In Friday’s night practice at New Era Field, late in the session, Allen prematurely scurried from the pocket to his right. His first read wasn’t there. Neither was his second. The route combination just didn’t get anyone open on that particular play, especially on the right side of the field. A throwaway was imminent as Allen drifted toward the sideline.
Then it happened.
Allen, just a few steps away from going out of bounds, launched a deep ball across his body toward the middle of the field to, what appeared at the outset of the throw, a wide open Cole Beasley.
But you know how this play ends.
Despite the impressive demonstration of arm strength and athleticism from Allen, his last-resort effort hung in the air for what seemed like five seconds and fell into the waiting arms of backup safety Dean Marlowe for probably the easiest interception of his life.
Those “hero ball” moments are incredibly crushing for the offense, and deflating for a fervent fan base wanting Allen to give it a reason to adore him.
And those plays happened a handful of times in games in 2018. Allen was fortunate only a few were picked.
Near the end of Friday’s practice, with the horrendous interception fresh in everyone’s mind, Allen showcased his advancement as a passer many have noticed through the first week of training camp this summer.
He caught the shotgun snap and immediately looked right. Nothing there. So he snapped his head to the left side of the field. Nothing. He quickly directed a receiver with his left hand as his eyes moved toward the middle of the field. Then, as Allen made his way through his entire read progression, he spotted rookie tight end Tommy Sweeney running a vertical route outside the numbers with a half step on his defender.
The towering, rocket-armed quarterback lofted a gorgeous touch pass with enough arc to get over the trailing defender and enough zip that it came down before a defensive back wasn’t able to range from near the sideline to break it up. Allen put the tight spiral where only Sweeney could catch it, and he did.
Allen’s pocket poise and willingness to stand in to deliver the football — or simply just throw it away in scramble drills — will make or break the Bills’ 2019 season.
For as much as the Bills have revamped the roster since Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane arrived in Buffalo in 2017, it really all comes down to Allen. The defense is talented and deep at each level. The receiver group got an upgrade this offseason. The offensive line was overhauled. The running back room has a nice mix of accomplished veterans and promising youngsters.
But even if this Bills team showcases its depth each week, if Allen doesn’t prove to be more comfortable as a passer from inside the pocket and doesn’t rein in his overaggressive tendencies that at times manifest themselves as ghastly throws across his body, Buffalo’s upside will be capped. Maybe a sneak-into-the-playoffs club. But nothing more.
And, to me, Allen’s accuracy issues aren’t strictly related to his arm. They’re a direct byproduct of his feet. When he’s set, with a proper base from inside the pocket, he routinely rips the football where he wants it to go. Does the occasional miss happen? Sure. But it’s not an overly concerning problem.
When Allen gets antsy after not liking what he initially sees, and his footwork gets out of whack — or is jumping as he throws the ball 40 yards downfield — the ball-placement goes wildly awry. This was all true of Allen at Wyoming.
This isn’t to say his athleticism should be neglected. Allen is dangerous as a runner and scrambling is a much better last-resort decision than forcing the football. But it can’t be his secondary choice after his first read is covered.
Thus far at camp, Allen has been noticeably more calm inside the pocket. The panicked occurrences haven’t been completely erased but have subsided. And with newcomers who can really separate — Beasley and John Brown — Allen’s mostly been impressive as a passer as an imposing presence in the pocket, a vastly encouraging sign for the Bills.
But with a solid team constructed around him, Allen must realize that resisting the hero-ball heaves can pave the way for him to become a hero in Buffalo.