It’s Week 3 of the 2023 NFL season and the 2-0 Washington Commanders will be facing a 1-1 Bills team in Raljon.
Washington is coming off two close wins, including its largest road comeback in over 30 years. The Bills narrowly lost their first game, against the Jets, and then absolutely dismantled the Raiders in week 2, 38-10. Going into the season, Buffalo appeared to be one of the truly serious contenders for a Super Bowl appearance, while most observers weren’t sure what to expect from Washington, with a young QB and new offensive coordinator. Can Washington steal one from the Bills? Which Josh Allen will show up for this game? How will Jack Del Rio’s defense perform against one of the top offenses in the league?
To learn more about these and other issues, I asked Matthew Byham of Buffalo Rumblings five questions about the state of the Bills and what to look for in this game.
1) The Bills were my pre-season prediction for Super Bowl champs. After that first game, against the Jets, I was seriously questioning the wisdom of that pick given Josh Allen’s erratic play. Now in his sixth year in the league, I was a little surprised to see such unnecessary risk taking. Is that unusual for Allen? Is it something he’s still working on?
Talk long enough with anyone in Bills Mafia and they’ll tell you that Josh Allen’s going to be Josh Allen — and that’s exactly what makes him so incredible. Most fans seem content with Allen being the player he has been, because for each turnover or negative play that happens, Allen storms back with another that blows your mind in the right way. An oft-used comparison is that of Brett Favre and the gunslinger mentality. I don’t fully agree with it, but it’s understandable given how entertaining both Allen and Favre played the game of football.
It’s possible that Josh Allen never lost the passion or drive that existed when he was young. Now, of course I have no idea if that’s the case nor the following, but: Allen’s ability to ad-lib could be borne out of a bit of his roots in playground ball. There are few quarterbacks who find so much success after a play breaks down, and it’s not really anything you can teach. It does speak to his fundamentals being sound, by and large. But yes, I do think he’s still working on becoming a pro’s pro. What you saw on Monday Night Football was more indicative of the Allen from during his first two years in the league. It’s important to note that Allen currently leads the league in completion percentage at 76.9%. Due to four (very important) plays, the narrative around Allen is that he’s regressing. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
2) What did the Jets do well against the Bills in Week 1, defensively, that kept the game so close. What would you say is the secret to slowing down Buffalo’s offense?
The Bills were ahead at one point, 13-3. The Jets, defensively, seem to have a way of getting in Allen’s head. He tends to play with an accelerated internal clock. That, in and of itself appears to be the key to slowing down Buffalo’s offense — speed Allen up, if you will. We saw it happen in both matchups against the Jets last season, and then something similar took place in the playoffs against the Cincinnati Bengals.
But back to Week 1 of this season: the Jets took away Allen’s best opportunities for long completions — for the deadly strikes he likes to employ. Had Allen simply took what the Jets were giving him underneath, things likely would have played out differently for Buffalo to open the season. But the Jets under head coach Robert Saleh seem to understand that Josh Allen is always going to believe he can best a defense long, and that his receivers will always win their matchups (in fairness, Diggs essentially does). None of it went according to plan, or otherwise, in Week 1.
3) Tell us about a player on offense and on defense that we may not know about, but who you expect to be a difference maker this coming season.
Those outside of Bills Mafia who play fantasy football probably know all the names on offense, for the most part. But I’d have to say it’s second-year running back James Cook. He’s the real deal — a true game-breaker out of the backfield, with on-tap speed you have to see to believe. Why is he set to be a difference maker? That’s twofold. First, with him being utilized more by offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, that potentially reduces the number of rushes by Josh Allen. That’s key for those concerned about Allen running the ball. Mind you, not everyone wants Allen to abandon his run game — myself included. The other benefit of Cook as RB1 is a more concerted effort to establish a balanced attack. We saw it in Week 2 against the Las Vegas Raiders, where the Bills came out of halftime and methodically ate clock to the tune of 9:01, en route to yet another score. That’s devastating to an opponent already several positions in the hole. Cook simply makes Buffalo more diverse on offense, which should only help the Bills and Allen continue doing the things they enjoy most through the air.
On defense I’ll go with defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, who may not be an unknown to those more intimately tuned in to the NFL. But Jones is a game-wrecker on the D-line, whether that be his masterful ability to shut down a run game, or his ferocity in collapsing a pocket to force the quarterback into unwise alternatives. Jones is the real deal, yet he somehow flies under the radar due to the incredible depth the Bills have along the defensive line. Said another way: Everything he’s asked to do, he does well. I’ll point you to a Buffalo Rumblings article from earlier this week to catch a glimpse of just a few of those things DaQuan Jones did well in Week 2. Focus on Plays 3, 5, and 7 from the post.
4) How much is Von Miller’s absence affecting the Bill’s defense? What would you say is their greatest strength with his pass-rushing talent on the bench?
Well, the team certainly misses him. Any team would miss a player as talented as Miller. They’re not getting a ton of sacks, but the Bills’ line is still productive, disruptive, and a major handful for opponents. So, in an interesting twist compared to last season, the Bills have marched out of the gate without missing too much of a beat due to Miller’s recovery.
Third-year edge rusher Greg Rousseau, who’s closer to 7’ than 6’, has become Buffalo’s most-featured EDGE player. But it’s not just Rousseau. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa has come on in Year 4, bringing a more heady element to his game. The defensive line is playing smart ball, knowing when to contain and when to confuse into a hurried decision. They also show great aptitude in getting their hands up to clog the upper stratosphere of a quarterback’s passing lane.
But to me, the Bills’ greatest strength on defense is linebacker Matt Milano. I could write 2,000 words on what he means to the team, but I think Commanders offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy sums it up best. There isn’t anything Milano is incapable of doing on defense, and when he steps into any role needed — he exceeds expectations. The former college safety is Buffalo’s X-factor on defense, and continues to succeed despite losing his five-year linebacker partner Tremaine Edmunds. If you haven’t seen much film on Milano, keep an eye on him Sunday.
5) What are you expecting the final score of the game to be this week? DraftKings Sportsbook has the over/under set at 44.5. How many points do you expect to be scored overall?
I really dislike score predictions, and I usually try finding a way to work around giving one (insert joyful laughter). The difficulty in predicting scores is further amplified when it’s an intraconference game, despite these two teams having faced off often in recent seasons. Head coaches Sean McDermott and Ron Rivera know each other well. I believe that could help keep the score down — not out of respect for one another, but out of an understanding of game intentions. We all know Bieniemy is a fantastic offensive coordinator, and he has Sam Howell playing well. (Shoutout to these later-round QBs in Howell and Brock Purdy succeeding early in the NFL.) If we also consider the potential weather concerns, the game could be messy and sparse on scoring. If the weather outlook improves, I’d side with the over, if it’s going to be soggy and windy, then the under seems wise to me. In either scenario and when considering the head coaches and coordinators, I’d imagine 49.5 for the over, with somewhere around 30 for the under.
Washington at 2-0 is not to be overlooked, yet some have questioned the strength of the Commanders’ opponents. But no victory in the NFL is easy, and each win builds confidence and ability. If I’m being honest, I have concerns about Buffalo’s offensive line holding up against Washington’s defensive line. It’s likely we see the Bills provide help from their tight ends and or fullback, which could mean less receiving options underneath for Allen.
Oh right, a final score. Good weather: 30-20; bad weather: 20-10. Those scores could fit a winner from either sideline.
Thanks again to Matthew for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Bills. Be sure to check out Matthew’s companion piece over at Buffalo Rumblings.
As of right now, Vegas has Buffalo as 6.5 point favorites over Washington. How would you bet?
This poll is closed
Buffalo wins by 7 or more points.
Buffalo wins by 6 points or less, or ties.
As of now, Vegas has the over/under for this game at 44.5 points. Which would you bet?
This poll is closed
45 or more points are scored.
44 or fewer points are scored.