Here's why Washington should sign Jonathan Allen to an extension this offseason
Taking a closer look at how Allen played this season and why he merits a new contract
Note: Washington and Allen agreed to a four-year, $72 million extension on July 26th.
Jonathan Allen is somewhat the forgotten man along Washington’s defensive line. Chase Young is the new face of the franchise, Montez Sweat had an extremely impactful season off the other edge and Daron Payne is seen as the younger, more explosive player inside next to Allen. Statistically, Payne had a better season too, with three sacks as opposed to the two Allen registered, nine tackles for loss over Allen’s three and three forced fumbles while Allen had none. But the stats don’t tell the full story and for me, Allen was Washington’s best defensive lineman this season.
Payne is known for first-step quickness while Allen isn’t, so Washington fans carry this perception that Allen isn’t a good pass rusher, which couldn’t be further from the truth. He perhaps started the season a bit slow as he adjusted to Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio’s more attacking one-gap system. But during the second half of the season, he was dominant and had some outstanding performances in big games, both as a pass rusher and run defender.
When looking at Allen’s pass rush, there’s nowhere else to start but his signature move, where he combines a cross chop with his inside arm with a hump move.
This clip contains just a handful of examples of Allen using his favorite move. It all starts with a cross chop, where he takes his inside arm and chops across his body to the outside arm of the blocker. The move is designed to clear the hands of the blocker and force them down. Allen then used the momentum of the cross chop to swing his arm down and around and place it roughly around the inside armpit of the blocker. The blocker’s natural instinct is to protect their outside gap as Allen’s initial move worked across their body to the outside, but with their momentum going that way, Allen’s placement of his inside hand under the inside armpit of the blocker allows him to shove the blocker in the direction of their momentum. This forces the blocker further outside and allows Allen a path to work inside.
The first play of the clip shows exactly how it’s meant to work, with Allen setting up the left guard with the cross chop to the outside before transitioning into the hump move to shove the guard outside. That created a lane for Allen to work inside and close on the quarterback, who attempted to scramble away only to run into more pressure and fumble. It doesn’t always work as perfectly as that, but it’s typically very effective for Allen.
On the plays against the Steelers, the guard reacts a little better than the 49ers’ guard did in the first clip. On all three occasions, however, the guard gets stood upright with little leverage to prevent Allen from driving him back towards the quarterback. That’s precisely what Allen does and his pressure forces the quarterback either to move off the spot or throw a quick checkdown, which is exactly the intent of this defense.
It’s become Allen’s go-to rush and it’s incredibly effective because blockers have to respect the threat outside as well as inside. It’s hard to adjust feet and hands to counter Allen’s movements. Occasionally, some guards anticipate the move and position themselves inside to take away Allen’s lane back inside.
These two plays show the guards taking away the use of the hump move to get back inside. However, to do that, the guard has to surrender a lane outside and with the hands of the guard chopped down already, Allen can get low and right into the guard with all the leverage, driving at the outside shoulder and powering through.
Allen has clearly worked to improve every little detail in order to perfect this move. He uses it regularly with great effect and knows how guards try to defend it, so has worked multiple transitions off of it. But while this is clearly Allen’s most common and most effective pass rush move, it’s far from his only move. Allen has a variety of good hand moves to beat blockers and pressure the quarterback, which he can cycle through depending on the situation and the technique of the blocker.
Allen has a nice side-swipe move in his arsenal of moves. It’s something Allen will go to when blockers try to surprise him with a quick set or simply have a tendency to have high hands. In the first play of the clip, we see the 49ers’ left guard try to quick set Allen. A quick set is when a blocker steps towards the defender to try and engage in the block early and take away the primary rush move, instead of sinking back and waiting for the rusher to declare his intentions. It’s a nice set for blockers to use and Washington’s Brandon Scherff is among those that like to use it regularly. However, it’s not without its own weaknesses and Allen’s side swipe is the perfect response.
The nature of the quick set sees the blocker get out of his stance quickly and often playing higher than the defender who might be slower off the snap. With the blocker naturally high, Allen swipes with both of his hands to knock the hands of the blocker away. That takes away the strength of the quick set, being able to get hands on the defender early, and leaves the guard vulnerable to getting beat to the edge quickly. Allen drops his hands and bends the edge as he works past the guard and delivers a punishing hit to the quarterback as he throws.
On the second play of the clip, Allen is one of three rushers at the end of the game, with the Steelers needing a miracle hail mary attempt to get back into the game. Allen starts standing up and then rushes at the center. The center lunges at him with his left arm, and Allen quickly swipes it away and works past him on his way to pressuring the quarterback into a hurried throw. The third play sees Allen working against Buccaneers’ left guard Ali Marpet, one of the best guards in the league. Marpet lunges at Allen with an attempted quick set, but Allen again knocks the hands away with a side swipe and skips past him on his way to the quarterback.
Along with the swipe move, Allen has a nice swim move, which can be used in similar situations to the swipe, but has its own benefits too.
Like the swipe, the club and swim combination works against quick sets, as we can see in the first play of this clip. The guard attempts to quick set Allen, but Allen works inside and clubs the inside arm away with his own, before using a swim move with his outside arm to skip by the guard and push off of him to generate more forward momentum towards the quarterback. On the second play, Allen aligns In the A gap between the center and right guard, but stunts to the left side of the line. He catches Marpet’s hands in a stalemate, but then Marpet looks to reset his outside arm first. Allen responds with a quick club from his outside arm to clear Marpet’s arm before swimming with his inside arm to get past him. The third play shows the left guard again lunging at Allen with a quick set. Allen responds with his club and swim combination to skip by him almost instantly and pressure the quarterback.
Allen is building a vast repertoire of rush moves to counter whatever set or technique the opposing blocker uses. Another move his has is a pull move, where he gets his hands inside on the chest of the blocker, shoving him back to stand him up before pulling him forward and off balance.
This is a technique Allen will use often when he’s not fully sure if the offense will look to run or pass, or if he’s not sure which offensive lineman will try to block him. On this first play, Allen aligns in the A gap between the left guard and center. Off the snap, he looks to rush into the A gap and expects the center to pick him up, but the left guard slides across instead. Allen reacts with good hands, getting his hands inside and on the chest of the guard, which gives Allen time to adjust to the surprise of the guard blocking him instead of the center. From there, Allen threatens to drive the guard back with a bullrush, but as the guard looks to anchor and lean on Allen to stop his momentum, Allen pulls him forward and tosses him aside on his way to landing a big hit on the quarterback.
The second play sees Allen start in a similar alignment, but this time the center does block him. Allen quickly lands his right arm between the chest and shoulder pad of the center and after a forceful shove backwards, pulls him forwards to make him lose balance. Allen then uses his swim technique with his left arm to work past the center, before the left guard slides across to help his center.
Allen’s variety of pass rush techniques has grown from when he entered into the league and while he doesn’t necessarily have the sack numbers to back him up, he’s been consistently one of Washington’s most threatening pass rushers this season. Along with Chase Young, Allen forced offensive lines to slide protection to his side, which opened up easier matchups for his teammates on the other side. In the Wild Card game against the Buccaneers, for example, Tampa Bay lost its starting right guard due to injury, but even with Marpet at left guard against Allen, the Buccaneers would still slide the center to Allen to help block him. Daron Payne was the benefactor, as he was left one-on-one against a back up right guard and took advantage with two sacks.
Allen is a well-rounded player too. His pass rush has improved and he was Washington’s biggest threat, certainly on the inside, but he was also a force in the run game.
Allen routinely demonstrates effort, desire, talent and technique when playing the run. The first play of this clip is a great example of all of that. He aligns on the outside shoulder of the left guard on an inside run near the goalline. Allen initially works across the face of the guard into the A gap, but Payne stunts into the same gap from the other side. Payne gets there first and forces the running back to bounce his run outside. As the back works to the edge, he puts a move on safety Jeremy Reaves, making Reaves miss the tackle as he gets to the edge. It looks like a walk in touchdown from that point, but Allen doesn’t give up on the play, working down the line and mirroring the back’s move to the edge. Allen chases the back and makes an incredible tackle to save what should have been a touchdown.
On the very next play, the Panthers line up in a heavy set with three tight ends and a fullback. They look to run to Allen’s side, but Allen anticipates the downblock from the left guard, gets a terrific jump off the snap and skips by him with a club and swim move. He works into the backfield quickly and makes the tackle to prevent another touchdown. On the final play of the clip, Allen shows off just how strong he is. Former Washington left tackle Trent Williams attempts to block down on Allen and clear a lane for the running back to work behind him. Allen reads the block well and gets his hands on Williams’ chest, using his footwork to torque his body and force Williams inside and out of position. Allen ends up tossing Williams aside as he peels off the block and fills the hole, making the tackle on the running back.
Those run stops all showed Allen working against more targeted blocks inside, but he’s just as effective against zone blocks to the edge, from various positions along the defensive line.
Here are three examples of Allen working against outside zone runs. On the first, Allen aligns as a one-technique defensive tackle in the A gap between the center and left guard. The Cowboys run an outside zone run to their left. The center gets a nice jump off the snap, but Allen gets his hand placement in the right spot to control the block. With his hands inside, Allen knows he can work either side of the center if he wants to, so he gets his eyes in the backfield to track the running back. He spots the back beginning to cut back, so Allen peels off his block and makes the tackle. The back then fumbled and Allen was aware enough to jump on the ball and recover the turnover.
On the second play, Allen plays from the same alignment against the same play, this time from the 49ers. Allen again gets his hands in on the chest of the center and drives him back, giving himself the option to work either side of the center. He gets his eyes on the back and waits for him to commit to a path. With Allen controlling the center, the back doesn’t have much of a cutback lane, so continues on his path to the edge. Once the back commits, Allen peels off and wraps up the runner at the line of scrimmage.
In the final play of the clip, Allen works from a different alignment. This time he works as a three-technique defensive tackle, on the outside shoulder of the left guard. The Panthers run another outside zone play to the left. The left guard lunges slightly at Allen, who catches him lunging and makes him pay. Allen prevents the guard from leaning on him, instead giving some ground to make the guard lose balance before tossing him aside. Allen then steps back up to fill the lane and take on the running back, making the tackle again at the line of scrimmage.
Overall, Allen has developed into an incredibly well-rounded player that is somewhat underappreciated in Washington. Often fans will overlook Allen because his play doesn’t always show up in the box score, but he was Washington’s best defensive lineman this season, at least in my opinion. He was dominant at times, especially in big games like the season-defining victory over the Steelers. I understand fans' concerns with Washington having to try and retain all the talent along its defensive line while complying with the salary cap, but the cap can be manipulated to retain core talent and Allen is certainly a core member of the team worth retaining. He should be, alongside Chase Young, a leader of the defensive line for years to come in Washington and the team would be smart to sign him to a long-term contract extension this offseason.