The emergence of Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen as a premier passer is arguably one of the NFL's most surprising storylines over the season's first two weeks. Now in his third season with the Bills (2-0), Allen leads the league in passing yards with 729 after setting career highs in each of the past two games.
Personal development aside, a major reason why Allen has found so much success is the collection of pass-catchers the Bills have assembled.
The crown jewel, Stefon Diggs, has been somehow better than advertised following his offseason trade from the Minnesota Vikings. The chemistry between Diggs and Allen seems ahead of schedule considering the truncated NFL offseason; as a result, Diggs is tied with Atlanta's Calvin Ridley for the league lead in receiving yards with 239, and ranks tied for fourth in targets with 22.
One could reasonably expect Allen to target Diggs heavily, considering he was brought in to be the team's lead receiver. But Buffalo's returning starters, John Brown and Cole Beasley, have each picked up where they left off in 2019.
With the addition of rookie Gabriel Davis, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll suddenly has one of the deepest corps of pass-catchers in the league -- certainly deeper than the barren cupboard of receivers in Buffalo during Allen's rookie season in 2018.
"It's an attitude we just have," Allen said after Sunday's 31-28 win against the Miami Dolphins. "We believe in our playmakers here and coach Daboll is not the one to shy away from putting the ball in my hands. ... We've got guys that can step up and fill roles and make plays the way they did. That's huge for a team's success."
Brown and Beasley have remained integral parts of the offense, with Brown scoring in each of the team's first two games. It's a small sample size and a perhaps an unsustainable pace, but through two games, Diggs (16 catches for 239 yards), Brown (10 for 152) and Beasley (9 for 128) are all on track for 1,000-yard seasons.
Against Miami in Week 2, the Dolphins' top cornerback, Byron Jones, left the game after the opening drive with a groin injury and did not return. Instead of using veteran cornerback Xavien Howard, who signed a $75 million contract in 2019, to defend Diggs, the Dolphins left him on Brown and covered Diggs with rookie Noah Igbinoghene.
The results were as expected -- Diggs put on a clinic with 153 yards and a touchdown on 8 catches. Not to be forgotten, Brown reeled in four catches for 82 yards and a 46-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach. Both receivers caught passes of at least 42 yards and further bolstered Allen's belief the Bills don't necessarily have a No. 1 receiver.
They have two.
"They're extremely smart football players. They know how to get open, they're just fun to play with," Allen said of Diggs and Brown in Week 1. "They communicate, they talk and the things they can do -- not a lot of guys in this league can do what they can do. They're constantly getting open and making plays.
"That's what you love to see from your one and two receivers -- and I really wouldn't say we have a one and a two, I think we've got two ones."
The chemistry between the receivers is ahead of schedule, as well. Daboll said Brown spoke to him via headset during Sunday's game in Miami, encouraging him to continue calling plays for Diggs.
"He said 'keep feeding 14 [Diggs],'" Daboll said of Brown. "That's the type of guys you want to work with."
At halftime, Diggs returned the favor.
"Then we get in at halftime and Diggs said, 'hey, we can get Smoke [Brown] over here and we can get Beasley over here.' They're working together and they're working for one another," Daboll said. "When you have a group of guys, particularly in that room, who are unselfish like that -- you like to see that as a coach.
"Because there's one ball and everybody wants it -- and rightfully so."
Daboll has made a noticeable effort to put as many playmakers on the field as possible this season, calling for a four-receiver set on 23% of the team's plays according to NFL Next Gen Stats -- by far the highest percentage in the NFL. It's resulted in a new-look offense despite returning many of the same pieces from last year's 26th-ranked passing attack.
Ironically, it's because of that familiarity that Daboll feels like Allen has been able to succeed thus far this season, with the Los Angeles Rams (1 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox) coming to town in Week 3.
"Josh's job is to try to get the ball to the open receiver, whoever that may be," Daboll said. "Let's not forget, he had Smoke last year, he had Beasley last year, he had [tight end Dawson] Knox last year, he had [running back Devin Singletary] last year."
The big additions to the attack this season have been Diggs, Davis, running back Zack Moss and to some extent Allen's improved comfort with the scheme.
Daboll likes the progress he sees.
"You'd like for [Allen] to let the game come to him and not force things. I'm sure there's plays that all of us would like to have back," he said. "But again, he's improved since he's been here [from] Day 1."