ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — It took Josh Allen all of six plays in three minutes and 24 seconds to go 70 yards and prove to everyone in dramatic fashion that he is ready to go for the 2022 season.
That drive in a Week 2 preseason game against the Denver Broncos ended with the Buffalo Bills‘ quarterback scrambling for 5.2 seconds before uncorking a perfect 28-yard pass to receiver Gabriel Davis for a touchdown.
“I just kind of put my head down and did a little 360,” Allen said of escaping pressure. “I wasn’t really meaning to do that, but I knew I didn’t want to run, so I was just trying to find some space and get the ball off.”
Scrambling and running are key parts of Allen’s game. So is tucking the football and picking up yards with his legs. Countless times over the past four seasons, the quarterback has extended a drive for the Bills by running over defenders to move the chains. He had 54 rushing first downs last season, second most among all NFL quarterbacks behind Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts.
But the quick, successful preseason drive against the Broncos was also a reminder of just how important the quarterback is to this team as it heads into a season with Super Bowl aspirations. For new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, who’s entering his first year calling plays, weighing the payoff from Allen’s planned runs with the risk of injuries will be a key component to getting the most from the offense.
“It’s going to be based off of a decision we make that week on kind of what we need in order to help us win a football game,” Dorsey said of designed run plays for Allen. “That’s going to be the biggest determining factor for us, is obviously just kind of that mindset and that philosophy, and then making sure we’re putting ourselves and Josh in the best position to have success for our team.”
In 2021, Allen led the Bills in first downs per rush (44.3%) and rushing first downs. His 310 rushing yards over expectations led all NFL quarterbacks, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. There’s no doubt that when Allen runs, his size — listed at 6-foot-5, 237-pounds — and skill as a rusher make him difficult for defenders to tackle.
But keeping the quarterback healthy over the course of a long season is priority No. 1. Allen hurt his left ankle during a Week 14 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season on a 23-yard run, but he was able to stay in the game. He did not miss any time, but Allen walked into the postgame news conference in a boot — a reminder of the risk that comes from his running.
“[Allen] is more like [quarterback] Cam Newton, but with a bigger and stronger arm,” former Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said after the game. “We talked about the designed quarterback runs are tough. I wouldn’t put my quarterback in that much of harm’s way because he did get nicked up a little bit, but they did a heck of a job with it.”
Dorsey was Newton’s quarterbacks coach from 2013-17, when the 2015 NFL MVP rushed for 2,873 yards over five seasons. Allen had 60 designed runs last season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats — third most in the league. Will it continue under Dorsey?
The offense will likely have a different look to it than it did under former coordinator Brian Daboll, although the language will remain the same. The new weapons the team brought in, including rookie running back James Cook, should give the team another dynamic option on third downs, so relying on Allen’s legs may be less important.
Overall, the quarterback taking fewer risks is something coach Sean McDermott would like to see.
“You’ve got to be smart, right. And we have to be smart,” McDermott said on him running less. “At the same time, that’s a piece of his game. Don’t want to take away his instincts.”
Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly would like to see the Bills rely less on Allen’s legs.
“I already had a good talk with Ken Dorsey,” Kelly said. “Limit the amount of called plays for Josh to run. I get the scrambling, but I don’t want to see him eight to 10 times on a keeper that was put in from the sideline.”
Since 2018, only Lamar Jackson (710) has taken more hits among quarterbacks than Allen (610).
To get that number down, general manager Brandon Beane would like to see Allen prioritize not taking hits too early in the year.
“[I’m] just understanding certain situations, knowing that the best ability is availability, and when I do run, trying to get down and be safe and not take as many hits because I took a lot early in my career and I feel like I’ve limited those,” Allen said in Week 14 last season. “I don’t know if it’s a conscious effort to stay in the pocket, but it’s a conscious effort to get my guys the balls.”
Beane described Allen’s mentality as “a linebacker playing football” after the 2021 season. It wouldn’t be a surprise for Allen and Dorsey to be selective about when to have the quarterback take those risks.
“The only thing I ever get onto him for is hits,” Beane said. “He can throw a pick and I don’t say a word to him. That’s on Dorsey, and it was on Daboll and obviously Sean. The only time I ever got on Josh Allen is for taking an unnecessary hit. He’s still maturing and growing. I get it in the playoffs. When “you gotta have it” moments, those are the ones I don’t say anything to him on. But Week 3, Week 5, get down and get out of bounds.”