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'He's playing pretty confident' | Bills impressed with Sam Howell's start to his NFL career


As the Bills move past their Week 2 win over the Las Vegas Raiders and prepare for their road matchup against the Washington Commanders, Head Coach Sean McDermott and multiple players addressed the media Wednesday.

Micah Hyde (hamstring), Leonard Floyd (ankle), Dawson Knox (back) and Jordan Phillips (illness) all did not participate in practice Wednesday. Terrel Bernard was limited with a lower leg injury.

The Bills are preparing to face an elite group of pass rushers once again after back-to-back weeks facing New York Jets' Quinnen Williams and Las Vegas' Maxx Crosby, who each had 12 or more sacks last season.

The Washington defensive line is composed of four former first-round picks in Chase Young, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat and Jonathan Allen.

The Bills will wear white on white on white on the road this week in Washington.

"The talent is what jumps off of the film right away, and the twitchiness of their defensive line," McDermott said before Wednesday's practice. "And they're deep, that's a good thing for them. That's how you build good defenses, it starts up front."

Young, who was the second overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, missed the opening game of the 2023 season with a neck injury. In the Commanders' 35-33 win over the Denver Broncos, Young made his presence felt with one-and-a-half sacks and three total tackles.

Sweat already has three sacks and two forced fumbles on the season. His ability to recognize plays and his violent hands allow him to overpower offensive lineman on his way to the quarterback.

"The pass rush is good for them," said offensive tackle Spencer Brown. "Chase Young is back, Montez Sweat, the two [defensive tackles] are big strong guys in the middle that know what they're doing. So it's going to be a good challenge."

Since 2022, the Commanders defense has allowed the second-fewest total yards per game and has held opponents to a 31.8% success rate on third downs, the lowest in the league.

"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 [the pass rush] as much as we can," McDermott said.

On the flipside, the Bills have the most 30+ point, 400+ total yard games since 2021. Last week, Buffalo tallied 457 total yards and scored touchdowns on five of their eight drives, excluding their final possession.

James Cook accounted for 159 yards as the second year running back had the most total yards in his career. Over 100 of the 5-foot-11, 190-pound running backs' yards came after contact.

"I think when you look at maybe his stature, people wouldn't put that maybe in his column of strength necessarily," McDermott said. "But he's a tough guy and when he runs with a purpose … he's tough to bring down and probably plays bigger than he looks."

Brown said that Cook's willingness to embrace contact contributes to his explosive plays. Cook is averaging 5.8 yards per carry through his first two games.

"He's just explosive," Brown said. "He's just a slippery explosive guy and he finishes his runs well. On the sideline, he doesn't really go out of bounds, he just lowers his shoulder and gets a couple extra. Definitely a fun one to watch."

The Commanders have an explosive back of their own in Brian Robinson Jr., who has 146 yards and two touchdowns in the 2023 season. Behind Robinson Jr. and quarterback Sam Howell, the Commanders are off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2011.

Howell has a strong arm and is quick on his feet. He's won his first three games as a starter, showing his composure with two comeback wins this season.

"He seems like he's playing pretty confident," said safety Jordan Poyer. "He's got really good arm strength, he can move around in the pocket, he can make plays with his legs sometimes and he trusts his playmakers to be able to go up and make plays and trusts his guys downfield with the speed that they have."

While Sunday's game will be McDermott's first time coaching the Bills in Washington, it will also be his 100th regular season game as the teams' head coach. His 63 wins are the third highest in Bills history behind Marv Leavy (112) and Lou Saban (68). McDermott's win percentage, which currently sits at .636, will remain the highest in team history regardless of Sunday's outcome.

McDermott reflected on his time in the league and expressed his gratitude to those who have supported him in his journey as a head coach.

"I'm grateful, I really am," McDermott said. "Grateful for the people that have been around me to help me and my family and we've had some great players as well. … You can get into this job sometimes, but it comes and goes rather quickly if you're not prepared. So I'm thankful to all those, like [Rivera], that helped me be prepared."

McDermott and Rivera were on the same staff in Philadelphia before McDermott joined Rivera in Carolina, where he spent six seasons as Rivera's defensive coordinator, winning the 2015 NFC Championship in the process. This will be the third matchup between the two as head coaches, with McDermott and Rivera splitting the series up to this point.

Scroll to see photos from the Buffalo Bills Week 3 practice at One Bills Drive on September 20, 2023.

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