Sometimes, football is put in its place by real-world events. The murder of Redskins safety Sean Taylor has cast a shadow over what otherwise would have been another fun NFL Sunday. Today, the Buffalo Bills travel into the D.C. area to take on the Washington Redskins, who have survived a week of mourning and preparation to show up for today's game. It's unfortunate, but necessary: football must resume today. This one is going to be emotional.
The Bills have lost two straight to dominant AFC playoff contenders, and have turned to rookie QB Trent Edwards to right the ship before the team falls completely out of playoff contention. Edwards will attempt to turn around an anemic offense, but will have to do it without his top two running backs, Marshawn Lynch and Anthony Thomas, who are both out with injury. Even with those losses, here's how Edwards and the Bills can pull out a victory today:
Offense: Use Fred Jackson
Washington boasts a middle-of-the-pack, aggressive, play-making defense led by former Bills LB London Fletcher. Playing on sheer emotion in front of a home crowd, this is going to be a difficult defense to beat - especially if the Bills have an early three-and-out or two. The Bills can help themselves most early by moving the chains and getting first downs - it will sap a little of the defense's energy and take the crowd out of it.
In order to move the chains, the Bills will need to use RB Fred Jackson. The former undrafted free agent out of Coe College (Marv Levy's alma mater) has played well in two limited appearances at the position, and now he could be called on to start with Lynch and Thomas on the sidelines. Dwayne Wright will be mixed in, yes, but Jackson's running style and receiving skills need to be utilized first in the rotation. Jackson moves chains - and by doing that, he'll help Edwards succeed most.
Players to Watch: QB Trent Edwards, RB Fred Jackson, WR Lee Evans
Defense: Eliminate Santana Moss
Last week, in a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo really struggled to eliminate the big play - as a result, the Jaguars scored two touchdowns from 50+ yards out. The Redskins will be looking to make big plays of their own, and their big plays start with WR Santana Moss. The speedy receiver has a good rapport with QB Jason Campbell (developing very nicely in his second season as starter) and the deep skills to exploit a banged up secondary. Buffalo simply can't let him get too involved in the offense - if he does, he could have a career day.
One other Redskin looking to have a big day is RB Clinton Portis. Currently ranked 6th in the NFL with 870 rushing yards, Portis has quietly had an excellent season with the Redskins - and the last time he faced an AFC defense, he ran for 196 yards and a score. It's nearly impossible to completely shut him down, but if the Bills can limit Portis, the pressure will be thrust directly onto the shoulders of Campbell. That's where the pressure needs to be for this Bills defense.
Players to Watch: DE Aaron Schobel, LB John DiGiorgio, CB Jabari Greer
Special Teams: Can Moorman Please Be Moorman?
All-world punter Brian Moorman, one of Buffalo's most underrated weapons, hasn't been very all-world of late. In Buffalo's last five games, Moorman has broken the 40-yard gross average just once, tossing several poor averages in along the way (34.3, 33, 36.5). This has hurt Buffalo's defense in terms of field position - and these youngsters need all the help they can get. Moorman needs to get back to being himself ASAP.
Similarly, Terrence McGee needs to get back to his usual dominant self on kick returns. In his last three games, McGee's return averages have been worse than pedestrian: 18 yard average against the Jags and Patriots, and 21 against the Dolphins. McGee hasn't been a factor in this department since early in the season; he needs to make life easier for Edwards and the offense today.
Players to Watch: P Brian Moorman, KR Terrence McGee, S John Wendling