Tue, 12 Dec 2023

Top 5 Storylines for Bills at Commanders | Week 3

Buffalo Bills
20 Sep 2023, 23:15 GMT+10

Alec White

Following a 38-10 win over the Raiders in the home opener, Buffalo heads to the nation's capital this week to face the 2-0 Commanders.

It marks the first time Bills QB Josh Allen has played on the road against the Commanders in his career and the 16th all-time meeting between Buffalo and Washington. The Bills hold a 10-5 edge.

The Commanders announced this week that they sold out FedEx Field for Sunday's game, according to Washington Post's Nicki Jhabvala, so a fun environment is sure to be on tap.

Here's the top five storylines to know heading into the matchup:

Washington's surprise 2-0 start

Through two weeks of the NFL season, there's nine teams with a 2-0 record - three of them hail from the NFC East.

The Commanders are 2-0 for the first time since the 2011 season and have done so behind second half comebacks in consecutive games. Washington trailed Arizona 16-10 heading into the fourth quarter in Week 1 and rallied to win 20-16.

Last week, the Commanders got behind 21-3 against the Broncos on the road but managed to outscore Denver 32-3 from the nine-minute mark of the second quarter until the last two minutes of the game. The Broncos nearly sent the game into OT after they scored on a 50-yard Hail Mary as regulation expired, but the two-point conversion failed and the Commanders came away with a 35-33 victory.

It marked Washington's biggest comeback road win since 1990, according to ESPN.

One of the primary reasons the Commanders have had early-season success is their balanced offense. Second-year QB Sam Howell is averaging 250 passing yards per game and RB Brian Robinson has the eighth-most rushing yards in the league (146).

How the Bills can keep momentum on their side

The Bills got back on track with a dominant performance on both sides of the ball in Week 2 and will be looking to carry that momentum on the road. Buffalo's coaching staff detailed this week that controlling the line of scrimmage is going to remain a focus against Washington.

That starts with running the ball and stopping the run. All three backs got involved against the Raiders as James Cook churned out a career-high 169 total yards, while Latavius Murray and Damien Harris each had goal line TDs.

"I was very pleased and impressed with the balance there, really," head coach Sean McDermott said of the team's rushing attack.

He wants to continue to lean into that approach against the Commanders.

"Physical at the line of scrimmage, complementing both the run and the pass game," he said.

Cook ranks second in rushing yards among AFC RBs and Josh Allen believes staying committed to the ground game will continue to be a trend going forward.

"The more that we can hand off to [Cook] and these guys, they're getting five, six yards a pop, staying in front of the chains, putting us in second and short situations where now we can hand it off again or we can take a shot," he said.

Ball control has been another one of Buffalo's strengths so far. The Bills rank second in the NFL in average time of possession per drive (3:40) and second in total time of possession per game (36:07). Last year, they ranked 18th in time of possession.

Defensively, the Bills front is aiming to build off a dominant showing against Las Vegas in which they limited 2022 NFL rushing leader Josh Jacobs to -2 yards on the ground. While holding opposing RBs to negative yardage is unlikely to be a norm, the adjustments made from Week 1 to Week 2 can be a springboard for confidence.

"We just tried to make sure that philosophically and just schematically who we are, that we put forth our absolute best effort. We are single-gap control defense," assistant head coach and defensive line coach Eric Washington said.

Even with a season-opening loss, the Bills' defense ranks tied for fifth in points allowed through two weeks (16.0), fifth in turnovers forced (5) and fifth in yards per game (264.5). The 10 points given up to the Raiders were the fewest the Bills have allowed since Week 13 of last year.

What to expect from Sam Howell

Sunday will mark Sam Howell's fourth career NFL start and the North Carolina product is 3-0 dating back to last season.

The Commanders drafted Howell in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft and the rookie did not see his first start until Week 18 last season. He led the Commanders to a 26-6 win over the Cowboys, throwing one touchdown and running in another.

Howell turned 23 years old on Sept. 16 and is the fourth-youngest starting QB in the NFL this season, only behind rookies Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson.

His Week 2 comeback performance against the Broncos was his best showing in the NFL to this point as he put up 299 passing yards, 11 rushing yards, two passing TDs, 0 INTs and a 69.2 completion percentage.

One attribute that Bills fans will notice this week is Howell's arm strength and accuracy down the field.

"He has an absolute cannon for an arm," ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky said on One Bills Live. "Josh Allen has one of the best arms in football - certainly down the field. Sam Howell, it's not that good, but it ain't far off (from Allen)."

Howell's 30-yard strike to Terry McLaurin against the Broncos is a prime example of that trait.

"He has the ability to drive the football down the field with a very high level of ball placement ability," Orlovsky said.

The Commanders hired former Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to the same title in Washington and the transition has aided in Howell's development.

"Like they did with Patrick (Mahomes), they built in some really easy completions (for Howell)," Orlovsky observed. "He's an ultra-confident player right now."

Key stats to know & series history

The Bills have won eight of their last nine regular season meetings against the Commanders dating back to 1993.

Buffalo has outscored Washington 67-30 in the last two meetings with both coming in Orchard Park (2019, 2021). QB Josh Allen was a key part in both of those victories, particularly the 2021 matchup in Week 3 when he passed for 358 yards, four touchdowns and added another score on the ground.

This week will mark the first time in the McDermott era the two teams meet at FedEx Field.

Here are milestones to watch out for Sunday:

QB Josh Allen needs 22 rushing yards to surpass Devin Singeltary for 10th-most rushing yards in Bills history. WR Stefon Diggs needs 20 receiving yards to reach 9,000 for his career; he'd be one of six active NFL players with at least 9,000 receiving yards if he reaches the milestone. If TE Dalton Kincaid catches 4 passes on Sunday, he'd become the first Bill in team history with 4+ receptions in each of first 3 career games. If TE Dawson Knox records at least 8 receiving yards, he will move into the top 5 in receiving yards by a TE in team history. With 100+ yards rushing, RB James Cook would become the first Bills RB with back-to-back games with 100+ rushing yards since LeSean McCoy in 2016. D.C. Connections

While the Bills and Commanders don't often go head-to-head, there are still plenty of connections between the two teams.

Sunday will mark Sean McDermott's 100th regular season game as head coach of the Bills and he has extensive ties to the head coach who will be on the opposing sideline in Ron Rivera.

Rivera and McDermott go back to their time spent as assistant coaches for the Philadelphia Eagles. Rivera made a few other stops after that but when he was hired as head coach of the Panthers in 2011, he brought McDermott over from the Eagles to be the defensive coordinator.

The coaching duo reached the playoffs three times together and won the NFC Championship in 2015. This year marks Rivera's fourth season with the Commanders and the second time McDermott and Rivera will go against each other as head coaches.

Bills star WR Stefon Diggs is from just outside the D.C. area and has only played in his home state twice during his NFL career, both times coming with the Vikings. In two games at Washington, Diggs has totaled 17 catches for 242 yards and one touchdown.

Other Bills players with D.C. connections include Tim Settle, Deonte Harty and Christian Benford.

Settle was drafted by Washington in 2018 and played for them until 2022 when he signed as a free agent with Buffalo. Harty and Benford were both born in Baltimore.

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