1. Dynamic front
For the second time in the season's first three weeks, the Bills offense will be facing a formidable defensive front. Washington boasts four first-round picks across their defensive line in Montez Sweat, Da'Ron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Chase Young. The quartet has combined for 6.5 sacks, 12 quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles through their first two games.
"It's one of the best groups, if not the best group in the league," said Josh Allen. "Up front, they're all big, fast, powerful, explosive. They all can get after the quarterback. Just making sure that we don't let them take over the game because they have the ability to do that."
"There are a lot of former first-round picks along that front," said head coach Sean McDermott. "They had seven sacks last week and I think 14 quarterback hits or so. It's impressive. We're going to have to do a good job of ... it's going to be not just the offensive line, but it's got to be everyone involved in trying to make sure we manage that as much as we can."
As an entire defensive unit, Washington has 10 sacks in their first two games with 18 total quarterback pressures. Their pressure rate of just under 38 percent ranks fourth in the NFL.
The good news is Allen has performed well when pressured this season. Last week, Allen was 7-8 passing with two passing touchdowns and a 132.3 rating. Since 2022, Allen leads the NFL with 16 passing touchdowns when under pressure.
ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky in his weekly appearance on ‘One Bills Live’ believes a similar run game approach to the one the Bills employed last week would be a good way to keep them in favorable down and distance to do what they want in the pass game.
"I think with the front that they're going to face this week, the two defensive tackles are so premier and so elite that there's really two ways to try to run the football against guys like that," Orlovsky said. "Number one, you have to use double teams. You have to make a concerted effort to put two bodies, four shoulders on them. Double shoulder pads on them to try to displace them, to try to control them. And a second thing is you try to use their aggression against them. Trap (plays), wham (block plays), draws, screens. I don't believe that their run package or run philosophy should be that different this week, than last week."
Orlovsky believes this approach will lead to fewer plays for negative yardage because the double teams will minimize penetration and give Buffalo's backs a chance to get to the line of scrimmage cleanly.
"The more that you can allow the offensive line to have moments of dictating to the defense to have moments of not having to strain so much in pass protection, (the better)," said Orlovsky. "When they just get to watch the ball get snapped and push the guy in front of them as hard as they can, that has a cumulative effect play to play to play. I think what they did in Week 2, is a blueprint of how to handle a really good defensive line."
The Commanders have an 8.6 percent sack rate without blitzing since 2022. That's the second-highest rate in the NFL behind only the Eagles at 9.6 percent.
2. Efficiency required
Taking the Bills' offensive approach a step further, the efficiency they displayed last week against the Raiders, could be a successful formula going forward, knowing a lot of opposing defenses do not want to get beat over the top by Josh Allen's arm.
"They've been explosive, and they've done it for a long time," said Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "Ever since that big, athletic quarterback has been there, they've been tough to deal with. They've got a really good offense and that's a really good team."
Knowing that the Commanders are likely to keep everything in front of them in the passing game, the Bills will have to take shorter completions to steadily move the ball down the field like they did last week with scoring drives of 11 plays or more.
"If teams are going to play that way versus Josh and this offense, that's the way they have to play," said Orlovsky of the high-efficiency, short-passing approach. "That's the maturity. It's not as fun as I want it to be, but this is the way that they're challenging us. And this is what happens. When you consistently show that you're going to do that. Then when they score 40 on you, then eventually the opposing defense can no longer play that style. That's when Josh and the big plays to Gabe (Davis) and Stef (Diggs) are going to be there, but you have to consistently out grind defenses."
Allen's efficient passing the first two weeks is why he currently leads the league in completion percentage at a clip of 77 percent. He is 2-0 in his career against Washington with seven total touchdowns and a passer rating of 123.6, the highest by an opposing QB in Washington history.
Scroll to see photos from the Buffalo Bills Week 3 practice at One Bills Drive on September 20, 2023.
3. Comeback Commanders
The Commanders are a surprising 2-0 on the season and have come back from scoring deficits to win both of their games. Sam Howell led a fourth-quarter scoring in Arizona in Week 1, to erase their second six-point deficit in the game, running it in from six yards out for a 17-16 lead en route to a 20-16 victory.
Last week, Washington was down 21-3 to Denver, before outscoring the Broncos 32-12 over the final two and a half quarters to squeak out a 35-33 win. It was their largest road comeback since 1990.
"Being down 21-3 I think it was near halftime against Denver and being able to come back and win the game," said Jordan Poyer of the Commanders. "Just a bunch of guys who look like they play well together. A resilient group of guys and we're going to have to play extremely well to win. We're excited for the opportunity."
"When you're in those moments, you have to understand how important that moment is," said Commanders offensive coordinator, Eric Bienemy. "You have 10 other people on that field that are counting on you to go out there and be the best version of you. So, when those situations come up you don't just fold the tent. No, continue playing. That is part of our DNA and why we work the way we do. I thought our guys have shown a tremendous amount of grit. They showed a tremendous amount of resilience, and you must have that in this industry if you want to be great."
4. Howell are you?
Washington first-year starting quarterback Sam Howell has been pretty impressive through his first two weeks of action. The former fifth-round pick has some physical gifts and is blessed with fantastic skill position talent around particularly at wide receiver with speed threats Jahan Dotson, Terry McLaurin, and Curtis Samuel.
"He seems like he's playing pretty confident," Poyer said. "He's got really good arm strength, he can move around in the pocket, he can make plays with his legs sometimes. He's going to throw the football and he trusts his playmakers to go up and make plays. He trusts his guys down the field with the speed that they have so it's going to be a fun game."
"This guy who doesn't have massive stature has an absolute cannon for an arm," said Orlovsky. "I called some of his games in college football and when we hear that phrase like arm talent, he has that. He has the ability to drive the football down the field and a very high level of ball placement ability. His arm is very impressive.
"(Offensive coordinator) Eric Bienemy coming over has done two things. One, a lot like they did with Patrick (Mahomes), they build in some really easy completions and when the quarterback takes those free completions, it just allows the play caller to consistently push the envelope because he knows that the guy's going to take it. And I think the second thing is when you're a really talented thrower, and you live with an aggressive first mindset, you place a ball where you want to. You don't think there's really a ton of defenses that can take those throws away as long as you trust your eyes. Sam's become very aggressive with the football down the field. And when you do that, and you can throw it, the windows down there are going to be stressed by him down the field because he's an ultra-confident player right now."
Howell has completed almost 66 percent of his passes (65.7%) and is averaging over seven yards per attempt. It should be noted he has been sacked 10 times in two games.
The Bills will wear white on white on white on the road this week in Washington.
5. Third down battle
Perhaps the most interesting matchup will come on third down. Since 2022, Buffalo's offense is the most prolific at converting third down opportunities at a success rate of almost 50 percent (49.8%). Meanwhile, Washington's defense has been the best in the league since last year at stopping opposing offenses on third down, allowing opponents to convert just under 32 percent of their third down opportunities (31.8%).
Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio sees it as a modern-day problem in the NFL when offenses seemingly all have mobile quarterbacks, who can get yards and conversions with their legs while also adding more and more speed at the skill positions.
"The quarterback run, you used to have to worry about a few guys, now everybody runs a quarterback," said Del Rio. "Everybody has guys that can move around and extend plays. It's an aggressive nature, looking for shots, looking for opportunities to develop explosive plays. More speed is required to deal with the speed and space that we're seeing now."
Buffalo is coming off a week in which they converted seven of their 13 third down opportunities for a 54 percent success rate. The fact that they got nine different receiving targets involved and stayed out of a lot of third and longs is something they'd like to accomplish against this week.
"Anytime you can look at a stat sheet and multiple guys have multiple catches, or multiple carriers are contributing like we were able to do I think that's important for an offense," said Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. "There's only one ball and I think what we really try to preach to those guys is staying disciplined and being unselfish and sometimes it's going to be you helping another guy get open, and sometimes it's going to be, even when you don't think you're the primary guy in the concept, the ball could be coming to you. So we've just got to continue to be unselfish, continue to trust what we're doing, and I think all those all those different things will take care of themselves."