If any team should have a book on this year’s draft class of first-round quarterbacks, it’s the Detroit Lions.
They’ll add Chapter 4 to their first-hand look at all four quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 when they face Josh Allen in Sunday’s road game against the Buffalo Bills.
Previously they faced first overall pick Baker Mayfield of Cleveland in the final preseason game; third overall pick Sam Darnold of the Jets in the regular-season opener (a 48-17 loss) and 10th pick Josh Rosen in last week’s 17-3 road win over the Cardinals.
Like the other rookie quarterbacks, Allen has his own physical assets that present special problems.
Allen has done most of his damage with his legs, but as the Lions have learned in facing other young quarterbacks they have to be ready for anything and everything – and maybe a little more, from wherever it comes.
Allen’s strength is obvious in the stats – 490 yards rushing, most of any quarterback, a 7.4-yard average per run and five rushing touchdowns.
His weakness is also apparent – a 52.4-percent completion rate, only five touchdowns against nine interceptions.
So stop Allen from running and not worry about his arm?
Not so fast.
Allen likes to throw deep. In four of the eight games he has started he’s averaged more than seven yards per pass attempt. In two of those, he averaged more than eight yards – 8.91 with a touchdown in a Week 3 upset over the Vikings, and 8.42 with a touchdown in a win over Jacksonville three weeks ago.
Allen did not have an interception in either game.
Sack time: Allen doesn’t shy away from contact when he runs, but he has cut down on sacks. He was sacked 15 times in his first three starts, with a high of seven in a road loss to Green Bay. In his last five games he’s been sacked only eight times.
Series history: The Bills have a 5-4 lead with one tie. They won the most recent meeting, 17-14, at Ford Field in 2014.
2014 Game Rewind: It was remembered mostly for what happened after the game. Former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, fired after the team collapsed in 2013 and blew a certain NFC North title, was defensive coordinator of the Bills. He was carried off on the shoulders of the Bills’ defensive players.
Silver lining: Kicking woes continued, causing the Lions to sign free agent Matt Prater. He remains with the Lions and is the NFL’s best long-distance clutch kicker.
Bills’ D, Plan A: The league’s top-rated defense wasn’t put together by luck or accident.
The Lions are facing a unit that was a priority for upgrading when Sean McDermott, a career defensive assistant, was hired as head coach in 2017.
McDermott began adding players to the defense in the draft and free agency, and the project continued when Brandon Beane was hired as general manager in May of 2017.
The Bills rank first in total yards and passing yards allowed per game. They’re ninth against the run, although teams have been able to gain on the ground at times.
“We’ve gotten guys to play into playing team defense,” McDermott said in a conference-call interview this week. “They understand what’s expected. They understand our philosophy of play.
“We’re certainly not a finished product. We have some young players there. But overall, the guys have bought into our defensive philosophy.”
McDermott inherited some good players who continue to make their present felt, especially up front – Jerry Hughes, Star Lotulelei and Kyle Williams.
Safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer were signed as free agents on the same day in 2017. The Bills have hit on first-round defenders the last two years – cornerback Tre’Davious White in 2017 and middle linebacker Tremaine Edmonds this year.
Meet the Opponent: Buffalo Bills
Meet this weeks opponents, the Buffalo Bills.
Veteran view: Backup quarterback Derek Anderson’s value to the Bills – and Allen – has been greater than his stats would show. The 2007 season with Cleveland was Anderson’s only year as a full-time starter, but his 14 seasons in the NFL have been invaluable in helping Allen launch his career.
“You have a mentor helping you through it every day, on and off the field,” McDermott said. “It aids in his development.”
Prediction: For the second straight week the Lions are playing a team on the road that ranks in the bottom two in the league in offense. Last week they beat the Cardinals, 17-3, who average 13.7 points a game. This week it’s the Bills, who average 15.5 but have a defense that’s No. 1. Two points here, two points there, adds up to a closer game.
Lions 16, Bills 6.