Jim Kelly: Bills' Josh Allen can thrive, but balance on offense can help

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Emmanuel Sanders admitted a hard truth while talking to fellow Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs after the team’s 23-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1.

“Man, these next seven days are gonna suck,” Sanders told his teammate.

Sanders said the Bills were left with a “bad taste in our mouths” after starting the season 0-1 ahead of a Week 2 AFC East matchup against the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, Fox). The disappointing loss largely fell on the offense’s shoulders, a unit that entered the season with high expectations, especially when it came to quarterback Josh Allen.

Allen had a near MVP-caliber season in 2020, finishing second in the voting for the award, after completing 69.2% of his passes for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns. He performed so above and beyond his previous seasons that the talk leading up to the 2021 season centered around whether his success could be sustained.

So, naturally, when the Bills struggled against one of the likely top defenses in the NFL -- Allen completed 30 of 51 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown -- those doubts were fueled.

Former Bills quarterback and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly understands the pressures that come from being a part of a Super Bowl-contending team.

Kelly, a three-time head and neck cancer survivor, spoke with ESPN as part of the Your Cancer Story initiative.

“One thing that I've learned over my life is you put those negative things behind you, you learn from it, you move on,” Kelly said, echoing Allen’s sentiment. “You don't let it just sink into your mind and stay there. You have to learn from those, and I've been very good at that, going to Super Bowls and not winning them. You put it to the back burner and move on.”

There was plenty of blame to share against the Steelers, including for the offensive line. Right tackle Daryl Williams struggled against the NFL’s highest paid defensive player in T.J. Watt. When Allen was under pressure against Pittsburgh, he completed 3 of 14 passes for 29 yards.

But instead of focusing on all of the negatives, the quarterback is trying to use the outing as a learning opportunity.

“You learn more in losses than you do in wins,” Allen said this week. “To have it early on especially, and just kind of reset our focus, and [it forced] us to focus on some things we need to work on.

“If we would have won that game, maybe we’re not working on some of the things we’re working on now. There’s always a benefit to it, especially early on, just don’t want to make a habit of it.”

The Bills are trying to avoid the team’s second 0-2 start under coach Sean McDermott with a matchup on the road against a division opponent. Luckily for the Bills' offense and Allen, the Dolphins haven’t caused much of a roadblock in the past three seasons.

In six games against the Dolphins, Allen has 20 total touchdowns, four interceptions, completed 64% of his passes and averaged 258.7 passing yards per game. The Bills are 5-1 in those games and have scored 31-plus points in the last five (all wins).

For comparison, Allen has played five games against the New York Jets and the New England Patriots but has scored fewer than 10 touchdowns against each of them.

Dolphins defensive lineman Christian Wilkins said this week that Allen, “doesn’t have any weaknesses.”

But third downs were a weakness for the Bills' offense in Week 1. The team went 8-of-18 (44%) on third downs after leading the league in the category in 2020 (49.7%).

Part of the reason was difficulty picking up yards on first and second down. Allen averaged 5.03 yards per attempt on those downs, second fewest in Week 1 (Matt Ryan, 4.87).

Playing against the Dolphins could provide an opportunity to improve in that category. Miami allowed New England to convert 68.8% of third downs (third most in the NFL in Week 1).

Another area for the Bills to focus on this week? Kelly pointed it out himself.

The Bills QB great said he would like to see Buffalo run the ball a little bit more -- Allen threw 51 times, and the Bills had 15 rushing attempts from the running backs in Week 1, although Devin Singletary had some success (11 carries for 72 yards). The Dolphins gave up 125 rushing yards against the Patriots last week.

"[Allen's] learning, even though this past game he didn't play very well, I don't think anybody did,” Kelly said. “But the bottom line is, he's very good, he's a great athlete, he's got great coaching.

“They have him in the system that he can thrive on, he's got great people around him. I just wish that they used the running game a little bit more, because don't put too much pressure on No. 17.”