It’s no secret that beating the Buffalo Bills involves some degree of neutralizing quarterback Josh Allen.
After all, the 26-year-old QB accounted for 78 percent of the Bills' total offense (5,170 of 6,659 total yards) and 75 percent of their total touchdowns (42 of 57) last season. So it should come as no surprise that keying in on Allen, identifying different ways to put pressure on him and disrupting his timing are the top priorities for Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel heading into Monday’s prime-time matchup.
“He's got a great pump fake, a great stiff arm, then the ability and the arm talent to throw the ball wherever he wants it while on the move,” Vrabel says of Allen. “We will have to have a good plan.”
Yes, Tennessee has a two-game win streak over Buffalo, with wins on Tuesday Night Football (game rescheduled due to COVID) in 2020 and a thrilling 34-31 win on Monday Night Football last season. However, this year’s matchup just seems to have a bit of a different vibe.
Allen dismantled the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams defense in Week 1, passing for 297 yards and three touchdowns while adding another 56 yards and another touchdown on the ground. He even threw two interceptions against the Rams and still completed 83 percent of his passes.
“I have a lot of respect for Josh and what he does, the command that he has, his toughness, his physicality, and not only that but just his arm talent,” Vrabel continues. “It's a huge challenge on the road.”
While New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones is nowhere close to being in the same league as Allen, the Titans defense couldn’t keep him from engineering a 13-point second-half comeback in Week 1. Jones had an efficient outing, completing 17 of 21 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown. He had just one ball batted away, only two of his 21 attempts were bad throws, and 18 of his total attempts were on-target throws.
Tennessee’s best shot at slowing down Buffalo’s high-octane offense seems to be by generating pressure on Allen.
Last season, Allen averaged 2.6 sacks, 7.3 hurries, 4.3 hits, 14.3 pressures and 10.6 blitzes per game in Buffalo’s six losses, compared to 0.9 sacks, 4.6 hurries, 3.5 hits, 9 pressures and 10.7 blitzes in Buffalo’s 11 wins.
The Rams learned this lesson the hard way. They only pressured Allen on 5 percent of his drop-backs and generated zero hits and zero hurries. Fifteen of Allen’s 26 completions also went for first downs.
Allen also does a lot of his damage on deep passes. Last week, the Rams allowed 11 passes of 10 or more yards and four passes of 20 or more yards. Ninety-five of Stefon Diggs’ 122 yards came before the catch. The same for Gabriel Davis, who accumulated 75 of his 88 yards before the catch.
The Titans struggled in similar situations against the Giants last week.
Of New York’s 188 passing yards, 108 came before the catch, and if it weren’t for the extra 28 yards Sterling Shepard burned Kristian Fulton for on his 65-yard touchdown, approximately 68 percent of the Giants’ passing yards would have come before the catch.
It was a rough game for Tennessee’s secondary all around. Fulton allowed four completions on four targets for 84 yards and a score. Though he did have an interception, Amani Hooker allowed four receptions on five targets for 28 yards.
Ugo Amadi allowed completions on both of his targets, Kevin Byard allowed two completions on three targets, and Roger McCreary allowed a reception on his lone target. Caleb Farley was the only player in the secondary to allow a completion percentage of 50 percent or below, and he played only 17 snaps while the rest of the secondary played 38 or more snaps.
However, if there is a silver lining to be had, the Titans traditionally seem to play well in games following an underwhelming loss — especially in prime time.