Josh Allen looked like an MVP contender in the Week 1 win over Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams.
The Buffalo Bills quarterback put his arm on display in a 297-yard, three-touchdown effort like even the All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey had no answer. The accuracy that has become a hallmark of his development as an NFL quarterback is evident in an 83.9% (26 of 31) completion rate that has established a franchise record for a regular season game.
When the Rams took the ball deep, he didn’t force it. When they didn’t, he made them pay. And when he ran? Well, good luck.
This run and more than eight-time All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner epitomizes Josh Allen’s experience. His traditional quarterback skills – arm strength, precision, command on the field – make him special. Add to that his physical presence as a running back, and he’s on the NFL’s short list of elite talent.
This style of play is also the biggest source of discomfort in Buffalo. Allen led the Bills on the ground Thursday with 10 carries for 56 yards, including the 4-yard score. There was more than one occasion when he seemed to seek contact. In doing so, he has exposed himself to repeated corporal punishment which raises short and long term concerns about his health.
Can Allen stay healthy with his style of play?
The short-term concerns are obvious. The Bills entered the season as Super Bowl betting favorites. Nothing from week 1 changed this status. Buffalo has a solid defense, a respected head coach in Sean McDermott and a talented group of playmakers including Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis and Dawson Knox.
But do not get me wrong. Allen is the No. 1 reason for Buffalo’s status as a Super Bowl favorite. If he suffers a major injury during the season, Case Keenum would take over at quarterback and Buffalo’s championship dreams would be all but dashed.
Allen is aware of the concerns. His physique has been an integral part of his game since joining the NFL in 2018. He addressed them on Wednesday after last week’s display in front of a prime-time audience.
“I think I can be better in that aspect,” Allen told reporters at a press conference Wednesday. “But given the circumstances of what it was, understanding the flow of the game, sometimes I do things that are necessary in my eyes to help our team win a game of football. That’s all it is. .
“But at the end of the day availability is the best ability. So just figuring that out – and going down and not taking too many hits, obviously that’s year after year.”
Allen’s “year after year” recognition addresses long-term concerns. Even though he comes through this season relatively healthy and with a Super Bowl ring, the cumulative impact of the collisions he endures is sure to take its toll. Look no further than Cam Newton.
Injuries finally took their toll on Cam Newton
Newton joined the Carolina Panthers in 2011 as a rookie with a profile similar to Allen’s. Allen is 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds with a one-arm cannon and running back skills. Newton weighs 6-5 and 245 pounds. He also joined the league with one-arm cannon and running back skills.
Newton exceeded expectations for his No. 1 draft pick status as his unparalleled skill earned him Rookie of the Year honors. His 706 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns alone would have put him in contention for the award.
In each of his first five seasons, he ran the ball more than 100 times a year with rushing totals ranging from 585 to 741 yards. At his best in 2015, he was a league MVP who led his team to the Super Bowl. He was a Pro Bowl-level quarterback and Carolina’s top running back rolled into one package.
But it was not sustainable. The injuries multiplied. His performance showed signs of waning in 2016, a year after his MVP campaign and his sixth season in the NFL. In 2019 he admitted that he had been playing with persistent shoulder problems since that 2016 season, a period which saw his accuracy on the pitch decline. It wasn’t just his shoulder. There were also foot injuries, walking boots, concussions and ankle surgery.
In 2017, unnamed team officials whispered concerns about his body decomposing. In 2020, team owner David Tepper said the quiet part out loud when asked about Newton’s future with the franchise. His answer: “Is he in good health?
He was not. Newton had only played two games the previous season, and the Panthers finally released the best player in franchise history after nine seasons in Charlotte. Newton then took over for Tom Brady in New England in a campaign of eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions this fall before returning to Carolina for what amounted to a nostalgic tour as an injury replacement for Sam Darnold in 2021. A week into the 2022 campaign, Newton is not on an NFL roster.
That’s the fate the Bills want Allen to avoid. In his first four seasons, Allen averaged 105.5 carries and 581 rushing yards per year. Most of these races end with a hit. That’s on top of the 118 sacks and extra hits he suffered. So far, he has remained relatively unscathed, as Newton did in his first five seasons.
Does Newton’s career trajectory mean Allen will follow the same path? Of course not. But the parallels are impossible to ignore. Meanwhile, Allen’s physical heroism on the court continues to garner deserved praise and celebration.
There’s no easy answer as Allen’s game continues to produce wins and highlights. But it’s up to both Allen and Bills to strike the right balance.
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