The start to Josh Allen’s second NFL season can be described as up-and-down at best. Despite a strong showing against the Giants in Week 2, Allen’s minus-16 Total Points Earned through eight weeks ranked him 30th of 33 qualifying quarterbacks. Allen was responsible for 12 total touchdowns, but turned the ball over 10 times and put the ball on the turf five other times.
The Bills offense as a whole ranked 21st in Expected Points Added per Play (EPA/P) and averaged only 19 points a game during the same time frame. Not exactly what you would expect from a team sitting comfortably in a playoff spot. The Bills jumped out to one of their best starts in years, but it was more because of strong defense and a historically soft schedule than anything their offense was doing.
It’s been a different story since Week 9, though. Allen has 12 total touchdowns against only 1 turnover, and his 27 Total Points Earned rank fourth-best in the league among quarterbacks, even with a below-average showing against the Browns in Week 10.
Maybe most important is that Allen has also put together his most consistent stretch of games since entering the league in his last three starts. Over those three starts, Allen is completing 67% of his passes, averaging 8.2 yards per attempt, and has as IQR of 110.1. The Bills offense in that span is third in the league in EPA/P with 0.14, trailing only the Ravens and Saints, and also ranks sixth in percentage of plays with a positive EPA (Positive%) at 47% — a far cry from where they were to start the season.
Increased reliance on no-huddle and 11 personnel
Over the last three weeks, in particular, there have been some obvious changes that sparked the offense, most notably the increased reliance on an up-tempo offense. After only using no-huddle sparingly in the first 10 weeks of the season, the Bills have gone in the complete opposite direction, leading the league by a wide margin over the last three weeks. According to Sports Info Solutions charting data, Allen’s 48 dropbacks from no-huddle since Week 11 are more than double that of the next closest quarterback.
There is no doubt this has been a positive change for the Bills and their young signal-caller. The Bills offense is averaging 0.11 more EPA/P when they operate from the no-huddle and they have also seen a four percentage point increase in Positive%. Over the last three weeks alone the Bills have run 80 plays from the no-huddle, averaging 0.17 EPA/P.
Bills Performance in No-Huddle (Excludes 2-minute Drill)
|Huddle||Plays||EPA per Play||Positive%|
Attached to the new reliance on up-tempo is also less variation in personnel packages. After using 11 personnel (1 RB and 1 TE) on only about 62% of plays through the first 10 weeks of the season, the Bills have gone to 11 on 84% of their snaps over the last three weeks.
On the season, the Bills have been quite a bit better when operating out of 11. Their EPA/P drops from 0.04 in 11 to minus-0.05 when using any other personnel package, and that split becomes even more drastic when focusing in on the last three weeks. Since Week 11, the Bills offense is averaging 0.20 EPA/P on 171 plays run from 11 and minus-0.19 on 32 other plays.
The 32-play sample is undeniably small, but there’s no doubt the Bills have found something with their increased use of 11.
Play action and use of shotgun
When detailing what to expect from Allen this offseason, one point of emphasis was on the play-action passing game. And while Allen’s performance splits when using play-action are even more drastic than they were a year ago, the Bills offense has actually utilized it less than they did a year ago. Overall, Allen’s play-action usage ranks only 26th in the league.
But there’s a bit more to it than that. The Bills have used shotgun quite a bit more this year than in years past, especially when passing the ball. Last season, only 73% of Allen’s dropbacks came from shotgun, the sixth-fewest in the league. In 2019 that number is up to 82%, and over the last three games is up to 85%.
While play-action is still effective from the gun, the effects are less drastic than when it is used from under center, and when Allen is passing from under center, the Bills are utilizing play-action 76% of time, the sixth-highest mark in the league.
Some of this is because Allen himself has also proven to be better when using play-action from under center. On the season Allen is completing 68% of his passes at 8.0 yards per attempt when using play action from under center, compared to only 55% and 7.1 when from the gun.
What does this mean for Allen and the Bills moving forward?
At 9-3 the Bills are a virtual lock to make it into the playoffs, and after an impressive Thanksgiving win over the Cowboys, they’re finally starting to get some attention. Given their schedule and the current state of the AFC, there was always a good chance that Bills could grab a Wild Card spot, but their on-field performance is finally starting to catch up with their record.
It’s hard to make a lot of confident predictions about the future of a team or prospect based on a three-game sample. Football analysis is inherently noisy, and this may not be an indication of anything. But at the same time, there are plenty of reasons to believe that these changes from the Bills aren’t random.
Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll has made a lot of changes that have clearly landed for Allen and the offense, and if they can keep it up as their schedule gets tougher over the last quarter of the season, there’s reason to believe the Bills could be a tough out in January. Upcoming tests against the Ravens, Steelers, and Patriots will go a long way toward determining if this season really is the best of times for Josh Allen and the Bills.