Welcome to Week Nine of the NFL season. Here at 300 Level Media, we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the Buffalo Bills’ upcoming opponent and what each team might do to emerge victorious.
The Bills’ eighth game of the 2019 season will take place at New Era Field as they face the Washington Redskins. Here’s what you should know:
WASHINGTON DEFINED BY DYSFUNCTION ON AND OFF THE FIELD
The seemingly never-ending off-field drama in Washington has extended itself to on the field, as head coach Jay Gruden was fired two weeks ago. Gruden isn’t that bad of a coach, more than anything he was undermined by a meddling owner in Daniel Snyder and no real leadership in their front office (player personnel executive Doug Williams and president Bruce Allen split the general manager’s duties). He will likely get another chance somewhere else.
In the meantime offensive line coach and former head man in Oakland and at the University of Nebraska Bill Callahan was promoted to be the interim head coach, and his influence on the team’s offense was obvious from the get-go. The plan to run the ball more often with future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson has been somewhat successful, but the 34-year old operates behind a line that is missing one of the game’s best left tackles in Trent Williams. When in the lineup, Williams and right tackle Morgan Moses are perhaps football’s best tackle tandem as they (and right guard Brandon Scherff) are extremely athletic. Williams’ replacement is 36-year old Donald Penn, who has shown his age this season, and it also doesn’t help matters that left guard Ereck Flowers – the former New York Giants bust – and center Chase Roullier have been underwhelming.
Two other factors working against Peterson are the lack of continuity and production at quarterback and at the skill positions. Veteran journeyman Case Keenum will miss Sunday’s game with a concussion, which means rookie Dwayne Haskins will get his first career start. The first-round selection out of Ohio State has tantalizing physical traits, but all of his other components – namely accuracy, footwork, release point, field vision and ball placement – need a lot of work, especially given that Haskins started just 14 games in college.
The Redskins’ West Coast-style of offense is also very detailed, which makes it hard for any quarterback, much less a rookie, to execute. According to former MMQB/SI writer Andy Benoit, “Washington’s system with its bevy of intertwined receiver releases and multi-option route combinations, is crafty and well-coached, but it requires a knack for detail that a quarterback can’t develop overnight.”
Rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin has surprised many with his combination of speed and physicality but beyond him is a barren wasteland. Uber-athletic tight end Jordan Reed, who is adept on slants, is out once again with another concussion and his backup, veteran Vernon Davis, is also nursing an injury. Third-down back Chris Thompson, who is at his best on option and angle routes, is dealing with a toe injury and youngster Derrius Guice won’t be back until Week 11 at the earliest.
REDSKINS’ DEFENSE RANKED 26TH, BUT PLAYING BETTER AS OF LATE
Allowing less than 20 points in each of their last three games, the Redskins’ defense is better than some might think. Over the last few years they have invested heavily in their front seven by drafting Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne for their defensive line (who they like to line up directly over guards in an “even” front, which is tough to run against) and Montez Sweat to be the bookend pass rusher to the underrated Ryan Kerrigan. So far they’ve played well but there’s not much depth behind them.
Cornerback Josh Norman has been a disappointment since Washington signed him away from the Carolina Panthers. Part of the problem has been the Redskins’ deployment of him in more man coverage than when he was in Carolina, which shines a glaring light on his average top-end speed. In zone coverage he’s still above average, however, as he understands route angles and timing very well.
Beyond Norman and the underrated, multi-faceted Quinton Dunbar the Redskins are also thin in their secondary, as former Houston Texan and Jacksonville Jaguar Aaron Colvin is the only other proven (and healthy) cornerback on their roster, as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is on injured reserve. At safety, Landon Collins is a playmaker and solid in both man and zone coverage against running backs and tight ends but isn’t asked to blitz much. The other starting safety, Montae Nicholson, is – you guessed it – out with an injury.
BUFFALO’S DEFENSE GREAT, BUT STRUGGLED LAST WEEK
Last week against the Philadelphia Eagles the Bills’ defense had a rough day at the office, allowing running backs Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard to rush for a combined 170 yards and two touchdowns on just 26 carries and 218 total rushing yards (Buffalo had allowed just 3.9 yards per carry going in). Most of the damage was done on inside zone runs, where the Bills’ defensive linemen and especially linebacker Tremaine Edmunds struggled at filling gaps and diagnosing the blocking scheme up front. Buffalo will need to correct this in a hurry against a Redskins team that likes to run the football.
The Bills’ defensive unit is more or less the same as last year’s group, except for rookie defensive tackle Ed Oliver stepping in for the now-retired Kyle Williams. Schematically, they rely on basic zone coverages after the snap, but before the snap it is complex – safety rotations to disguise their coverages keep opposing quarterbacks guessing and selective pressure looks at the line of scrimmage are Sean McDermott’s calling card (those blitz looks are usually in the A-gaps from their linebackers – for more info on McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s defense, please read: https://fromthe300level.com/2018/08/pressure-package-how-the-late-buddy-ryan-has-influenced-the-buffalo-bills-defenses-for-over-20-years/?fbclid=IwAR3iYcnJ5qvl8shWHkZJVNO50VJXPeaEx8k0-Rk1VWV_Qx2OEfsAn2NY_ys).
BILLS’ OFFENSE NEEDS TO GET GOING
Josh Allen and company didn’t quite play up to par either last week. While completing eight of 13 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown in the first was efficient, his second half numbers weren’t – completing just eight of 21 for 95 yards and throwing 10 straight incompletions near the end of the fourth quarter. The Bills’ offense also had 13 possessions and went three-and-out seven times.
Buffalo made an investment in adding help for Allen along the offensive line and at the skill positions during the offseason. The offensive line – once viewed as potentially the worst in football – has been upgraded on paper, with four new starters having arrived via free agency and the draft to provide help for third-year left tackle Dion Dawkins.
The Bills’ weapons around Allen have also theoretically been addressed from a year ago. John Brown has brought speed and downfield playmaking ability to Western New York, the recall of wide receiver Duke Williams from the practice squad has given Buffalo a big, physical presence on the outside that they had sorely lacked for years and Cole Beasley is a reliable security blanket while playing the Wes Welker/Julian Edelman role that is emphasized in Daboll’s Patriots-style system. In an offense that’s built upon concepts involving option routes from the slot, downfield routes from the outside, designed quarterback runs to take advantage of Allen’s mobility, deep dropbacks and alignments that create favorable matchups (and some trick plays with jet motion, sweeps and end arounds with Isaiah McKenzie), the Bills have much more to work with than they did at this time last year.
Despite the upgrades in talent, however, the Bills aren’t quite producing like they should be. Ranking just 19th in yards per game, 23rd in passing and scoring just 19 points per game, the Bills need to figure out how to get their offense to jell together. Perhaps if running back Devin Singletary and tight end Tyler Kroft are utilized more against Washington – unlike against Philly – they can improve, as both players provided positive plays when they were on the field.
- This is the second time in three years that the Bills have had a three-game homestand on their schedule. Two years ago the Bills went 1-2 in that home stretch in December – can they improve to 2-1 in this year’s?
- Buffalo’s defense has allowed less than 400 yards of offense in 19 straight games dating to last year.
- The Bills currently lead the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage with a mark of 70.6 percent, but on just 17 red zone possessions – the fourth fewest in the NFL.
- According to Chris Brown of buffalobills.com, the Bills are tied for the NFL lead with 29 pre-snap penalties, and half of their 59 penalties have come before the snap. The Bills are tied with Cleveland for the second-most false start penalties this year with 16 and are second in offsides penalties with five.
- 13 of the Bills’ 15 touchdowns this year have come on drives that have been 70 yards or longer. That speaks to Buffalo’s willingness to be methodical and to beat opponents by death of a thousand cuts.
- Should Buffalo win on Sunday, their 6-2 mark at the halfway point would be their best since 1993 (7-1).
- This weekend will feature the first matchup between two of the NFL’s top six all-time rushers since Emmitt Smith and Curtis Martin squared off back in 2004. Frank Gore is just 100 yards away from passing Barry Sanders for third on the all-time rushing list and Peterson is just behind Martin at sixth place.
- Haskins joins notable first-round quarterbacks such as Joe Namath (1965), Jeff George (1990), Drew Bledsoe (1993) and Ryan Leaf (1998) to make their first career start against the Bills.
- The last time the Redskins played in New Era Field was in 2003. The Bills did host them back in 2011, but that game was played in Toronto.