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Josh Allen is slumping, and there might be an overlooked explanation

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen has been slumping over the past several weeks. (Paul Sancya/AP)

The Buffalo Bills’ once-unimpeachable passing game might be merely in a little slump. Perhaps quarterback Josh Allen was just due for some regression. It could be that his elbow hurts more than anyone is letting on.

No matter the cause, Sunday was another fairly tepid outing for Allen against a broken Cleveland Browns defense, and even in the pristine dome conditions at Ford Field in Detroit — Allen had been otherworldly indoors in his career before last week — he didn’t reach 200 passing yards. Sure, the Bills were great on the ground — Allen didn’t partake in much of that, which also might hint at that injury being at least a factor — and you could argue that Buffalo didn’t need Allen to do too much. But there are also some whispers and theories making the rounds in league circles about the root causes for Allen’s November swoon — and whether the departure of former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is taking a toll.

The preseason favorite to win the league’s MVP award, Allen has been rough the past four weeks. He has completed just 61 percent of his passes in that span, with four touchdowns to six interceptions, and has taken 11 sacks. His passer rating during this rut is a measly 74.1, which is 30th in the NFL in that span and a massive fall from his start to the season. If you recall, after beating Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Kansas City and leading the Bills to the top spot in the AFC with a 5-1 record, Allen was tied with Mahomes for the NFL lead with 17 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions and his 109.1 rating led those of all quarterbacks who had started every game.

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It has been quite a decline. Things have bogged down in the red zone, big time, and the passing game has been more of a struggle as the weeks go by. Only Houston’s Davis Mills has thrown more interceptions than Allen since Week 6 (and Allen benefited from a bye).

All of that has several people in the league’s coaching and management ranks suggesting the absence of Allen’s longtime coordinator and play caller, Daboll, is a significant factor in the origins of this malaise — or at least in its continuation. Daboll had an uncanny ability to read the quarterback and his body language and sense when he was falling back into bad habits and trying to do too much. Daboll knew how to rein him in and keep Allen from forcing things — a process that began when the quarterback was a turnover-prone rookie.

“I think he misses Daboll,” said one evaluator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss an active player. “I definitely think that’s part of it. Look at what he’s done with [New York Giants quarterback Daniel] Jones, cutting down on the bad throws and easy picks. He has a knack for that.”

One AFC general manager, who is not permitted to publicly discuss opposing personnel, said: “I don’t think you can overestimate what Daboll meant to his development. Not just on game day but through the week.”

One of the hallmarks of Daboll’s Giants in his first season in charge has been their ability to adjust in the second half, finding ways to adapt and score after halftime. A year ago, the Bills’ offense under his stewardship scored 258 points in the second half, more than any other team — an average of 15.2 points per game. Buffalo is currently tied for 16th in the NFL in second-half scoring with 114 points through 10 games (11.4 per game). The trend is even more acute lately: Since Week 6, the Bills have produced just 30 points in the second half of games, which ranks 27th in the NFL. That’s hardly what we have come to expect from them.

The Bills’ new offensive coordinator, Ken Dorsey, earned notoriety early this season when he was seen smashing up his perch in the press box. He has, well, a big playsheet to fill, if you will. He’s still growing into the job, but he’s doing so on the fly for a team in Super Bowl or bust mode.

Allen has enough preternatural ability and too high of a work rate to expect him to struggle for long. Everyone has lulls (except for Mahomes), and it stood to reason that at some point this season Buffalo’s offense would hit a crossroads. But some would suggest that the lows might not be this low — or this prolonged — if the Giants’ coach were still with Allen in western New York.

A costly mistake

I was talking to a general manager early last week about top coordinator candidates for the next coaching cycle who do not get enough attention. Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing’s name quickly surfaced.

Like Tennessee’s team itself, Downing has continually done more with less, finding ways to keep the Titans in contention for the top overall seed in the AFC again. This despite playing some games without a quarterback who was even trying to throw the ball (Malik Willis), enduring long stretches without an available proven impact receiver and going from a deep, veteran tight end room to a novice one. Downing’s profile figured to be on the rise after an impressive prime-time performance this past Thursday at Green Bay, where he called a goal-line touchdown pass for running back Derrick Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill looked better than he had all season.

Then came Downing’s arrest early Friday morning for driving under the influence.

“That’s going to take him out of the mix this year,” said the AFC general manager, who is not permitted to speak publicly about coaching personnel on other teams. “I don’t think you can interview him now. If we needed a coach, I couldn’t recommend him.”

The NFL is investigating Downing’s possible consumption of alcohol either on the flight back from Green Bay or at the team facility upon the Titans’ return. Having covered the league for nearly two decades and having heard story after story of partying during postgame traveling, I would have to be pretty naive to think this isn’t commonplace, but the league seems more intent on policing it now. And rightfully so.

Notes from around the league

There has been an expectation around the league that the Carolina Panthers would take another long look at Sam Darnold, which they have now said they will do, starting Sunday against the Denver Broncos. They are paying Darnold big money, and evaluators who watched Baker Mayfield’s return last week were far less than impressed. “Pathetic” is how one longtime scout who reviewed his film against the Baltimore Ravens dubbed it. …

What happened to the NFL QB Class of 2021?

We suggested last week that Zach Wilson might be on borrowed time with the New York Jets, and Coach Robert Saleh made the change to Mike White official Wednesday. After propping the door wide open for a quarterback change earlier in the week, Saleh ran the risk of alienating his players — who thought they had a voice in this process, at least to some degree — by not moving off Wilson now. Accountability is a huge part of playing quarterback in this league. …

The early returns for the Eagles’ two hired gun run stuffers signed off the street last week — Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh — were quite strong in Philadelphia’s win over the Indianapolis Colts. And impact rookie defensive tackle Jordan Davis will be back down the line, too.