They've only lost twice this year, but the Bills have underperformed the last two weeks. And they've got a chance to hit their mid-point of the season with a big bounce back win this weekend, when they host the 1-7 Washington Redskins.
Here are seven things to watch for in the Bills-Redskins matchup and around the NFL heading into Sunday:
1. BILLS GO BACK TO BASICS
Sean McDermott said it Monday, "We've got to do a better job with our fundamentals and technique." And his players repeated it. But what did that mean during the practice week?
Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander told One Bills Live the return to fundamentals began in the meeting room.
"It's addressing it in the meeting room," he said. "And then showing it on film — where we broke down and how our fundamentals play into that. Then when you go out on the practice field, maybe in pre-practice, you have to work on drills around those things you may have gotten lackadaisical on."
Alexander says hitting the sled, using hands for defenders — they're all the basic tricks of the trade that sometimes need sharpening. He says there's so much focus on game-planning and scheme sometimes players lose sight of the essence of the game.
"The NFL is all about a man whuppin' a man," Alexander says. "And the only way you can do that consistently is by having great fundamentals and technique. Talent is just the starter."
2. WAITING FOR THE PASSING GAME TO KICK INTO GEAR
The Bills will hit the midseason mark at the final gun Sunday, and they're still trying to find answers on offense. They average 19 points scored per game. No other team in the NFL with a winning record scores less.
The problem, according to former NFL GM Mike Lombardi — the passing attack.
"The reality of the Bills is...they've got to get more out of their passing game," Lombardi told One Bills Live*. *"That's really about Josh Allen. That's what it comes down to. They need more consistency from their passing game. They've got to be able to throw it, because they're going into games where they're not going to be able to run it."
"Josh Allen has got to be more of a quarterback than an athlete," Lombardi continued. "That's going to be the key."
3. RUNNING TO THE HALL OF FAME
Two of the league's all-time great running backs will be on the field Sunday – Buffalo's Frank Gore and Washington's Adrian Peterson. And even with their advanced age (Gore is 36, Peterson is 34) they're not just along for the ride. They're both important, contributing factors in the rushing attack of their respective teams.
Watching the pair from the seats Sunday will be Buffalo's Thurman Thomas, who will likely welcome both to the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday. Thomas has had a chance to watch almost a half-season of work from Frank Gore with the Bills, and the Thurmanator has some thoughts on Gore's style of running.
"He's not a total contact guy, but he's physical when he has to be," Thomas says of Gore. "He's very patient. He's not a fast guy, so his patience really takes over with him being back there seven-eight yards behind the line of scrimmage. The impressive thing is that it's between the tackles. It has been between the tackles since day one in San Francisco."
4. WASHINGTON'S D TOUGH UP FRONT
Washington's stumble to a 1-7 record has not been without some bright spots. Maybe the brightest has been the play of their defensive line in recent weeks. They've held opponents to less than 20 points in the last three games (one win, two losses) and they've done it by dialing down what they're asking the defense to do.
"Simplifying. Communication," says Washington radio host Clinton Portis, a one-time running back for the team.
"The D-line is the D-line that we expected at the beginning of the season and they're starting to make plays," Portis told One Bills Live*. *
Washington has four former first round picks in its talented front seven (Ryan Kerrigan 2011, Jonathan Allen 2017, Daron Payne 2018, and Montez Sweat 2019).
5. FIRST NFL START FOR HASKINS
Montez Sweat was Washington's second selection in the first round of the draft back in April. Their first gets his first start Sunday — quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
Case Keenum's concussion put Haskins on the field last week, his second game played. He has struggled—attempting 22 passes so far this year and throwing four interceptions.
But Washington coach Bill Callahan made the call to start Haskins, an Ohio State product, with Keenum still recovering from the concussion.
"We've seen him progress throughout the week — his improvement from day to day, from situation to situation, from drill to drill," Callahan said. "You see nothing but a locked-in focus. We're encouraged—we're very encouraged."
6. WAS IT REALLY A QUIET TRADE MARKET?
The NFL's trade deadline passed Tuesday with very little activity. The Bills didn't make a move. But was it really a quiet year for trades?
Since the start of the 2019 season, there have been 21 players traded in the league. That's the most players traded in a season after week one, in the last 10 years of NFL football.
7. A BIG TEST FOR NEW ENGLAND?
The best game of the NFL weekend is the Sunday night matchup between the 8-0 Patriots and the 5-2 Ravens. It's a game that could have playoff ramifications for the Bills down the road, and it's a reminder of how tough the Ravens are in prime-time games in Baltimore.
Since 2008, the Ravens are 12-1 in primetime home games, the best in the league. Under Head Coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have won 10 straight home prime-time games and outscored their opponents 341-171.
"They have played really well under John Harbaugh under the lights," says ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates. "It's a great matchup in so many ways. The Patriots, this is probably the most dynamic test they've faced. Lamar Jackson has evolved so much as a thrower this year — he was already one of the league's most potent running threats."
At the other end of the spectrum, there is the 1 pm Sunday matchup in Miami between the 0-7 Dolphins and the 1-6 Jets. It may be Miami's best chance for a win all season.
As the Bills prepare to play at home against the Washington Redskins, scroll through to view photos from previous matchups between the two opponents.