Steelers coach Mike Tomlin can vividly describe the howitzer of a throwing arm possessed by Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
“His arm talent is exceptional,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “His mobility, particularly for a guy of his size and strength, is exceptional. He got out of the pocket and really created issues for us a year ago, but he does that virtually week in and week out. His mobility, his ability to extend plays is a significant component of his game and their game. They spread you out and challenge you in those ways, highlighting that element of his game.”
For a firsthand account, ask new Steeler Joe Schobert. The former Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns linebacker has played against Allen. He knows what that “arm talent” is like on the field at full speed.
On Wednesday, Schobert recalled making a proper read to close on wide receiver Cole Beasley, who sat down on a route between the hashes.
“I saw (Allen) eyeing him up,” Schobert laughed. “I made my break as his arm was in motion and the ball got there before I could even dive.”
Allen’s arm strength has never been in question. But, coming out of the draft and his first year in the NFL, his accuracy was. Those concerns greatly diminished over his first three seasons as the quarterback’s completion percentage went from 52.8% in his rookie season of 2018 to 58.8% in 2019 and 69.2% in 2020 — fourth best among qualified passers in the NFL.
Allen’s improved precision was also reflected in a 37-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season.
“He went from a gunslinger, flamethrower guy his rookie year to a guy who is really understanding the Xs and Os,” Schobert said. “You see him putting the ball accurately to his receivers when he is on the move. He has really grown in his understanding of the game, and he knows personnel around him.”
It’s not just Allen’s throwing ability that gives defenses fits. As Tomlin mentioned, he’s a good runner, too. At 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, Allen isn’t just a scrambler. He’ll run inside, absorb contact and dish it out.
“He’s a north-south runner,” Steelers defensive captain Cameron Heyward said Wednesday. “Once he gets going downhill, he’s going to bleed you and kill your defense.”
Allen had 38 first downs rushing last year. Lamar Jackson (56) and Cam Newton (55) were the only AFC quarterbacks with more. Also, Allen’s eight rushing touchdowns trailed only Newton’s total of 12 among AFC quarterbacks.
However, slowing Allen as a runner is a challenge Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler wants. In fact, it almost sounds as if he is challenging Allen to run as often as possible.
On Thursday, I asked Butler about Allen’s running style which — to Heyward’s point — is more straight ahead and physical than many other quarterbacks who try to gain yards through speed and shake.
I asked Butler whether his defenders have braced themselves for Allen to finish his rushing attempts like a running back.
“I hope he does try to finish his runs like a running back. We’ll treat him like a running back. If he wants to be treated like a running back, we’ll do that, too,” Butler said.
Butler added that Allen’s size and physicality reminds him of a young Ben Roethlisberger.
“And you don’t see Ben run as much as you used to, do you?” Butler asked. “That’s an important position. And if you are going to run the ball, that ball attracts a lot of attention in the National Football League. There is usually a price to pay. So we’ll see what happens in the game.”
Those quotes are — as you might imagine — going over great in Buffalo.
— David Yarger (@YagaBomb24) September 9, 2021
— Alex Dutkiewicz (@AlexDutkiewicz) September 10, 2021
Good luck with stopping that, Josh is 6’5 240! https://t.co/qBQxVNBoF9
— Brandon Gunder (@TheGunderDome11) September 9, 2021
He’s running through Keith Butler’s mind
— Buff (@BuffRyda) September 10, 2021
— Rob Rein (@GingerWoodWorks) September 10, 2021
“Let them do all the talking, all the dancing. We work.” — JA17
— Ryan McMahon (@ryanmcmahon716) September 9, 2021
In Friday’s “Breakfast with Benz” podcast, Sal Capaccio of WGR in Buffalo joins me to talk more about Allen, the Bills’ chances of getting to the Super Bowl and any improvements the Bills have made since their AFC Championship Game loss in Kansas City last year.