Since missing four games due to an elbow injury, the Buffalo Bills' rookie quarterback has made strides over the last four tilts, showing promising progress.
"I went back and watched the Miami game a few days ago and he looks like a different player than he did from two or three games ago, which is important and good for him," Bills head coach Sean McDermott said, via the team's official website. "The way the game is slowing down for him is encouraging."
Anyone basing his or her opinion of Allen solely on the stat sheet has ammo. The numbers aren't pretty. The Bills rookie quarterback ranks last in the NFL (among 33 qualified passers) in completion percentage (52.2), passing yards per game (163.3), TD-INT ratio (6-9), and passer rating (65.5). Allen has yet to breach the 250-yard mark in a game, and his 6.5 yards per attempt puts him alongside the Alex Smiths and Joe Flaccos of the world.
Allen has done more damage with his legs than arm this season, ranking first in rushing yards per game among quarterbacks with 50.6. Allen is on track to become the sixth QB in NFL history to average 150-plus pass YPG and 50-plus rush YPG in a single season (first since Russell Wilson in 2014). He also leads all signal-callers in rushing touchdowns with six.
But anyone simply pointing to box scores and stats, however, is completely missing the point -- and likely displaying and crystallizing their preconceived biases.
To anyone who actually watched the games, Allen's improvement as an NFL quarterback has been undeniable the past several weeks. He's shown improved accuracy, especially on darts over the middle. He's getting to a second read faster than he did early in the season. His willingness to take deep shots (leads all QBs with an 18.7 deep pass percentage) is refreshing and exciting, even when he misses. And he's showing enhanced ability to understand what the defense is trying to do to him.
Take last week's victory over the Detroit Lions, when Matt Patricia's defense made a conscious effort to keep Allen in the pocket and not allow him to do damage with his legs -- 16 yards on nine attempts, TD. The rookie was able to pull off some beautiful dimes, including a perfect downfield strike to Robert Foster for the game-winning TD, and another textbook looping 25-yard pass to tight end Jason Croom to help seal the victory.
Yes, there is plenty of room for improvement in Allen's game. His accuracy waxes and wanes far too much, he makes boneheaded rookie mistakes, and relies on his legs instead of trusting reads. These were expected issues for a player most scouts viewed as a project entering the draft. To proclaim him a bust or make resounding proclamations nine starts into his career is unfair, and displays only the speaker's deficiencies.
It's been baby steps with Allen through his rookie campaign, but he's been moving forward. Sunday's tilt versus the New England Patriots -- a Bill Belichick organization that usually dominates young quarterbacks -- offers another test for the rookie.
"Josh has another opportunity to grow and develop. Now it's on the road against a very good football team. Against a defense he didn't face the first time around," McDermott said. "There are going to be things that defenses do that he hasn't seen, but he's really in my mind determined to improve every week.
"A lot of that comes from the way he was raised, but also from the support he's getting in the room from the coaches and his teammates. So it's really just about taking another step one week at a time. The goal is to keep him healthy and give him the chance to grow and develop and get those reps that are important."
Simply comparing Allen's rookie season to Baker Mayfield's in Cleveland or Sam Darnold's flashes in New York, won't paint a pretty picture -- Allen also has worse surrounding talent. But the Bills quarterback has made strides each week in his own way, which is all a rebuilding team can ask at this point.