The Buffalo Bills had a rest day on September 18 because they are scheduled to take on the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football in Week 2, but that didn’t stop the Bills and how they utilize quarterback Josh Allen from becoming a hot topic of debate.
During the opening quarter of the San Francisco 49ers‘ matchup against the Seattle Seahawks on September 18, quarterback Trey Lance ran the ball up the middle before falling awkwardly on his right leg, suffering what head coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed during the postgame press conference as a season-ending injury.
While backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo stepped in and helped the 49ers beat the Seahawks 27-7, Shanahan faced heavy scrutiny for allowing his supposed franchise star to run the ball so much. During the team’s Week 1 loss to the Chicago Bears, Lance, who’s 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds, was the team’s leading rusher with 13 attempts for 54 yards.
During the press conference after Sunday’s game, a reporter asked Shanahan about running the ball on 2nd-and-8 from the 21-yard line, the play in which the team’s first-round pick from the 2021 draft broke his ankle.
“Would it have been better if it was 2nd-and-4?” Shanahan clapped back. “There’s a few options on the play. It could have been a handoff. The D-end went up the play. It’s the exact same play we ran three plays before that where Deebo [Samuel] got a 52-yarder. So there’s a lot of stuff that goes into it.”
When Shanahan was again asked about his play calling, he got “upset and irritated,” which is when he brought up the Bills.
“Buffalo does it all the time with their quarterback,” Shanahan said, per Niners Nation. “It’s a pretty normal play. It’s a part of football and it’s unfortunate he hurt his ankle on it, but it’s a very normal play. You guys should watch some other people.”
The Bills Also Face Scrutiny for How Often Allen Runs the Ball
An argument could be made that Shanahan was merely calling plays to capitalize on Lance’s rushing abilities, but the question of how often a quarterback should run the ball is not a criticism unique to the 49er’s head coach.
This exact discussion was brought up again by several NFL analysts in regard to Allen following the Bills’ win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1. NBC Sports’ Mike Florio and Chris Simms suggested that it would be wise for the 26-year-old superstar to pay attention to how he protects himself on the field, while Yahoo! Sports’ Jason Owens warned that Allen could end up like quarterback Cam Newton if he continues to take hits as a runner.
“In each of [Newton’s] first five seasons, he ran the ball more than 100 times per year with rushing totals ranging from 585 to 741 yards,” Owens wrote. “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 best running back wrapped up in a single package.
“His performance showed signs of decline in 2016, a year after his MVP campaign and his sixth season in the NFL. In 2019, he acknowledged that he’d played through lingering shoulder issues since that 2016 season, a span that saw his downfield accuracy decline. It wasn’t just his shoulder. There were likewise foot injuries, walking boots, concussions and ankle surgery. In 2017, anonymous team officials whispered concerns that his body was breaking down.”
However, just because one player went down a certain path doesn’t mean Allen will follow suit, and the Wyoming alum’s on-field heroics are a huge reason the Bills are favored to win the Super Bowl this year. “There’s no easy answer, as Allen’s play continues to produce wins and highlights,” Owens wrote. “But it behooves both Allen and Bills to seek out the proper balance.”
If Allen were to suffer a serious injury, Bills head coach Sean McDermott would face intense questioning, just as Shanahan is now. Sacramento Bee reporter Chris Biderman tweeted on Sunday, “I think it’s absolutely fair to criticize Kyle Shanahan’s insistence on running Trey Lance and putting him at risk. We’ve seen Shanahan put together a good running games without running quarterbacks. Lance has to develop as a passer and now he’s set back another year.”
The Athletic’s Steve Berman tweeted, “Totally understand wanting the next Josh Allen, but it felt like Kyle Shanahan was forcing the issue here. Allen punishes defenders. Lance just kept getting punished.”
Allen Defended His Decision to Run the Ball Himself
On the September 13 episode of the “Kyle Brandt’s Basement” podcast, the host showed Allen a tweet from a fan that expressed how nervous she gets each time the $258 million quarterback runs the ball himself. The tweet read, “Is it necessary for you to run in the 4th quarter when you’re up 20+ points? Can you please stop? From anxiety-ridden Bills fan with PTSD. Go Bills!”
Allen couldn’t help smiling. “Is it necessary? Absolutely not,” he said. “But it’s football and, you know, things happen. We were in a four-minute drill where we’re just trying to waste some clock and we called a play action. Gabe Davis got open late … and I was just trying to get some yards. We call it a surrender situation. An incompletion is way worse. I’d rather take a sack there and keep the clock running.
“But there was a crease, [and] I did do a half-hearted slide. I got off to the sidelines and [backup quarterbacks] Matt Barkley and Case Keenum were like, ‘Dude, can you slide for me?’ I was, like, go back and watch the tape. I did a little jump-forward slide. I did get touched a little bit, but I got down in time and didn’t take a big hit.”
During the Bills’ 31-10 victory over the Rams in Week 1, the fifth-year veteran played spectacularly, going 26-of-31 for 297 yards and three touchdown passes. He also rushed the ball 10 times for 56 yards and a touchdown.
As for protecting himself against the run, Allen said during a press conference on September 14, “I think I can be better in that aspect. But given the circumstances of what it was, understanding the flow of the game — I do things sometimes that are necessary for my eyes to help our team win a football game. That’s all it is. But at the end of the day, availability is the best ability. So, just understanding that and getting down and not taking too many hits — that’s year in and year out.”