes were so egregious it’s hard to see how that falls on coaching. As he said himself, he has to know better. I’ve seen some talk about the impact of the Bills losing Brian Daboll to the Giants. There is no doubt Allen and Daboll had an exceptionally close relationship, but remember, Allen campaigned for Dorsey to become the offensive coordinator after Daboll left for the New York Giants. Dorsey should know how to reach Allen, and if he’s not, the Bills have a big problem on their hands.

Dorsey was grilled Thursday on the topic, and did admit he can do a better job getting Allen into a rhythm, especially when things are going poorly, by calling plays he knows the quarterback is comfortable with. The offense needs to do a better job on first down of not putting itself in such stressful situations, especially against quality defenses like the one the Jets possess.

Rich Ullman asks: I’ll be blunt: Is Allen simply uncoachable? Yes, talented gunslingers can be exasperating, but the constant unforced errors and his absolute refusal to slide or get out of bounds are inexcusable after six years in the league. Is it fair to say that the only one wasting Josh Allen’s prime is Josh Allen?

Jay: As referenced above, Allen is not uncoachable. Daboll seemed to reach him in a meaningful way. We all also need to take a deep breath here and realize that Allen has accomplished an awful lot as the Bills’ starting quarterback. He’s the best the team has had at the position – by a mile – since Jim Kelly. I don’t think his prime is being wasted, even if the team hasn’t accomplished its ultimate goal yet. Last week’s game against the Jets was one of the worst of Allen’s career, but let’s see what happens in the weeks ahead before we really start to worry. The Bills looked pretty bad on offense in the season opener against Pittsburgh in 2021, and ended that season playing like the best team in football.

John G. asks: What’s your opinion on the plays where a player is pushed by teammates, similar to what is done during a rugby match?

Jay: I’m not a fan of it, but I understand why teams are doing it. Last season, the Eagles ran that play 41 times, and converted a first down or touchdown on 37 of them. It’s almost impossible to defend. I’m surprised the NFL didn’t discuss a rule change in the offseason, banning such a play. Teams have been allowed to push ball carriers forward since the 2005 season. I expect the play will continue to grow in popularity. I also expect that, at some point, the league will strongly consider a rule change, banning the ability to push a ball carrier from behind.

Dave S. in Tonawanda asks: As Stefon Diggs enters his 30s and we reach Gabe Davis’ last year of his rookie contract, how do we look to keep effective weapons for Josh Allen? The first Kansas City game showed even great quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes need some weapons to win.

Jay: Dedicating greater draft capital to the position would be a start. Since taking over the draft in 2018, General Manager Brandon Beane has not used a pick in the first two days of the draft – the top three rounds – on a wide receiver. Davis, selected in the fourth round, is the earliest the team has used a pick on the position. Beane would argue that Diggs was the team’s first-round pick in 2020 based on the trade with Minnesota. And, the GM did use his first-round pick this year on tight end Dalton Kincaid, and he can be classified as a weapon, but the overall point is the same. Given their cap situation this offseason, the Bills weren’t in a position to spend big money at any position, so they attempted to rebuild the receiver room with low-cost acquisitions. It’s too early to know whether that will work. Trent Sherfield and Deonte Harty had their moments in the summer, but were quiet against a great Jets defense. What to do with Davis is a huge question for Beane. It was discouraging to see him finish with just two catches against the Jets. The offense needs a reliable No. 2 option opposite Diggs. That will increasingly become a hot topic in the weeks ahead if it doesn’t happen.

Brenda Alesii asks: Among the few bright spots for the Bills Monday night was the overall strong play of Christian Benford, whom Sean McDermott credited for saving a touchdown when he ran down the Jets player on his way to the end zone. Is Benford now the undisputed starting corner? How likely is Brandon Beane to trade Kaiir Elam?

Jay: Benford played 100% of the defensive snaps against the Jets, so it’s his job right now, without question. The only way that changes is because of an injury or a big dip in his performance. As for Elam, it’s too early to cut bait. The Bills have to hope he continues to develop in practice. He still has two years left on his rookie contract, with a team option for a third. Keep in mind, the salary cap is going to be a constant issue for this team. Getting production out of players on their rookie deals is going to be critical to maintaining success. The Bills need Elam to develop into a contributor, so they have to be patient and continue to develop him with that goal in mind.

John Jarzynski asks: Are we married to Jordan Poyer (via his contract ) after this season, or can we get out? He looked overmatched in the Jets game.

Jay: There is an out. If the Bills released Poyer after the 2023 season, they would be on the hook for $2 million in “dead money” on the 2024 cap, but they would save $5.5 million in cap space. If Poyer is on the team in 2024 on his current contract, his cap hit will be $7.5 million. There is a real chance this is the final year for both Poyer and Micah Hyde in Buffalo. Hyde is in the final year of his contract. If that’s the case, it has been a remarkable run. If the Wall of Fame were still a thing, I’d argue both Poyer and Hyde should be strong considerations.

Brian Schaefer asks: At what point did the game go away from the running game? Ken Dorsey shows as little patience as Josh Allen. The team was moving the ball and they had the lead. Either Dorsey or Allen have a knack for the wrong play at the wrong time.

Jay: The Bills attempted 13 rushes in the first half, compared to 21 passes. In the second half, they ran nine times and threw 20 times. I didn’t have too much of an issue with the amount of running plays. The problem was, they weren’t successful. As my colleague, Mark Gaughan, pointed out, the Bills ran 18 times out of “12” personnel, when they had two tight ends on the field. Those 18 runs produced just 3.6 yards per carry, and that number drops to 3.2 yards per carry on 14 attempts when Allen’s carries are taken out. That’s not good enough. The Jets were content to give Allen check downs to the flat. Were they betting he would get impatient with that approach and try to force the issue? If so, it was a good bet.

Josh Allen can play with great efficiency. We’ve seen it. And not just on occasion. And not just in the 2021 playoffs. But coming on the heels of the second half of last season, Allen needs to get a better handle on his turnovers., writes Mark Gaughan.

Dick in Albion asks: The play that resulted in the late field goal by the Jets followed Buffalo’s refusal of a penalty. After the tragedy in Kansas City of “13 seconds,” I think it would be a good idea for Sean McDermott to have someone near him who can help him with “math issues.”

Jay: So, there isn’t a question here, but I wanted to include Dick’s comment to address this topic. After thinking about it, I agree it would have been wise to accept one of the penalties on the Jets. Doing so would have set up a third-and-23 at the Bills’ 35-yard line. If the defense held the Jets without a yard from there, it would have been a 53-yard field goal attempt by Greg Zuerlein. That’s still within his range, but a more difficult kick than the 43-yarder he eventually made after the Bills declined both penalties. The risk with accepting a penalty and giving the Jets another chance at third down is that they convert a first down, either by play or penalty. Even a cheap penalty like a 5-yard defensive holding call comes with an automatic first down. However, I like being aggressive in that situation. If the Jets throw with Zach Wilson, the Bills have a chance at a sack to knock the Jets out of field goal range, or perhaps even generate a turnover. If the Jets run, as long as that’s stopped before the 25-yard line, the field goal attempt becomes longer. I would have taken one of the penalties.

Louis Stromberg asks: Tough loss last week, but we’ll bounce back. With the Raiders from Sin City making their way to Buffalo this week, please rank the following sins: Sinbad, bassinets, Kissing Bridge, Frank Sinatra, Cousin Greg.

Jay: 5. Cousin Greg. I had to Google him. Would you believe I haven’t seen “Succession?” You should, because I’m so far out of the loop on all popular TV shows. 4. Sinbad. I vaguely remember “The Sinbad Show,” back when I watched things other than sports. 3. Bassinets. Adorable. 2. Kissing Bridge. Great name. 1. Frank Sinatra. Could it be anyone other than the Chairman of the Board? What a legend.

Thank you for all the questions this week! As a reminder, they can be submitted on X to @JaySkurski or via email to [email protected].

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