How Josh Allen turned a contract year into a breakout campaign

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Josh Allen smelled blood. 

Carolina Panthers left tackle Ikem Ekwonu reacted late on the edge, giving Allen a free rush at the snap. He quickly got behind quarterback Bryce Young, who was trying to step up in the pocket. He brought down the 2023 No. 1 overall pick for a seven-yard loss. And as the home crowd roared, Allen motioned to his teammates. 

The moment of celebration was capped with fellow edge rusher Travon Walker throwing Allen a fake pitch, which he blasted out of the park — the same sack celebration of former Jaguars Pro Bowler Calais Campbell, his ex-teammate and mentor whose single-season franchise record for sacks he’d just broken. 

Campbell had texted him days prior to Allen breaking the record. 

Allen could finally say he’d done it. 

“For me, man, to be in the history books, it’s huge,” Allen said after the Jaguars’ 26-0 shutout of the Panthers last Sunday, which snapped a four-game losing streak. “I’m a legacy type of guy. I want to leave a legacy everywhere that I go.”

For Allen, setting the new single-season sack record served as a punctuation in what’s been a dominant tear in a contract year. 

With one regular-season game remaining, he has career-highs in sacks (16.5), tackles for loss (16) and quarterback hits (31). His sack total ranks third in the NFL. He’s second in the league with 94 pressures and third among qualified edge rushers (minimum of 100 defensive snaps) with a 20.1 percent pressure rate, according to Next Gen Stats. He was named a Pro Bowler for the second time in his career on Wednesday.  He’s played his way into a big-money extension.

With Week 18 here, Dave Helman reveals his updated NFL power rankings!

With Week 18 here, Dave Helman reveals his updated NFL power rankings!

But that’s a matter for the offseason. Arguably the Jaguars’ best player, Allen will need to set the tone for a defense that will be leaned on heavily in Jacksonville’s hopeful playoff run. 

The Jaguars, with quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s status questionable due to a right shoulder injury, can clinch a second straight AFC South title with a victory Sunday over the Titans in Nashville. 

‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’

On Nov. 30, Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley chimed into a locker room scrum around Allen. 

“Tell them about the onions!” Ridley exclaimed. You smell like onions all the time.” 

Allen pushed back against the notion — “No, I don’t (smell like onions),” Allen laughed — but acknowledged that he’s been using the vegetable as an anti-inflammatory around his ankle. It’s a home remedy that’s helped him elevate his game this season. Working on his body outside the Jaguars facility has been an emphasis in 2023. 

The onion treatment is prescribed by Dr. Julie Buckley, who is a pediatrician and practices functional medicine working with athletes. 

The night before games, she’ll chop up three or four onions and mix them up with a cup of coarse sea salt. Then she wraps it around his foot.

The onion-salt mixture generates heat, opening up the blood vessels and increasing circulation. As it cools, the chemicals in the onions draw out the fluids to reduce pain and swelling, coming through the skin, according to Buckley. It’s a 20 to 30-minute process. 

Buckley always keeps a waterproof barrier under the wrap because it leaks. 

So Allen’s foot doesn’t smell too bad, she’ll wash his foot with lemon juice, soap and water mixture. 

“The first time we did it, he just looked at it and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,'” Buckley, who’s been working with Allen since the end of the 2022 season, told FOX Sports. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, this is what happens.’ And he’s just been all about it ever since. It’s just a thing. And everybody’s talking about it. Other players are starting to say “Hmm, maybe I need some onions.” 

Used for thousands of years, the medicinal properties of onions are well documented. 

“If it ain’t broke,” Allen said of the remedy, “Don’t fix it.” 

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Dave Helman reacts to Pro Bowl rosters being announced and says who got snubbed

‘I haven’t played my best ball’ 

Allen elected to skip the voluntary portion of the offseason program to train on his own, a move criticized by some team observers. But Allen said it helped him mentally to be able to compete against himself. 

“I wanted to see how far I can push myself,” Allen said. “When there’s nobody else cheering for me, when there’s nobody else in the field with me, I’m out there by myself, how far can I go? So I really challenged myself every day to get out there. I was out there for a purpose, and I stuck to that purpose and that plan. And came back to Jacksonville wanting to succeed.”

Jaguars coaches said his focus jumped out when he joined the team. He has shown a greater attention to detail in finishing his rushes, according to outside linebackers coach Bill Shuey. 

Allen ranked fifth in the NFL last season with 75 pressures, but had just seven sacks, the second-fewest total of his career. He’s more than doubled his sack total this year. His pressure rate is up more than 3 percent from a season ago (16.8 last year, 20.1 this year), the highest jump between seasons of his career, per Next Gen Stats. 

“When it comes down to it from training camp on, you’re really looking at trying to get better by just tenths of a second, inches in terms of efficiency and movement and the small things,” Shuey told FOX Sports. “And so it’s a matter of trying to make some small improvements that can get you big, big results and so that’s part of it. And then sometimes it’s just you could be generating pressures. And there are other things that come into the equation that are outside of your control. But I do think from within what he’s able to control this year, he’s dialed in and working extremely hard.”

An increased comfort level in defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell’s scheme has helped too. It’s Year 2 for Caldwell in the role. Allen and other defenders have had more input in the scheme. The players are able to meet with Caldwell before the final game plan is put together. 

Travon Walker — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft — has emerged as well, forming a potent 1-2 punch with Allen. They have 25.5 sacks combined, the most of any tandem in the NFL.  

But individually, Allen sees more meat left on the bone. 

“There’s still room for me to improve, I believe,” Allen said. “I haven’t played my best ball.”

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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