Monday Night Football featured two of the least likely offenses in the NFL to run play action. Saints quarterback Drew Brees was basically last in play action last season among regular starters and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr wasn’t too far ahead of him. It’s early in 2020, but the returns so far seem to be the same for those teams on play action.
Not so the case for Josh Allen and the Bills.
In 2019, Allen ran play action 105 times in 16 games, tied for the 20th-most in the league with Mitchell Trubisky, who did so at a higher rate with the Bears because he played in one fewer game. But play action helped Carson Wentz survive the Eagles without any receivers of note (second-highest rate of play action in the league last season) and Lamar Jackson was the third for the Ravens and the MVP of the league.
Number one was Jared Goff, who passed 194 times out of play action, 23 more times than Wentz and 31 more times than Jackson. The results for Goff weren’t as good as the results for Jackson, clearly, but that hasn’t stopped Sean McVay from going to his favorite play.
But through two games of this season, he hasn’t done so as many times as Sean McDermott and Allen have with Buffalo.
So far, Allen is 57-of-81 passing overall, gaining 729 yards in the air with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Allen, plagued at draft time by people mocking him for his lack of accuracy at Wyoming, has completed 70.4-percent of his attempts and is gaining 9 yards per attempt. The 6’5, 240-pound quarterback has also carried the ball 18 times for 75 yards and with 18 rushing touchdowns in 30 career games, Allen isn’t a player you can leave alone when he rolls out to the edges.
En total, he’s made 32 attempts out of play action and the results are better than expected — and we would have expected them to be good already.
Josh Allen out of play-action W1:— PFF (@PFF) September 16, 2020
20 attempts (1st)
14 completions (1st)
170 yards passing (1st) pic.twitter.com/nNV7X3WJDC
In Week 2 against the Dolphins, a candidate for worst pass defense in the NFL already, Allen was 24-of-35 for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Pro-Football-Reference lists Allen as having gone 21-of-29 for 367 yards and three touchdowns from play action with two carries for one yard and one sack taken.
Going through Josh Allen’s throws on the #Bills tape —— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) September 21, 2020
BUF schemed-up man coverage vs. MIA today (playing the defensive tendencies).
Deep crossers/overs off play-action, pick routes, DBL moves.
Ball location has improved with Allen...@NFLMatchup pic.twitter.com/swxeiemwHC
Goff is familiar with the play but looking to improve on the results he had out of play action in 2019:
120-of-182, 1,564 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions, meaning that he had a lower passer rating out of play action (85.1) than all other plays (87). However, this season through two games he’s already matched the number of touchdowns and the Rams have one of the most effective offenses in the NFL:
20-of-27, 270 yards and two touchdowns for a rating of 130.2, plus four carries for 18 yards. The Rams have gotten a first down on 16 of 31 calls out of play action.
Los Angeles goes back to the east coast this week to face the Bills on a Sunday afternoon in Buffalo (10 AM PT) and we can expect there to be a lot of handoffs (the Rams are second in rush attempts and the Bills are 15th but they were sixth a year ago) and a lot of fake handoffs that become throws.
It may come down not to which team does better with their play action offense, but perhaps which team makes the most plays with their play action defense. The Rams played Carson Wentz (who has a rating of 44.0 on play action this year) and Dak Prescott (116.7), while the Bills have faced Ryan Fitzpatrick (117.2) and Sam Darnold (81.3).
Each defense will face perhaps their biggest play action test of the season this Sunday. And a game of the ages for those who are enjoying this era of offenses.
As long as you are allowed to run the ball by rule in football, you will never stop the play action passing game. I’m convinced.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) September 21, 2020