How this became a Josh Allen World
We stage a virtual roundtable with ex-quarterbacks, including the man who developed Allen (Jordan Palmer), to figure out how the Bills starter went from raw-as-hell rookie to MVP frontrunner.
On Super Bowl Night, Josh Allen was right in Southern California.
Not at SoFi Stadium. Not playing for the Lombardi Trophy.
No, the quarterback’s blistering postseason ended at Arrowhead Stadium with those fateful 13 seconds. So, instead, he was here. At Jordan Palmer’s house. The Buffalo Bills quarterback actually bought a house right down the road from his private coach in Orange County. He watched the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals square off in Super Bowl LVI and… yeah. It hurt.
It’s not like Palmer was “interviewing” Allen that night. Palmer also happened to be a few beers deep like every good American should be during the Super Bowl. A bunch of fellas were hanging out — Sam Darnold, Kyle Allen, Logan Thomas, potential 2023 top pick Will Levis.
Even then, Palmer could see the pain in Allen.
“It stings anybody to lose that,” Palmer says, “I think that was tough. Knowing that you should be in that game. And you have a really good feeling that you’ll have a chance to get back to that game. But obviously nothing is guaranteed in this league.”
Yes, Allen believed the Bills should’ve been playing in that game.
“I think all the Bills players thought that, I think the staff thought that, I think the entire city thought that,” Palmer continues. “That’s not specific to Josh, you know? That one stung. I don’t know how long it took. I never really asked him. I know he has channeled all of that into this year. This is probably the hardest he has ever worked and the most focused he has ever been.”
Finally, the quarterback and the team turn the page on that “bad, bad situation.”
The 2022 NFL season is here. Tonight, the Bills visit the Rams right at SoFi and the hype around this team is unprecedented. Per Caesars Sportsbook, the Bills have received more than twice as much money to win the Super Bowl than every other team, four times as much money than 22 teams and 10 times as much money than 12 teams. The man fueling such insanely high expectations is, of course, Josh Allen. The rocket arm. The athleticism. The Paul Bunyan-build. His conglomeration of skills has arguably never been seen at the position.
The pressure was on Allen for a while. As written back in November 2020, this franchise’s owner was in love with Patrick Mahomes out of college, yet decided not to interfere. The next year, Buffalo maneuvered up the board for a total project out of Wyoming and Allen has proven to be an all-time consolation prize.
Now, he’s a MVP frontrunner.
To continue the conversation, Go Long chatted with four experts for a virtual roundtable.
Jordan Palmer: Allen’s private QB coach is credited for rewiring his mechanics. One of the most inaccurate passers in the NFL became one of the most accurate. How? Palmer digs into the nitty gritty. (Also: Palmer recently chatted with Allen for his new podcast, “The Room.” It’s worth the two hours.)
Rich Gannon: Not only is Gannon the former 2002 NFL MVP and a four-time Pro Bowler, but he’s called several Bills games for CBS. The former Oakland Raider is close to Allen and many people at One Bills Drive, tracking Allen’s progression from 2017 to today. His insight is rooted in countless conversations with Allen, head coach Sean McDermott and former Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
Warren Moon: The Hall of Fame quarterback threw for 49,325 yards and 291 touchdowns and also trained a weapon that’s most similar to Allen: former Carolina Panthers MVP Cam Newton. As you’ll read, Moon was also at “13 seconds” in Kansas City.
Rob Johnson: In a roundabout way, the Bills should be thanking their old friend for Allen. What people may not know is that Johnson’s father started this whole QB Guru trend in So Cal. Bob Johnson trained Carson Palmer as young as 10, 11 years old. Rob helped him out, too. He’d physically pick up Carson’s feet to show him how to do a three-step drop. When Jordan got into high school, he worked with Bob and Rob’s brother. Then, Rob helped out as Jordan got ready for the pros. Of course, Johnson can relate to being the anointed one in Western New York. Long ago, he was supposed to deliver a Super Bowl to the city of Buffalo. (Here’s our Q&A, icymi. Johnson relived it all.)
Johnson is still upset he couldn’t win it for Ralph Wilson, for the city.
If these Bills hoist the trophy — once and for all — keep an eye out for Rob Johnson during the parade.
“I might fly out just for that party,” he says. “I’ll go to Chippewa Street and be the 50-year-old on the corner. You know how you see the old dude and you’re like, ‘Oh my God. What’s he doing here?’ That’d be me.”
Here’s how it’s gotten to this point…
When Allen was drafted seventh overall ahead of UCLA’s Josh Rosen, the locals were not pleased. A scroll through the comments is a fun time. Rosen was the polished, pro-ready product. Allen was the gangly, awkward, small-school project. McDermott even started Nathan Peterman that 2018 season. There were many rough moments that rookie season for Allen. He went 5-6, threw more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (10) and completed only 52 percent of his passes with an abysmal 67.9 rating. Still, there were glimpses.
Gannon: I did his first-ever game. I think it was in Baltimore. Nathan Peterman started, he got hurt, and he came in. Watching him in that game? He was wild. He was reckless. The game was going really fast. You could tell the accuracy was going to be a bit of an issue because he was all over the place. His feet were all over the place, his mind was all over the place.
Moon: He reminded me of Cam Newton because I trained Cam Newton coming out of college to get ready for the NFL Combine and the draft. He was this big piece of clay you could take and mold the way you wanted to based off of how you were going to use him. We had to re-teach him everything. He had never taken a snap from center in college except for a couple of quarterback sneaks. He didn’t know the three-, five-, seven-step drops. We had to teach him all that technique. The fundamentals. But he had all this raw ability. That’s the way I looked at Josh Allen when he came out of Wyoming. He didn’t play against top-flight competition. He could run. He could throw the football as far as anybody and as hard as anybody. But he wasn’t polished.
Johnson: He was winning games and he couldn’t even throw the ball his first year. He was jumping over people. He wasn’t a skilled enough passer. He didn’t understand the pass game enough to win it with his arm. He said, “F it. Let’s do it this way.” And he was getting the job done.
Gannon: I just remember the criticism that came down on him. It was, “Is this guy going to be a bust?” Because he completed 52 percent. All the criticism he endured. I think he internalized that, and I know he took it personal. I’ve had conversations with him. Particularly when it was coming from certain people like Hall-of-Fame players and broadcasters.
Johnson: To play quarterback in Buffalo, you have to be tough. It’s tough people. That was my Dad’s No. 1 thing, as a quarterback: Accurate and tough. Nowadays with the rules, maybe not so much “tough.” But you still have to be tough in Buffalo. It’s windy. It’s not the easiest place to throw. So, one, you have to be tough to mentally grind through that. Buffalo’s a tough area so they’re tough people. You better be tough, too.
Gannon: He goes from completing 52 percent to 59 percent to 68 percent. Now, all of a sudden, he goes from being the guy who was questionable his first year to being one of the top quarterbacks in the game. How does that happen?
Johnson: I watched film of him when he was in college, and you can’t blame him. He was in a not-great offense and it was colder than shit up there. I think his personality and how he takes in coaching and how he wants to always improve is amazing. Because he’s physically gifted off the charts. Crazy. His mechanics needed worked on and that’s where Jordan came in. And Coach Daboll. Dorsey. A lot of quarterbacks are frickin’ divas. It’s half and half. Some are dudes and cool. The others are pain in the asses.
Moon: There were things he had to learn. I think he learned that through his quarterback coach Jordan Palmer.
Not a fatal flaw
For decades, we’ve been conditioned to think accuracy cannot be taught. You have it, or you don’t. It’s innate. From Year 1 to Year 2 to Year 3, Allen trashed that logic in a way we haven’t seen. How? A combination of hard work and a deep obsession with the mechanics. Allen needed both. Not everyone believes this style of play works in the playoffs through three or four straight wins. We’ve chatted a few times with one Hall of Famer who’s skeptical in Kurt Warner. The former Ram MVP was not alone in thinking a quarterback with long levers would struggle with accuracy. The likes of Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Terry Bradshaw were all critical. It’s hard to blame them. Palmer believes Allen was “absolutely” motivated by criticism.
Palmer: It was always there. It was a matter of time.
I don’t think it was specific to me. One, Josh is really into the mechanical side of things. He’s going to end up getting really good at golf, as soon as he settles in on one plan. Josh had never really been “classically trained” — he had never really had that before with where he was from. He played at Wyoming. That wasn’t in his DNA. A lot of guys have learned high-level football at a young age. And I think most guys learned it younger than he did. So, it was a little bit of right place, right time. And from a mechanic’s standpoint you’ve got to do two things to change something physically in my opinion. You’ve got to be athletic enough to connect to a new movement pattern and ditch an old one. New muscle memory. Secondly, you’ve got to be all-in on the right plan. That sounds simple. Most guys are half-in on the right plan or they’re all-in on the wrong plan. Or they’re all-in on no plan. They work their ass off but there’s no purpose behind what they’re doing. They’re just getting sweaty and tired all the time. That’s the maturity of college and professional quarterbacks in my opinion.
Moon: You better have the work ethic to want to get better, and be the hardest worker on that side of the ball. That way, everybody follows you.
Gannon: When you look at Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, those are three great examples. Brady, look at him coming out of Michigan as a sixth-round pick. There’s a reason why he wasn’t a first-round pick. To this day, he can name all of the players picked ahead of him. No one worked harder. No one continues to work harder at his craft. I talked to Josh McDaniels the other day and some of the people who were with him. They say he had the ability to elevate everyone around him. Their intensity. Their focus. Their preparation. Because no one wanted to disappoint him. Peyton Manning is another one. I played in three or four Pro Bowls with him. I remember watching him: He didn’t have great mobility. He didn’t have great change-of-direction skills or escapability. But he was as good as anyone in terms of turning over every possible scenario and leading them through a game. Drew Brees is another one. You look at him physically and he’s 6-foot tall and he’s going to have problems with vision and all that. He went on to shatter just about every record. But those guys have that DNA in them in terms of their work ethic and time they put into being successful and making others around them better. I see it in Josh.
Palmer: He’s always been really interested in the mechanics. He’s interested in golf-swing mechanics. He’s interested in how things work. That’s a big piece of it, too. He’s interested in it. I talk to scouts a lot and one piece of advice I give scouting departments on evaluating quarterbacks is: “Find out what part of football they’ve connected to.” Some guys just love what the game brings them. They love getting p---y. They love the bright lights. I don’t know if I’d invest in that guy. Some guys love learning protections and the X’s and O’s and defenses. Some guys just love throwing weights around. Some guys just love “being with the guys.” Everybody’s connected to some part of the game. Josh is always connected to the mechanical side — how things work. So, when somebody’s really smart and really interested in that, they have a shot. And then you have somebody with Josh Allen’s talent — I think he’s the most physically gifted player to ever play the position. Then, you get Josh Allen.
Gannon: I’ve had a lot of conversations with Brian Daboll about Josh. Everybody has to be able to throw the ball and do the things you have to be able to do to play that position. What elevates certain players is to be able to constantly hone their craft, constantly ask questions and figure out the “Why?” and learn more about defensive football and being inquisitive.
Palmer: Kurt Warner and I fundamentally disagree on everything. Just FYI. Great player, though.
Gannon: You can never underestimate someone’s willingness, someone’s heart, someone’s passion for being great at what they do. He’s always trying to hone his craft.
Johnson: I give the credit to the Bills’ coaches. They’re with him nine months out of the year. Everybody talks about the quarterback coaches and all this bullshit. It helps, of course. But if he didn’t have Stefon Diggs or he didn’t have Daboll, does it matter if his elbow was in the right position?
Gannon: On this play (as a rookie), you cut the right side of the field off. Your eyes go to the left. You’re not going to throw it to the right on this particular concept. That’s out. You’re going to throw the corner to the flat to the back. That’s it. That’s all you got. That’s 50 percent of your field and vision that’s eliminated before you put your hands under center. Once you understand protections and concepts and scheme — you start understanding fronts and coverages and defenses — you’re able to process information quickly and efficiently. You’re not trying to think, “OK, what happened?” In your mind, everything slows down. You’re not going to say, “OK, I’m going to work the corner to the flat.” You’re eliminating things presnap and even at the snap of the ball. You know exactly where you’re going to go with the football. And then if you clean up the footwork? If I tell you where to throw the damn ball, you’re going to be more accurate! If you’re not late with your eyes — and your eyes are getting there earlier — then you’ve got a chance to be more accurate. If you’re taking a five-step instead of a seven-step and you’re getting the ball out quicker, you’re going to be more accurate!
Moon: You can fix accuracy because a lot of it has to do with your technique and fundamentals and your footwork. He really improved his footwork and I think that helped him improve his accuracy.
Gannon: It’s not rocket science here. If you know where to go with the football and your eyes get there sooner, you’re probably going to put it in an area where a guy can catch it — as opposed to working the right side of the field and, all of a sudden, you realize “Oh, shit. I should be on the left side.” You spin back there and your feet are not aligned and you’re rushing the throw, you’re not going to be as accurate.
Palmer: It’s being able to build a plan that he could connect to and could understand. Not, “Hey, we’re going to get you to throw it like this guy.” But, “Here’s the most efficient way for you to do this.” I mean, his wind-up has gotten longer since we worked together. But his release has gotten faster. Look at a picture of him from college and look at a picture (Thursday) night. But, it’s faster. Because there’s no other movement going on. He’s barely even stepping toward his target. It’s a momentary shift into his front foot. That left foot decelerates, creates a fulcrum and that’s what pulls his hips forward so it doesn’t even look like he’s moving much. But he’s transferring all of that energy really quickly. So, the ball drops down more than it used to and comes out quicker.”
Moon: I’m trying to think of somebody he reminds me of. A little bit of a Ben Roethlisberger but Ben didn’t run as much as he does. Ben was more of an escape guy. He could shrug guys off as far as pass rushers and create and buy a lot of time. He was really great at that, but he wasn’t a guy who was going to take off and run the ball as much as Josh does.
Palmer: He’s incredibly athletic, and I’m not talking 40 time and vertical jump. I just mean, can you switch an old movement pattern and start a new one? That is really hard for guys to do. Some guys literally can’t do that. They can’t get rid of the bad habit.
Johnson: I saw maybe two opposing quarterbacks play well at Buffalo. It’s a hard place to play. He’s already got that advantage over everybody because his arm is so strong. We had a good defense. But I rarely saw quarterbacks come in and pick us apart. He is as good as it gets.
Palmer: He is easily motivated. He wants it really bad. When you want it really bad and anybody says different from what you think is going to happen, then it ends up becoming part of the motivation whether you wanted it to be or not. … It’s not just hard work because I know guys who work really hard and can’t do it. I know guys who work harder than him and can’t do it. So, it’s a combo.
In 2020, Allen catapulted into superstardom. In 2021, the team hit a rough patch — Buffalo fell to 7-6 — but a torrid finish by the QB whipped the Bills into shape and he was enjoying an all-time postseason up to 13 seconds. In two games, Allen completed 77.4 percent of his passes for 673 yards, nine touchdowns, no picks and a 149.0 passer rating. He ran for another 134 yards and was sacked only twice. Now, his offensive coordinator (Brian Daboll) is the head coach of the New York Giants. The Bills are banking on continuity in elevating QBs coach Ken Dorsey to OC. That comes with challenges. But as Palmer explains, also opportunity.
Gannon: It’s not just what he does throwing the football. That’s where he’s different. He can create. He can manufacture offense. He can extend plays. When I evaluate the quarterback position, I always say there’s going to be five or six plays in every game where something bad happens. The left tackle gets beat. A tight end falls down. A running back slips out of the backfield. The receiver doesn’t run the right route. In those situations, what can you do? To make a play? He shows time and time again that he can still do that. There’s a handful of guys who can really do it well. He’s one of them. When you look at his size — how big he is, how strong he is, how fast he is — it’s amazing.
Palmer: Designing an offense and calling plays are two different things. There’s the genius of Brian Daboll, who I think is one of the best coaches in all of football. It’s not just the play design. It’s not just creating solutions during the week on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s also dialing it up, and the cadence in which you call things. There’s a lot there they’ll miss in Daboll. My bet is that Ken Dorsey is a brilliant football mind and that he’ll be the next Brian Daboll. He certainly has the weapons, at quarterback especially, to pull that off. What you can’t do is keep it vanilla and hope for Josh Allen to beat people. I think Ken’s going to be really creative.
Moon: Josh has gotten better every year. Losing Brian Daboll, we’ll see how that affects him. But I think his relationship with his quarterback coach now has been a really good one. That’ll work out smoothly.
Palmer: I don’t think there’s another — by a mile — offensive coordinator in the NFL who’s calling plays right now who has as much big-time football experience as Ken Dorsey. You’d say, “What about Byron Leftwich? He was the seventh pick in the draft.” I don’t know. They weren’t very good in Jacksonville. I’m talking big-time, pull-the-trigger… he played at Marshall. Ken Dorsey was a Heisman finalist twice. I was in the green room with him and my brother won it. That’s a dorky dude leading The U in peak The U. Bullets flying, all eyes on me pressure, with the ball in your hand quarterback, I know Kevin O’Connell didn’t. I know some of these other guys calling plays, Mike Kafka, he didn’t ball like Ken did. I wonder where that becomes an advantage. You’ve got 12 seconds left. What are we doing? Those decisions. That doesn’t happen on Tuesday or Wednesday when you’re designing and coming up with strategy. That’s “Gun to your head, make a decision.” I mean, Daboll didn’t do that. I think it’s going to be a really cool advantage. I think we’ll look back at Ken Dorsey and go, “Oh my gosh. This guy has been perfectly groomed in a perfect situation and he’s perfectly capable of taking it and running with it.”
Moon: What is he 26 years old? He has a long time left to play the game. I know he does play a more physical style than other quarterbacks, but I think he’ll curtail that as he gets older and more mature. He has to see he doesn’t need to run the ball as much as he does. They probably won’t call as many runs to try to preserve his career. You definitely want to keep that element in there but you don’t want to do what Carolina did with Cam Newton. They ran him to death and beat him to death. That’s what I’m worried about with Lamar Jackson as well. Hopefully, they’re a little bit smarter with how much they use his legs. Because Josh can throw the ball from the pocket as well as anybody. Do that.
Johnson: I know he’s as big as a house and tougher than shit. You want to keep him healthy, too.
Moon: I was at that game (at Arrowhead). It was an amazing game, one of the best games I’ve ever seen. With 13 seconds left I started walking towards my car to get out of there believe it or not. I was walking through the concession stand area. They had TVs on. I’m watching the TVs as I’m walking by. I had to stop. I watched the last play and went back up to get me a seat again. First, I saw Tyreek Hill. Then, I saw Kelce catch that pass in the middle. And I said, “Oh my God. I’ve got to catch my seat. This game is not over yet!”
Johnson: Just cursed, right? Now, I’m worried because there are so much expectations now. The NFL is a tough, tough league. It’s hard to win. It’s hard to stay without injuries. Right now, I feel like the expectations are… I’m praying everything works out.
Next stop… Super Bowl?
It is time for everyone at One Bills Drive to view this franchise through the lens of Allen.
How players are acquired. How a game is called. Everything. After three straight playoff meltdowns, the Bills cannot spoil their extraterrestrial talent. Maybe it’s too early to suggest the Bills need to replace McDermott — a la the L.A. Lakers upgrading from Paul Westhead to Pat Riley, the Chicago Bulls upgrading from Doug Collins to Phil Jackson — but there will be pressure on the head coach after last season’s defeat. Allen is the one who gave Buffalo two leads in the final two minutes of the playoff loss at KC.
Could more playoff heartbreak compel Terry Pegula to make a move? Maximizing Allen should be Priority No. 1, No. 2, No. 3. The chips were pushed toward the center of the table with Von Miller’s mega deal.
As for Allen himself, he’ll need to somehow pick up where he left off. Dust off that unstoppable, MJ-like feeling.
Then, it’s all about February.
Palmer: In answering “How does he reclaim that feeling,” my hope is it’s the last feeling he had. With all of the same people. I know there’s a little bit of turnover here and there but he’s going to look around that huddle and recognize everybody, right? So, it’s tough to get there. They started really slow last year. You remember that bad loss to Pittsburgh where they couldn’t click. Everything was a little off. It’s a combination of “How do you pick up where you left off?” and then, so many teams in this league, the way they build their comfort zone around their quarterback is by running the ball well early in the season. Who knows what they’ll be this year but it’s not something they hung their hat on or needed to hang their hat on the last few years.
Gannon: There are eight teams that realistically have a chance to do something special. And when you’re one of those eight teams? You know it. I think Buffalo knows it.
Moon: I don’t think Von is going to play six more years, but I think he’s got a couple of good ones left in him. He doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear on him even though he’s 33 years old. He’s been used sparingly over the last two or three years. I’m sure that’s how they’ll use him this year, as a pass specialist on passing downs. They’ve got all those young defensive linemen they can switch off with him. He won’t have to play as many downs.
Johnson: So many things have to go right. Last year, everyone’s praising the Rams as the best team ever. Stafford’s the man. He threw a pick right to the guy. The guy drops it. If he catches it, they don’t even go. Right to the guy! What would the narrative have been then? He can’t win the big one. Now, he’s doing commercials.
Palmer: I look at the challenges of starting off hot and I don’t see it being a problem. I would anticipate they come close to picking up where they left off. But they’re playing a defense that has one of the only guys who could take Stef Diggs out of a game for the most part and a defensive line that could make Josh move more than he wants to, so this is quite the challenge to start off with.
Gannon: When Peyton Manning went to Denver, they said the minute he walked through the door, everybody got better. The guys in the equipment room. The guys in the training room. The assistant coaches. The fifth and sixth receivers. The offensive linemen. Everyone knew that when greatness walks through the building, we’ve got a chance to really capture something here. It was a great example last year when Tom goes to Tampa. Everyone has heightened awareness — like, “This guy’s not going to tolerate any nonsense or bullshit.” If you don’t know what you’re doing, he’s not going to wait for the coach to make the correction. He’s going to throw you off the field. He’s not going to tolerate it. He’s here for one reason and one reason only. When you have that type of player, great things can happen.
Palmer: The window is open. We’ll see how long they can keep it open for. It looks like for a long time. You never really know but all the pieces are there. To win the Super Bowl — and Buffalo knows this — you’ve got to be really good, but the ball has to bounce your way. The coin has to land on the right side.
Gannon: You’ll see guys have success and they’ll pump the brakes. They rest on their laurels. They say, “I’ve got it figured out.” He’s not that guy. In his mind, he’s never going to have it figured out. You look at Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and all of these guys late in their career, they’re always looking for that one thing. They’re always trying to find that one thing on tape that’ll help them. They video tape every drop. They have coaches watching them. Footwork. Mechanics. “Hey, where was my shoulder?” And they’re always looking. They’re very coachable. They want feedback. They want constructive criticism. The great ones are like that. I’ve talked to Brian and Sean McDermott and Josh says, “Don’t tell me what I did right. Tell me where I can get better.” When you have that type of mentality — that type of DNA — the sky’s the limit.
Moon: He can be the best who has ever played there, and that’s saying a lot. Jim Kelly had an amazing career there with four Super Bowls and all of the Bills’ passing records. Josh has a chance to be better. He’s going to have a great career as long as he stays hungry. Until he gets a Super Bowl, he’s going to really be hungry.
Palmer: If you don’t want it really bad, then you need things to motivate you. Or you need things to motivate that player. But somebody who’s really motivated? It’s really clear that the last thing Josh is doing right now is going, “Well, I got my contract.” He doesn’t give a shit. He wants Super Bowls. I was glad to see on that top 100 list that he was really low. He was 7th or 10th or something. I love when that came out because that’ll again make a highly motivated guy go, “Really?” And that’s not anything you complain about when the players are voting. You’ve got to accept that for what it is. I like when those things come out because with a highly motivated guy, added motivation can be dangerous.
Gannon: He gives confidence to everybody. If you’re Leslie Frazier, you can be more aggressive. You can take some calculated risks. If you give up a big play, you’ve got confidence that your quarterback will go right down the field and score. I think the team feeds off of that.
Palmer: One of the best tandems in the entire league and maybe even No. 1 or No. 2 is the tandem of Josh Allen and Brandon Beane. The situation Brandon has built around Josh and the way Josh has delivered on everything, that’s a special tandem. Their window is going to be pretty big. The way him and Brandon have been able to solve problems, I think they’re going to have a really long window. It’s really unique.
Johnson: You expect them to be really good. But some part of me thinks, “Stay healthy,” because there are so much expectations. Get through the year, get to the playoffs, and then go. I want to fast forward. The fans are awesome. I would love for them to get a Super Bowl. It would be the best story ever.