1. A pass rush to respect
Buffalo's offensive line is looking to have a much more consistent performance against the second defensive front they'll see with first-round picks across the board. Their Week 1 performance against Pittsburgh left a lot to be desired.
"A lot of first-round picks up front. A lot of depth, first- and second-rounders all in the front four," said Bills head coach Sean McDermott. "So highly talented. The numbers speak for themselves. The tape speaks for itself. We've got to do a good job there if we want to have a chance."
What Bills QB Josh Allen noticed in particular about Washington's defensive front is they don't solely rely on their front four. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will blitz a great deal as well. Through their first two games this season Washington has blitzed on more than 43 percent of their opponent dropbacks, which is the highest rate in the league.
Their pressure rate on blitzes (29.7%) has been only slightly more effective as their front four rush pressure rate (29.2%). Neither has been extraordinarily effective thus far this season though they do rank 11th in the league in sacks per play.
But knowing that Allen has struggled against pressure thus far this season with a completion rate of 35 percent and a passer rating of 62.1, it's likely that Del Rio will be aggressive in trying to get to Allen on Sunday.
"Statistically last year they were very similar in terms of getting to the quarterback, and they've got some really good young players up front," said Allen. "All the way around, guys that can get after the ball. They've got speed on the edges. They've got a knack for getting the ball out."
2. A scheme comfortable QB
We know now that Washington will be without starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick after he suffered a hip injury in the team's Week 1 loss to the Chargers. But backup Taylor Heinicke is a quarterback in a similar mold to Fitz.
A smart player with mobility and the trust of his offensive staff, Heinicke has been given the license to sling the ball in the passing game for Washington and with good reason.
"The primary thing that's in his favor is his how familiar he is with this offense," said ESPN.com Washington beat reporter John Keim in an appearance on ‘One Bills Live.’ "It's really the only offense he's been in since he's been in the NFL. He's been in the 'Norv Turner offense' since his time in Minnesota as a rookie. So he's been in the offense in some way for six years. You saw when he came in last year for Dwayne Haskins and the way he ran that offense having just gotten here was eye opening."
Heinicke has been remarkably efficient in his two appearances this season. He threw for over 300 yards last week against the Giants completing 74 percent of his passes. In addition he's making strides in his patience in delivering the football.
"He goes through his progressions really well," said Keim. "The go-ahead touchdown pass to Ricky Seals-Jones last week against the Giants was his third read on that play. And the best part about that play was he had an opportunity to run and gain yardage, but he's really trying to be a better player from the pocket so we saw that progress from him last week."
Buffalo's defenders believe Heinicke's on-field demeanor is very evident on tape.
"Yeah, he's playing with a lot of confidence," said Bills safety Jordan Poyer. "He's very mobile as a quarterback. We're going to have our hands full. We've got to play well."
Bills head coach Sean McDermott has already warned his defense not to take Heinicke lightly.
"Don't underestimate him," said McDermott. "He's a very good quarterback. You look at the Tampa Bay game, the wild card game against the eventual world champions, and he's within a score there in the fourth quarter of winning. So don't underestimate him. He's a very, very good quarterback. He can make all the throws. He's mobile. He'll be a challenge."
3. O-line growing pains
If there's one thing that has cropped up as an issue for Washington's offense it's been their re-tooled offensive line. Rookie Sam Cosmi is starting at right tackle and a new left tackle in Charles Leno Jr. Ereck Flowers was here last year, but he's a new starter at left guard.
Not surprisingly in the early going of the 2021 season they're still getting acclimated to one another up front.
"Their play has been up and down," said Keim. "There have been some plays where Cosmi looks good in the run game, but in the pass game gets in trouble with some technique issues like lowering his head or bending at the waist too much. Leno has been fine at times, but he'll give up pressure at times inside. It's a line that's finding its way right now. In the run game they've been pretty good, but there is room for improvement."
Washington's inconsistent play up front could prompt the Bills defensive line to be aggressive again this week much the way they were last week in Miami. We'll see.
4. Red zone stinginess
If there is one thing statistically that Buffalo and Washington have in common it's been their ability to keep teams out of the end zone when their opponent cracks their 20-yard line. Through the first two weeks of the season, Buffalo leads the league in red zone defense allowing opponents to reach the end zone on just one of their six red zone possessions this season (16.7%).
Washington's success rate hasn't been quite as good, but it still ranks in the top five in the league. They're currently tied for fourth in the league in red zone defense as their opponents have managed just three red zone touchdowns on nine opportunities 33.3%).
The play selection of Buffalo and Washington's offensive units in the red zone will be interesting Sunday knowing how stingy these defenses have been when backed up in their own end.
Scroll to see photos of the Bills as they prepare for the Week 3 game in Buffalo.
5. Big play possibilities
Washington's defense enters Sunday's game ranked 25th in the league in total defense, which is based on yards allowed. Part of their problem has been surrendering big plays. Through two games they've given up eight plays of 20 yards or more, including five this past week against the Giants.
Two of the biggest plays have been on the ground as Saquon Barkley ripped off a 41-yard run. Giants QB Daniel Jones had the other when he ripped off a 58-yard run for a touchdown, that got called back to the 12-yard line on a penalty and only counted for 36 yards.
"Where the issues sometimes surface is in the run front and the gap fits. You'll see guys getting out of the gaps," said Keim. "Every big run comes off a blown assignment. Landon Collins missed on a zone read look or a linebacker not fitting the run up right. It's usually a poor gap fit."
As for the pass defense they've given up some plays as well including a 31-yard touchdown catch by Darius Slayton last Thursday night against the Giants.
Washington has tried to fortify their secondary with the free agent signing of starting CB William Jackson III to pair with Kendall Fuller and the drafting of Benjamin St. Juste who has played a lot. But there could be some opportunities for Buffalo's passing game if they can find an early rhythm.
Josh Allen is determined to correct the inconsistencies in his game that he believes has kept him from playing his best game yet this season. Knowing his completion percentage is down, Allen continues to work diligently on his platform and footwork when throwing along with his decision-making in whether to put touch or zip on a certain pass at a certain time.
"The job of the quarterback is to put your team in position to score points and do whatever it takes to win a football game and that's what we did last week," said Allen. "It's no secret that I didn't play great last game and I didn't play great the week before. There's stuff I'm working on whether it's finding the check down early and just trying to get into a groove early on. 've just got to push through it and find ways to be better for this team."
6. A Jarret Patterson sighting?
Washington brings University at Buffalo product RB Jarett Patterson back to the Queen City after his highly decorated college career with the Bulls.
Patterson made the Washington roster as an undrafted rookie and is currently the team's third-string back, but he has been active for each of the first two weeks. He is serving primarily on special teams, but with starting RB Antonio Gibson dealing with a shoulder ailment, the power-plug back may get sprinkled in on offense.
"He played on a good Buffalo football team," said Washington head coach Ron Rivera. "He played hard. He's got great tape. When you put it on, you watch him and you watch how productive he is, I had flashes honestly watching him, and he reminded me so much of Darren Sproles when he had the ball in his hands. He's learning to be a blocker like Darren had to learn. Darren was a little bit better pass catcher. But with the ball in his hands, Jaret is a very tough tackle. So it's exciting to watch him. And I think he's got an opportunity to make some waves for us."