ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When looking for an example of the benefits of being patient with a young quarterback, look no further than the Broncos' Week 15 opponent.
The Bills drafted Josh Allen with the seventh-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and he struggled to find his footing as a rookie. The Wyoming product, who was knocked for his low completion percentage coming out of college, completed 52.8 percent of his passes for 2,074 yards, 10 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 67.9 quarterback rating in 11 starts. He also ran the ball 89 times for 631 yards and eight touchdowns.
A year later, Allen continued to post uneven performances. Through four weeks, he had three touchdowns passes to six interceptions and was sacked nine times. His fortunes started to turn midway through his second season, as he recorded a quarterback rating over 100 four times in a seven-game stretch in 2019. The Bills lost in the first round of the playoffs, but Allen's completion percentage jumped nearly six points for the season and he improve his touchdown-to-interception ratio to 20 to nine. He also ran for another nine touchdowns that year.
Still, it would've been hard to predict Allen's 2020 performance. As the Bills near their first division title since 1995, Allen has completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 3,641 yards, 28 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 103.3 quarterback rating. He has six rushing touchdowns to his name, as well.
"He's having a hell of a season," Head Coach Vic Fangio said. "He's a big, strong guy who can run. He's tough to tackle in the pocket and he's tough to tackle when he breaks out of the pocket. They have some designed runs for him. He's seeing the field very well and throwing it very well. The guy has really emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the league, and I can remember when people were saying there wasn't enough good quarterbacks for the league and it seems like we're playing a good one every week, so I think that's disappeared."
If the Bills lacked patience and pulled the plug on the Allen experiment too early, they would have missed out on a level of quarterback play that has positioned Buffalo as an AFC contender.
With just 15 starts under his belt — one of which he exited after just two series due to injury — Lock is close the number of starts that Allen had made during that tough early Year 2 stretch.
Perhaps Lock's performance against Carolina is the start of him moving to the next phase of his development. Lock completed 21-of-27 passes for 280 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in the team's win, and he posted the third-highest single-game passer rating in team history.
That success, though, isn't limited to one game. Since starting 0-of-6 with an interception against Miami on the heels of a career-high four picks vs. Las Vegas, Lock has completed 54-of-79 passes for 701 yards, six touchdown passes, two interceptions and a 110.79 passer rating.
Despite the improvement, Lock wasn't willing to say the Broncos' offense has reached their desired level of play.
"There's always going to be people moving fast," Lock said. "The game will eventually slow down. The past couple games I'm feeling comfortable with my prep and feeling comfortable with the practices I'm putting together. It is starting to slow down. I'm starting to see it better and I start to feel better when I go out there. I'm not saying I'm fully there by any means. There's still a lot of work that I need to do. I'm starting to feel better each week going into it. After this week of practice going into Saturday, hopefully we can go out there and the progress continues to make strides with the game slowing down and knowing what to expect after a good week of practice and a good week of prepping."
As Lock tries to continue his success against an opportunistic Bills defense that ranks fourth in the league in takeaways, Head Coach Vic Fangio said he recognized the value continuity could bring both to Lock and the team's offense.
"Yeah, there's no doubt about it that continuity, especially as it relates to a quarterback, can have tremendous positive effect," Fangio said. "You see it all around the league with a lot of the successful quarterbacks both young and older. I mean, [Saints QB] Drew Brees has been with New Orleans for forever it seems, [Buccaneers QB] Tom Brady's run at New England, [former NFL QB] Peyton's [Manning] run at the Colts, this is [Chiefs QB Patrick] Mahomes fourth year with the Chiefs. You just see it time and time again where the continuity ends up paying off and players develop better — particularly the quarterback — and hopefully we'll be able to get that done with Drew here."
Even something as simple as working with the same offensive coordinator for more than one year would represent a step forward for Lock. The quarterback said Wednesday he hasn't worked with the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back years since his sophomore year of college.
"It's nice to have somebody that you're familiar with, that you feel like you have continuity with, and that you know he knows you and you know in your heart that you know him as a play caller," Lock said. "You know how they're going to coach. You know what they expect, and it'll just make me feel comfortable. I think it'll make everybody feel comfortable, not only myself. It's obviously important for the quarterback to feel comfortable, but as a quarterback you want everyone else around you to feel comfortable and I feel like having the same play caller in this organization for more than one year would be huge for us."
Lock has seen the benefit that continuity has had for Allen, whom he's worked out with in the offseason.
"I feel like it's patience with him," Lock said of Allen's progression. "Obviously, he struggled a little bit when he got into the league as far as completion percentage goes, but he figured it out. He learned, kept growing, kept realizing what looks he wanted for certain plays, and now he has the experience. He's played in it, he's struggled in it, and when you struggle in it, you end up learning, you end up thriving. That's why he's playing extremely good ball right now.
"It's [the caliber of] football that I want to end up eventually getting to and playing like. There was a little sign of it last week, but it's all about making progress, keep making small steps forward. But yes, he is progressing. It's fun to watch him because I know him and he's a great guy. I loved being around him when I was around him. I'm happy for his success, but hopefully we can stop it here this Sunday."
IMPRESSING THE LEAGUE-LEADER
As Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler near the end of their rookie seasons, the league leader in receptions has taken note of their play.
Stefon Diggs, who has 100 catches for 1,167 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games, is familiar with both players. His younger brother, 2020 second-round pick Trevon Diggs, played at Alabama with Jeudy, and Diggs watched Hamler during his time at Penn State.
"Watching them on tape, I believe that they're going to be damn good, especially these coming years," Diggs said. "This is their first year in the league, and they've had some success. I feel like the more they get comfortable with their quarterback, the more time that they put in, [the better they'll get]. I know Jeudy and …Hamler are definitely guys that will work extremely hard in the offseason. I feel like you can give them some time not only this year but next year, [and] they'll make another jump and continue to move in the right direction. I don't want to reach when I say this, but they'll be a damn good duo. They have Courtland Sutton — he's been out, but that will be a three-headed monster. They have another kid [Tim Patrick] … he can ball as well.
"They've got a nice little receiving corps over there that can get open. They're quick, they're fast, they know how to run routes, so I wish those kids a lot of success. I like their game."
Bradley Chubb nearly got home for his eighth sack of the season against the Panthers, but his dream of double-digit sacks remains alive with three games to play. The former fifth-overall pick needs 2.5 more quarterback takedowns to reach the 10-sack mark, and his four career multi-sack games suggest he's capable of racking them up in a hurry.
Even when he hasn't gotten credit for the sack, he's made plays to set his teammates up for success. And after a tough offseason of rehab from an ACL tear, that's been encouraging for Fangio to see.
"I would say the first two, three, four games he was playing good, but you could see it still wasn't all the way back," Fangio said. "Then I think each and every week he's gotten better and better. I think he's been playing very, very well up to this point. Last week, we had to go out there to get the stop at the end of the game to preserve the win. His pass rush was really good. He caused the first sack we got [and] applied good pressure on the other plays. That's what your good players have to do: They've got to rise and play great in crunch time and he did that. [I'm] very pleased with the way he's played. He's a good motivation for the guys that we have on the team right now that are going to be rehabbing from that same injury — that it can be done and can be done with really good results."