The New York Jets are 0-4 against Josh Allen since his breakout in 2020. This is how they can finally beat him.
For two decades, the New York Jets languished in the misfortune of playing in the same division as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. During that time, the mantra was, “When will Brady retire?”
Well, Brady still has not retired (not for long, anyway), but he’s out of the Jets’ hair. Things went from very bad to just as bad, though: a new beast has stepped up in the division, one who is every bit as scary as Brady.
Josh Allen is the gold standard for the new brand of quarterback. The Buffalo Bills star beats you in all different ways, possessing a cannon of an arm and the ability to run all over the field. After a slow start to his career, Allen has exploded onto the scene to become one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
It is no surprise, then, that the Bills are the odds-on favorites to go to the Super Bowl in a stacked AFC. Not only do they have the dual-threat Allen at QB, but they back him with a defense that ranked first in the league last season and a running game that added an enticing back in James Cook during the 2022 draft.
Cornerback Tre’Davious White returns to the best secondary in the NFL. Future Hall of Famer Von Miller picks up the pass rush, fresh off a playoff run in which he terrorized opponents. This is a team in which it’s hard to find flaws.
Still, the Bills showed last year that they are beatable. They went 11-6, needing a four-game winning streak at the end of the season to pull out the division crown. They lost to the lowly Jaguars. Their defense could not stop Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs, even with 13 seconds to go. Allen had some “wow” games, such as his two playoff appearances, but he also had some real duds (Jacksonville, Indy, Miami, Carolina, Atlanta).
Allen ranked sixth in the NFL last season among qualifying QBs with a Pro Football Focus grade of 86.6. While that is clearly a Pro Bowl-level performance, it is interesting to note that his passing grade was 77.5; still good but down to 11th in the league. His 92.3 rushing grade ranked first (with Zach Wilson right behind him, ranking fourth at 86.8).
Compare these numbers to 2020, when Allen had an 89.8 passing grade (5th) and a 74.3 rushing grade (11th).
Allen’s passing took a small step back in 2021 compared to 2020, which went mostly under the radar.
ESPN also had Allen graded sixth among QBs with a 60.7 QBR. QBR is ESPN’s quarterback rating metric based largely on Expected Points Added, which measures how a quarterback did on each play compared with what can be historically expected. This was another step back for Allen compared to 2020, when he placed third with a 76.6 QBR.
What are the flaws in Allen’s game, and how can the Jets exploit them this season?
Josh Allen’s biggest weaknesses
Allen tied for sixth in the league among quarterbacks with a 5.7% big-time throw (BTT) percentage in 2021, per PFF. Still, he was third among all QBs with 26 turnover-worthy plays (TWPs). This means that although Allen will make the throws to burn a team, he will also put the ball in harm’s way.
Allen is a gunslinger. Against gunslingers, there is one big key: turn those turnover-worthy plays into turnovers.
While Allen did throw 15 interceptions, his total of 26 TWPs means there were 11 other plays on which he got lucky.
Allen’s DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, measuring a player’s positional and situational value in a season while adjusting for opponent) was 4.9%, ranking 15th among quarterbacks. This shows that his overall play, accounting for situation and defense, was pedestrian.
It’s hard to make such an argument about a guy who threw 36 touchdowns. However, the fact remains that Allen did put the ball in harm’s way more often than most elite quarterbacks do.
Batted passes at the line
One thing that makes Allen really scary is his pressure-to-sack percentage, meaning the rate at which pressures against him are converted into actual QB takedowns. His 10.6% rate was the lowest in the NFL, which concurs with the eye test: Allen is extremely difficult to bring down.
Allen had 16 passes batted at the line last season, the second-most in the NFL. Although you do not normally associate batted balls with a quarterback who is 6-foot-5, clearly there is something to be said for getting in his throwing lanes. Perhaps playing with a spy mentality will do better against Allen, especially since he is so good at avoiding pressure.
Mistakes when contained in a clean pocket
When you look at Allen’s statistical breakdowns when under pressure and not, you find some interesting contrasts.
Allen had an NFL-high 19 BTTs when under pressure, and his 9.1% BTT percentage under pressure was the best mark among quarterbacks. On the other hand, he had the eighth-most TWPs when under pressure (13), which isn’t bad at all compared to his BTT total. His plus-6 margin of BTTs to TWPs when under pressure was the best in the NFL.
However, when kept clean, Allen still generated 13 turnover-worthy plays, the second-most in the NFL. Allen threw 13 of his 16 batted passes from a clean pocket, and his 100.0 passer rating when kept clean was mediocre (15th). Perhaps this lends credence to the idea of spying Allen and getting into his passing lanes.
Allen’s stats against the blitz in 2021 were pedestrian: 54.2% completion percentage (26th in the league), nine touchdowns, four picks, a 6.0 yards-per-attempt average, and an 81.2 QB rating. But he was stellar against the blitz in 2020, posting 1,850 yards, 19 TDs, and 13 BTTs – all top three in the league.
Also, because Allen excels with his legs, it is critical not to overpursue when defenses play against him. Keeping him contained in the pocket will be critical.
Allen has another split that is somewhat unusual: although his grades on throws between 10-19 yards and 20+ yards are consistently in the top 10 in the NFL, his numbers below 10 yards are surprisingly poor.
Allen was 32nd among 36 qualified quarterbacks in TWP percentage on short-range throws (0-9 yards downfield) during the 2021 season with a mark of 2.8%. He tied for the most total TWPs on these throws (8). PFF had him as the 30th-rated quarterback on throws below 10 yards (65.2 grade).
Using these weaknesses, what should the Jets’ plan be for Allen?
Allen’s 2021 metrics indicate that his gunslinging is his biggest weakness. On film, it’s clear that this comes from a hero-ball mentality. Allen tries to do it all for the Bills, and understandably so. In the absence of a strong run game and with his dual gifts throwing and running the ball, he can singlehandedly win games. Still, he gets himself into trouble when he tries to do too much.
As a defense, there may be value in spying Allen, disrupting his throwing lanes, and playing zone coverages that either force him to throw underneath or bait him into forcing the ball over the top. Allen can be patient and beat zone coverage if he stays disciplined. Still, his need to gain chunk plays often pushes him into mistakes.
Since the Jets have an athletic but undersized defensive line, there may be even more value to playing spy and contain techniques against Allen. They have the coverage over the top to hang with Allen’s receivers for longer periods of time, and that’s when Allen makes his mistakes – on throws that take longer than 2.5 seconds.
Though the Jets have improved, it may be too soon to expect them to beat the powerhouse Bills this year. Still, if they can contain Allen in the pocket and force him into mistakes, perhaps they can keep the games competitive.