The NFL is a league of copiers, and the Bills copy cats.
In case it wasn’t already clear that Buffalo is trying to become the AFC version of Carolina – coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane having arrived from the 2015 NFC Champions Panthers – the Bills’ second offseason with the quarterback – first round back Josh Allen is the confirmation.
This became more evident than ever when Buffalo’s offense, which is expected to have six new starters around its 2019 sophomore quarterback, was juxtaposed with Cam Newton and Carolina in joint practices last week before the game. preparatory of week 2 of the teams.
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In Carolina, Newton had to grow up over four seasons before the Panthers gave him the support he needed to become the league’s MVP. The result was a trip to Super Bowl 50. With the Bills brass having that in mind, they’re doing their best to accelerate Allen’s development in the same way.
At the wide receiver level, the Bills now have a quick and savvy stretcher in John Brown and an inside / possession option in Cole Beasley. As the running back, they have LeSean McCoy on a committee that includes Eternal Frank Gore and rookie Devin Singletary. At the tight end, they have multiple athletic targets. They also have a rebuilt offensive line, where left tackle Dion Dawkins in the only starting left.
As was the case with Newton early in his career, Allen’s biggest concerns are decision making and precision. As Newton did, Allen made up for his passing mistakes with a quick, physical run. The 6-5, 237 pounds ran for 631 yards and eight touchdowns in 12 games as a rookie. Over a full season, that projects to 841 yards and 11 touchdowns – tied with Newton’s best in rushing.
As Allen grows, the first big step is to embrace the paradigm.
“He’s a great, mobile, strong quarterback who puts the ball where he wants to,” Allen said of Newton last week after the first of two Bills-Panthers joint practices. “So I’m not at all mad at the comparisons. He’s been playing this game at a high level for a long time now.
“How he treats the game, how we went from a mobile quarterback to a quarterback who runs if necessary – I’m obviously going through that transition, so there are a lot of lessons from the start of his career. . “
Rush was a big part of Newton’s output in 2015. But the runs have been calculated; he picked his spots and he was often the best option on the Panthers’ goal line. Newton’s calling card that season was in the air, where his 8.3-attempt adjusted yards remain his career high. Hence the Bills’ efforts to improve that number for Allen, who had a dismal 5.4 adjusted yards per attempt as a rookie.
Newton reached that level of passing MVP with great help from Ted Ginn, who, at 30, had 10 touchdowns on just 44 catches as he averaged 16.8 yards per catch. The Bills are hoping Brown, 29, can be Allen’s receiver a year after scoring 17 yards per catch with the Ravens. This would allow Buffalo to slide its promising but still developing deep threat Robert Foster to the former role of Carolina’s Philly Brown during the field spread.
Beasley was a reliable short target – both in terms of stature and routes – for the Cowboys. With the Bills, he’s a smaller version (5-8, 174 pounds) of what the Panthers had at Jericho Cotchery. However, what brought Beasley to Buffalo was the fact that the team plans to use him much more than a stereotypical receiver.
“Cole is a good road runner. He can run short roads, intermediate roads, deep roads,” said Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. “Usually these little guys are put in a box and only have a certain skill set, but he’s instinctive, smart, can go a variety of roads for us.”
Along with Brown and Beasley, Allen has two guys who can part ways with defenders in different areas of the pitch. They’re good additions to third-year wide receiver Zay Jones, who at 6-2, 200 pounds remains the red zone catch ray guy, a smaller but more skilled receiver and finisher than Devin Funchess for Newton.
The Bills also have greater speed overall, with Brown being able to track down Allen’s deep shots, just like he did for Joe Flacco last season. The speed of Beasley and Jones will help Allen in the key third down and goal opportunities. And like Newton did in 2015, Allen has versatility around him with Buffalo’s situational approach to his reception.
“We work on a bunch of different things. We had our identity, but we’re working on different versions of it, to manipulate the defenses to see good games for us,” Bills fullback Patrick DiMarco said. “These guys can run. I could do some catches this year with everyone coming back to keep these guys.
DiMarco has been a good blocker for the Bills since joining a few years ago, and he’s going to be more likely to be used as a receiver. The Bills are also looking to be more versatile with increased two-back sets.
Beyond Newton, Johnathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert were the Panthers’ top rushers in 2015, and they were barely shaken in the passing game. With McCoy, Gore and Singletary, the Bills can play on their downstream consistent passes with varied running styles and capable output receivers.
What Buffalo doesn’t have yet is its response to the first Greg Olsen, which was huge for Carolina four years ago. The Bills’ tight options are not where they thought they would be with rookie Dawson Knox (hamstring) and former Bengal Tyler Krfot (broken foot) on the mend. But they still have high hopes after seeing Knox’s chemistry with Allen early in the offseason.
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So all the Panthers-like ingredients, including the improved blocking, are in place for the bills. After Allen operated Daboll’s offense as an easy-to-cook oven last season with personnel limitations, Buffalo can let the QB cook on gas.
Allen was given more autonomy to call / change plays on the line to take advantage of the increased versatility and multiplicity of the offense.
“Josh is a smart player. He has a good understanding of what we want to do,” said Daboll. “If I give him a bad call or if there is a bad look on the defense, he has the freedom to come out of these things.”
Plus, to match the new tempo the Bills aim to play, Allen has the controls for an accelerated attack regardless of how plays are called.
“You can also get the tempo just by snuggling up, but being urgent to get out of the squad with the linemen getting up, with the receivers getting ready,” Daboll said. “There are different forms of tempo as you go, whether it’s a two minute tempo, whether it’s a fast tempo, whether it’s up to the line of scrimmage, sort of see what the defense is doing.
“There are different ways to change the tempo. We try to do as much as possible. “
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The Bills don’t want to take away the signature strengths of Allen’s arm and athleticism. But instead of a reckless abandonment, Allen expects him to rationalize his strengths.
Signs suggest that the Bills’ Panthers-like improvements have driven Allen on a Newton-like trajectory. With the growing confidence of coaches and teammates old and new in the QB, it’s easy to see a more confident Allen.
“It was a blast, and Josh did an exceptional job,” Beasley said. “You never know what a young quarterback will look like when you get there, but I’m really impressed with his leadership and his composure within the squad.”
The Bills are hopeful that Allen can become what Newton was in 2015, as every team should have the highest expectations for a first-round QB with so much talent. That kind of ceiling probably won’t be hit in 2019, but the process begins with getting Allen to his highest floor.
The Panthers started to see a more complete Newton in Year 3 and they earned the MVP title in Year 5. With that shot in front of them, the Bills did their best to push Allen into the lead. The rest is up to him.