The Commanders need to be wary of these sneaky threats in Week 3.
Commanders must contain James Cook
A one-dimensional offense has cost the Bills at key moments during recent seasons, but James Cook is doing his bit to add balance. The second-year running back is averaging 5.8 yards a carry and battered his way to eight first downs through two weeks.
Cook can mix it between the tackles, but he’s also a patient runner with the vision and acceleration to suddenly break off big gains on the outside. The Washington Commanders’ front seven needs to set hard edges and take away his cutback lanes.
Those aren’t things the Commanders have managed too often this offseason. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s unit has surrendered 4.5 yards per rush and 14 first downs on the ground.
Commanders must contain Ed Oliver
He doesn’t get the props given to Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, but Ed Oliver is quietly one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. Numbers from Pro Football Focus, cited by Cowboys Report host Tom Downey, show how effective the lineman is when rushing the passer this season.
Oliver’s putting consistent pressure on the pocket, but he’s also formidable against the run. The 25-year-old already has 3.5 run stops to his credit after two games.
Keeping Oliver quiet won’t be easy. But the Washington Commanders could have the advantage thanks to center Nick Gates.
Commanders must contain Dawson Knox
Stefon Diggs may be the Buffalo Bills’ go-to target, but tight end Dawson Knox becomes Josh Allen’s favorite receiver the closer he gets to the end zone. The tight end has tallied 21 touchdown receptions, with his latest score covering just two yards against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Defending pay-dirt against the Bills is difficult enough when having to watch out for the rushing threats of Allen, James Cook, and Damien Harris. Even so, the Washington Commanders need a plan for Knox near the goal line.
Using safety Darrick Forrest to body the tight end would be a good start. Keeping Knox under wraps while also bottling up Allen’s runners will make the Bills one-dimensional and give Sam Howell enough chances to outscore another Pro Bowl quarterback.
The Bills offense averages 5.4 yards per play
The 5.4 yards per offensive play is 8th best in the NFL after two weeks. Running back James Cook (Dalvin’s younger brother) is having huge success in the first two weeks, averaging 5.8 yards on his 29 rushing attempts, totaling 169 yards.
The combination of James Cook moving the chains and opening up the possibility of the play-action passing game should greatly concern the Commanders defensive personnel.
Washington Post (paywall)
The Buffalo Bills are 1-1, but Coach Ron Rivera insisted “records don’t mean anything in this situation.”
“This is one of the elite teams,” he said. “We’ve got to gear up. We’ve got to practice, prepare, get ourselves ready to go. [This game will] give us a great opportunity to see where we stand.”
Four fourth-down attempts last week
Buffalo is one of the best teams in the NFL at fourth downs. McDermott is a conservative coach — his 45 fourth-down attempts since 2020 rank 31st in the NFL, according to statistical website TruMedia — but when he does go for it, the team is effective.
12 touchdown passes on the run
One way to illustrate how dangerous Allen is — combining arm strength, athleticism and creativity — is this: touchdown passes on the run.
Next Gen Stats defines “on the run” as anytime a quarterback is moving 8 mph or faster. In Week 2, Allen was elite on the run, completing 7 of 8 passes for 73 yards and two scores. He has thrown 12 touchdown passes on the run since 2022, three more than any other quarterback.
11 explosive plays allowed
The Bills’ defense uses a lot of coverages with two high safeties to prevent explosive plays. Buffalo has allowed 11 explosive plays all year — the same number Washington’s offense had last week alone — and so the Commanders’ offense has preached patience all week.
Emmanuel Forbes had an interception in last week’s Washington Commanders win. However, will he be an easy target against a high-octane Buffalo Bills offense?
The length and burst are apparent, proving he can be a lockdown corner has yet to come to fruition. Of course, that’s okay—it’s been two weeks! But the window is open for the Bills to attack the rookie.
Washington Commanders rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes practicing during training camp.
According to Pro Football Focus, Forbes has given up 125 yards this season. Only 11 corners have allowed more through two weeks. If Buffalo can get elite receiver Stefon Diggs on Forbes, the opportunity to strike will be ever-present.
Further, Forbes has been dangerously inconsistent against the run. While the Bills’ between-the-tackles rushing attack has floundered, they found success with sprint draws to the boundary in Week 2. Putting Forbes in positions to tackle could induce a game-changing business decision.
PFF has tagged Forbes with an abysmal 28 run defense grade this season. With quarterback Josh Allen’s propensity to scramble, it’s easy to see those inconsistencies coming up in Buffalo’s favor. Nobody wants to tackle Buffalo’s behemoth quarterback, much less an 180-pound cornerback.
The Bills are expected to handle business against a Commanders team with lesser expectations. Using their talent advantage against a rookie cornerback may be the easiest path to victory on Sunday at FedEx Field.
In their previous two games, Commanders made comebacks in the second half but were points away from losing in the game’s final moments. When facing off a super bowl contender like the Bills, repeating that feat will be much more difficult.
And to set themselves up for success, they’re zoning in on early moves in the game.
“We just got to go out there and make plays early, getting the ball rolling,” Samuel said.
The team says these positive things will come to fruition as they focus on executing this Sunday, and they say take it one play at a time to do so.
“When we get our shots, we got to take them,” Dotson said. “We gotta execute.”
The offensive execution will focus on driving the ball forward on every play and allowing the strategy to be effective.
“As long as we sustain drives and keep things going,” Dotson said. It’s not about making big plays; it’s about taking it one play at a time and everybody coming together, playing together and making stuff happen.”
The Buffalo Bills are using an increased number of two-tight-end formations now that they have Dalton Kincaid to pair with Dawson Knox.
When a team lines up in what’s known as 12 personnel — one running back and two tight ends — often times it could signal a run play is coming.
However, when the quarterback is one of the NFL’s best gunslingers in Josh Allen, that could mean an entirely different game plan will be used in the personnel grouping. With the Buffalo Bills, that is exactly the case, using first-round draft pick Dalton Kincaid as a complement to Dawson Knox in the passing game.
“They are a concept-driven unit. They do a great job,” Washington Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “They’ve got good people. They’ve been explosive, and they’ve done it for a long time. Ever since that big, athletic quarterback has been there, they’ve been tough to deal with. They’ve got a really good offense and that is really good team.”
While Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis have been the mainstays out wide, Buffalo’s offensive scheme has recently centered around delivering the ball to the tight end.
Each of the last two years, Knox has been a staple of consistency. In 2021, he hauled in 49 passes for 587 yards and nine touchdowns, closely imitating those numbers in 2022 when he had 48 catches for 517 yards and six scores.
The Buffalo Bills know that the Washington Commanders pass rush could make life difficult for the entire offense.
Bills receiver Gabe Davis recently spoke about how Washington’s defensive line will impact Sunday’s contest.
“That’s one of the things that our coach harps on,” Davis said. “Each week, we’re going against the D-Line as well. We have to be aware of that and know that we don’t have all this time at the line of scrimmage, we have to get open.”
A lack of quick releases and early separation could force quarterback Josh Allen to hold onto the ball longer than he’d like. With pressure bearing down, he’s more prone to turnovers like the four he committed in Week 1 against the New York Jets.
“Like I was preaching earlier about making it easy for 17,” Davis said. “So we gotta know that we’re not only going against the guy in front of us, but we’re going against the guys on the line of scrimmage.”
When quarterback Sam Howell was sacked six times in the season opener, many quickly blamed the offensive line. However, after further review, some of those sacks were on Howell, which he acknowledged. In last week’s win over Denver, the offensive tackles struggled at times, but left tackle Charles Leno Jr. rebounded with a strong finish.
So, where do things stand with Washington’s offensive line after two games? Pro Football Focus ranks NFL offensive lines each week and moved up the Commanders from No. 19 to No. 13 last week.
Saahdiq Charles earned an 85.9 run-blocking grade against the Broncos, which ranked second among guards in Week 2.
The Commanders’ offensive line has given up five sacks this season, which is tied for the sixth most in the NFL, despite the fact that they have surrendered just the 16th most pressures.
Best player: Charles Leno Jr.
Leno allowed both a sack and a quarterback hit against the Broncos. It marked just the third time that has happened since the start of the 2022 season.
While we disagreed with Leno as Washington’s best offensive lineman last week, he was better in the second half. Charles and Cosmi were excellent against the Broncos. And if those two can stay healthy, it’s a positive development for the Commanders in their quest to improve the offensive line.
Podcasts & videos
Brian Robinson Jr. Kicks Off Our Newest Podcast: Next Man Up! | Washington Commanders
Weekend listening with The @RealBramW Show:— ESPN630 DC (@espn630dc) September 23, 2023
Terry McLaurin: https://t.co/392hcS75rs@john_keim: https://t.co/aonLZUUZwo
Best of Friday - Week 3 #NFL picks: https://t.co/cQOk8GBOvT pic.twitter.com/nCd4hhyS5B
Locked on Commanders: Washington Commanders Daron Payne Cleared for Week 3 | Logan Thomas OUT | Keys to Victory
.@kevinsheehanDC asks if @BenStandig also believes the Commanders have a "legitimate chance" to beat the Bills. The answer begins with a point about Benjamin Franklin. Seriously. https://t.co/S3Gud7WGAg— The Team 980 (@team980) September 22, 2023
Kevin has the #Commanders winning against Buffalo! He explains why. Jay Gruden joins to talk about the win in Denver and the Buffalo game. Plus, @ryanohalloran talks #BillsMafia and previews the weekend in football.— The Kevin Sheehan Show (@SheehanPodcast) September 22, 2023
Find it on all podcast platforms or:https://t.co/dfdZhD6oTG
Take a look at the Washington Commanders’ previous matchups with the Buffalo Bills. (Photos via The Associated Press)
Current forecast for the game tomorrow: pic.twitter.com/hU83vMJgzq— John Keim (@john_keim) September 23, 2023
NFL league links
Illegal formation penalties—or a lack of them—became a key NFL story line in the first two weeks of the season. Let’s understand why.
“[Illegal formation] has always been an issue, but I do feel the last two to three years this has been more of an issue,” says Dean Blandino, an NFL rules analyst for Fox Sports and the former NFL vice president of officiating. “I don’t know if you’ve got players who are really good at it or if officials aren’t being told to officiate the line of scrimmage as closely as they have in the past. The foul numbers would lead you to believe it’s on the officiating side a little bit.”
In Week 1, the league called only seven illegal formation fouls across 16 games. Then, after sending out its weekly teaching tape that concluded by featuring a slew of missed formation calls, including multiple would-be infractions by Taylor, the NFL blew the whistle on 10 in Week 2. Those included one on Taylor in Kansas City’s 17–9 win over the Jaguars.
While illegal formation is supposed to remain a point of emphasis moving forward, we’ve seen the NFL crack down on certain calls to send a message for a few weeks before relenting. Ultimately, nobody wants to see big plays brought back by minor penalties, which is why officials are taught to warn players before littering the field with yellow flags.
Still, there’s an unanswered question: Why are tackles suddenly appearing to get off the ball more quickly without being whistled for either a false start or an illegal formation on a consistent basis?
“There’s been an emphasis on really getting off the ball on the silent cadence,” says Geoff Schwartz, a retired offensive lineman who played seven NFL seasons between the Panthers, Vikings, Chiefs and Giants. “When I was younger, we were taught as a tackle to look at the ball, and when the ball is snapped, you move. But you’re a little bit late when you do that, right? Now guys are taught that when the center puts his head up to snap, or when the guard throws his hand forward to alert the center, tackles have practiced the timing. When the center brings his head up, or when the arm goes forward, it’s one second from snap. They don’t even look at the ball anymore.
“When you watch the best centers in the NFL, it’s no wonder it’s the Eagles and Chiefs. Those centers [Jason Kelce and Creed Humphrey] are really good with their cadences. If you watch them, it’s very consistent and routine. The tackles … know the exact rhythm. One second, half of a second, it’s practiced so much now that this is what’s happening. It’s the perfection of the system, to use the cadence to your advantage.”