It's the wrap-up game for Buffalo's three-game homestand. And it's the game that takes the Bills to the midway point of their 2019 season. With a win on Sunday, the Bills can improve to 6-2 – the best record at the midway point by a Bills team since 1993 (7-1).
The Bills and Washington (1-7) play at New Era Field Sunday. Here are some of the storylines to watch for this week:
1. CAN THE DEFENSE BOUNCE BACK?
It was a shock to the system last Sunday, watching the normally outstanding Buffalo defense struggle with the Eagles. For the first six games of 2019, the Bills were a 'three-and-out' machine on defense. Against the Eagles, they forced one – a punt in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles ran for 218 yards on 5.3 yards per carry. They converted 53 percent of their third downs. They scored touchdowns on three of their first four possessions in the second half.
The 218 rushing yards allowed by the Bills seemed to be the focus for Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
"In run defense, it's usually gap integrity along with tackling," Frazier said this week. "Those are the two things that come to mind usually when you are not playing good run defense and it showed up a little bit yesterday and it's something that we got to make corrections and get it done. That'll follow you if you don't get it fixed."
2. CAN THE OFFENSE GET GOING?
Midseason approaches and the Bills are still plodding along on offense—ranked 19th in yards per game; 23rd in passing offense. The Bills produce 19 points per game – 24th in the NFL.
The Bills have nine new starters on offense from a year ago, and some new players (Tyler Kroft, Duke Williams, etc.) that they're working into the offense as the season moves along. It's a work in progress, and Sean McDermott says the work continues.
"We've just got to continue to grow," McDermott said Monday. "Continue to work out some of the kinks that are preventing us from scoring points because at the end of the day you have to score points. And we haven't scored enough points and we've got to continue to find ways to score points."
3. PUT A LID ON THE TURNOVERS
Turnovers have been one of the biggest obstacles to Buffalo's offensive success this year, but the Bills may have it in check. They've turned it over only twice in the last three games – an interception in the win at Tennessee and a Josh Allen fumble Sunday against the Eagles.
That fumble was Allen's third lost fumble of the year and it was a big one—setting up Philadelphia for a 24-yard touchdown drive.
The Bills preach ball security all week—reminding players of maintaining "points of contact" when they have the ball in their hands.
"You keep coaching it," offensive coordinator Brian Daboll says. "You keep talking about the different points of pressure. Josh is going to have to keep working on that and make sure that we take care of the football."
4. FLAGS STILL FLYING
The Bills have been battling the penalty problem all season long. They average 8.4 penalties accepted per game—only the Browns and the Jets have more.
Most troubling, half of Buffalo's penalties are before the snap. They've been assessed 59 penalties in seven games this year and 29 of them are pre-snap penalties.
It's got to be a focus for the team as they move through the meat of their season.
5. WASHINGTON HAS TO DECIDE ON A QUARTERBACK
Washington lost its starting quarterback, Case Keenum, at halftime of their last game, a Thursday night affair in Minnesota last week. First round draft pick Dwayne Haskins finished up and struggled, going 3-5 for 33 yards and one interception. Haskins has played in two games, attempting 22 passes, and four of them have been intercepted.
Washington's interim head coach, Bill Callahan, made it clear this week that if Keenum is cleared from concussion protocol, he'll play.
"Case [Keenum] is our quarterback and that's where we're rolling right now," Callahan said.
In celebration of Halloween, Bills players, coaches and front office staff dressed up in costumes with their families for festivities at One Bills Drive on Tuesday, October 29.
6. TWO HALL OF FAME RUNNING BACKS ON THE FIELD?
The folks from the Pro Football Hall of Fame may want to come in for a gold jacket fitting Sunday in Orchard Park. They can knock two of them off – with Buffalo's Frank Gore and Washington's Adrian Peterson on the field.
Both players are in their mid-30s, and they're both going strong. Gore has 422 yards rushing this year and he's on pace for 217 carries for the year. He's 99 yards behind Barry Sanders on the league's all-time rushing list, so this week, he could move into third place in all-time rushing yardage, behind only Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton.
Peterson is sixth place all-time, with Curtis Martin in fifth place. He's Washington's leading rusher with 383 yards on 97 carries, also on a pace for 200 attempts this year.
7. WHAT LIES AHEAD FOR THE BILLS
Buffalo's good start to the season has put the Bills in serious playoff contention but there's still more than half-a-season left to play.
Another benefit to the Bills is the quality of opposition in the second half. Mike Sando of The Athletic reports that the Bills have the 4th easiest remaining schedule in the league, based on opponents winning percentage right now. The Bills remaining opponents have a .391 winning percentage. Only the Jets, Cleveland, and Oakland have it easier – on paper.