Earlier in this season, when people were worried about Justin Fields development, it was common to see his early-career stats compared to Josh Allen’s. That’s because Allen is an exception to the rule when it comes to continued development in the NFL. If Justin Fields can have a similar course, the sky is not a limit and the ceiling has no roof.
1. It seems like everyone with a struggling young quarterback compares their first season or two to Josh Allen, as he’s the dream example of development after that point. Justin Fields has had his fair share of comparisons and looks to be developing well during his second season. What about Allen do you think made him exceptional in his ability to develop/improve so much in his second and third years in the NFL?
I’m going to say right out of the gate that I may not be able to articulate this the best, given how special Allen is and what he’s meant to Bills fans and all of Western New York (and Wyoming). Josh Allen is a bit of a unicorn, in all honesty. If anyone in Bills Mafia was to tell you they saw it coming, they’d likely be bluffing, because he was anything but a sure thing. He had perhaps the highest ceiling and lowest floor among his draft class as a QB, but it’s clear he found the perfect situation to allow that ceiling to be blown completely through the roof. Head coach Sean McDermott has allowed Allen to play the game his way, even if that makes McDermott cringe at times, but the coaching staff has given Allen its full support and trust. He’s been given the opportunity to play the game his way, while taking well to coaching that accentuates his strengths and intangibles to better utilize his unique brand of football.
For most fans, it was the game against the Minnesota Vikings in his rookie season where he leapt over linebacker Anthony Barr when they knew he was THE guy. The legend of #JoshAllenJumpingOverThings was born.
But what is it about Allen, that’s allowed him to become who he is now? I’d use terms like perseverance, humility, an endearing and genuine personality toward others, and a true sense of home in the Buffalo, NY area. Western New York isn’t too big for Allen, and that likely suits his humble nature.
Above all, Allen is an uber-coachable team leader who never seems to take anything (including himself) too seriously or find any moment too big. His intangibles are off the charts.
There isn’t a player on the team who wouldn’t give everything possible for Allen. He plays like a kid out there at times, fully engaged and enjoying the moment he’s been fortunate to land in. The times when Allen lets his emotions overtake his mechanics and abilities, and when disaster strikes, he picks himself up and doubles down on making it right the next drive and beyond.
This is all before even considering the laser beam of solar plasma that is his right arm. Short of a Category 4 or better hurricane, there may not be any weather where Allen finds it difficult to throw a football. That sometimes gets him in trouble, sure. But the fact that it doesn’t always get him in trouble is incredible and keeps defensive coordinators up at night.
2. Speaking of Allen, PFF has him ranked as the top-graded quarterback under pressure this season. Unfortunately for him, the Bears are one of the worst teams at pressuring the quarterback. Do you think he’ll be able to adjust to the lack of pressure and perhaps too much time in the pocket?
Despite the potentially self-deprecating look on your part for the Chicago Bears, I suspect Allen will go about business as he always does — without thinking he needs to do a, b, or c differently based on what the Bears are supposedly good/bad at. The thing about Allen is he’s a cheat code who transcends scheming and manipulates defenses in uncomfortable ways. If he gets antsy at Soldier Field, it’s quite possible Allen will take off and run. But at the same time, he knows what works for the Bills’ offense. He’s not going to try and reinvent himself on an NFL field, especially in what could be yet another poor-weather game for the Bills.
If the Bears are going to pressure Allen, they must find a way to contain him to the pocket. He’s surgical outside of it when escaping the rush. We’re not talking those nifty baseball throws or lay-up like Patrick Mahomes. We’re talking missiles placed where very few quarterback are capable.
3. The current estimated “feels like” temperature is - 11 degrees. Which Bill is most likely to be seen with his shirt off during warm-ups?
The right answer would be Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he’s retired and took that hobby up only while cheering on the Bills as a member of the Washington Commanders. It very well could be wide receiver Stefon Diggs, given his familiarity with cold weather (Minnesota Vikings, Bills, University of Maryland). He has an enigmatic personality and I could see him using the tactic to fire up his teammates.
Then there’s left tackle Dion Dawkins. Dawkins may be the most likely choice – his twitter photo may be all the proof needed. Dawkins bleeds Bills Mafia, and he’s an incredible person. There’s also the possibility we see it out of defensive tackle Jordan Phillips if he’s able to play. He’s always looking to pump the crowd up, and he has one of the biggest personalities on the team. It’s always the big guys, right? They’re always up for a polar challenge.
4. What are the weaknesses in the Bills’ defense, and how should the Bears approach attacking them if they want to make this a competitive game?
If you watched the Week 15 game last Saturday night, it was clear the Bills have some issues stopping the run. It seemed like every time Raheem Mostert had a carry it went for a first down or far more. The Bears should run early and often and exert their physical will at the teeth of Buffalo’s defense to find out if it’s up to the task. This includes with Fields, who could have another career day as a runner.
There’s some chatter that defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier may want to operate out of a base defense using a third linebacker this week, in place of nickel cornerback Taron Johnson. Doing so would go against what the defense has done all season and takes a very talented player off the field in Johnson. While Buffalo may give up chunk yards in the run game, they seem to do so between the 20s, tightening up in the red zone. Chicago must find a way to win the red zone matchups on offense, and that means not getting cute like Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel seemed to do last week. The run was killing the Bills, but he chose to abandon it close to the goal — playing right into Buffalo’s favor in the most critical part of the field. (I admit that this game may be one of very few weeks where field goals are advisable playing against the Bills, if the weather is indeed frightful.)
But make no mistake, Fields must throw the ball and mix it up, or risk allowing Buffalo to key in against Chicago’s strength. The Bills struggle against speed and, at times, with the inexperience in their defensive secondary. Having cornerback Tre’Davious White return in recent weeks has been huge for the defense. He’s still shaking some rust off after a season-ending ACL injury last season, but his return allows Buffalo to leave him on an island against teams’ best WR, while the rest of the team can play in zone or even multiple personnel grouping on defense. Frazier employed this sort of scheme against the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this season dividing coverages on the field, specifically on the last play where Mahomes threw an interception to Taron Johnson. Mahomes thought Johnson was in man coverage but found out the hard way he was playing zone.
While there may not be a household name lining up at WR for the Bears on Saturday, if Fields can find and establish a WR1 against Buffalo, that bodes well for their chances. This is especially true if said receiver is fast and/or very physical. Failure to find an outlet will allow the Bills to key in on the run.
5. DraftKings Sportsbook has the Bills favored by 9 points [when I asked the question, now 8.5], incidentally the same number the Eagles were favored by last week. Do you think the Bills will be able to beat that 9-point spread when the Eagles couldn’t?
Nine points feels like a lot, given the weather system and the Bills having played close games much of the season. For all we know, this could end up 2-0 or 3-2, 6-3, or maybe a barnburner the likes of 10-7. This game will likely come down to the playmaking of Allen and Fields, and special teams. Buffalo has a great kicker in Tyler Bass, and I’d trust him being able to account for all the team’s points if need be. The Bears have been a handful most every week this season, and I trust that will continue in Week 16. The Bills have struggled to consistently involve any receiver other than Diggs this season, which is a big reason Cole Beasley has returned. If the Bears manage to shut Diggs down, it will be interesting to see if and how Buffalo adapts by featuring others. That’s precisely what happened for wide receiver Gabe Davis, who had an epic day in the team’s ill-fated postseason loss to the Chiefs.
An interesting note is that Saturday marks the first time Allen will play against the Chicago Bears. To this point, he’s squared off versus 30 NFL teams. All of Bills Mafia hopes that he never faces all 32 teams.
Sounds like the Bears have the rare opportunity to earn a 100% win rate against the brawny Bills beloved backer (of quarters). Who’s down to ruin our draft stock with a meaningless statement win?