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Opponent Preview: Washington’s key to victory over the Buffalo Bills

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Despite me saying the sky isn’t falling regarding the Buffalo Bills’ run defense, the rushing game could be a key to an upset by Washington

Yeah, yeah. I know. I just spent a lot of time trying to convince everyone who would listen that the sky wasn’t falling and the Buffalo Bills’ run defense wasn’t terrible. And that’s all true. But if Washington is going to pull off the upset this week, victory will be through their ground game.

Washington boasts an average running game with 4.2 yards per attempt. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but there’s been a significant positive shift since Jay Gruden was sent packing. Adrian Peterson is back in favor and has had two games averaging over 5.0 yards per carry since. Put a different way, the team’s yards per attempt is average thanks to recent above-average games.


Play 1

Before we get to Adrian Peterson, who is without a doubt the largest threat, let’s check in on Steven Sims. Think of Sims like we’ve come to think of Isaiah McKenzie. Technically a receiver, most of what we hope to see with McKenzie are considered running plays such as this one. The sweep play that occurred right before this one was also to Sims for a decent gain. This one uses more trickery, with a couple potential fakes before Sims gets the ball and the result is much better than “decent.” Imagine if the block at the end went a little better.

Play 2

Here’s a very similar play. It’s not identical, however, and there’s no definitive key to see a Sims sweep coming. Here Sims gets to show off his speed and shiftiness and his potential is alarmingly high. Both of these Sims plays occurred with Jay Gruden at the helm. Assuming interim head coach Bill Callahan has been paying attention, it’s a safe bet these are still in the play book. Isn’t it great to discuss a 65-yard rushing touchdown that WASN’T allowed by our team?

Now let’s talk about Adrian Peterson.

Play 3

Peterson starts off hot and demonstrates a physics-defying ability to switch lanes. A stiff arm makes a defender do cartwheels as Peterson avoids rough patches on the field...

Play 4

But seriously look at the {expletive] lane change. Even with good gap integrity you can’t be sure of a stop. Despite being 34, that cut is ludicrous. And it’s not like the Miami Dolphins didn’t have the edge defended well either. Another cut is followed up by churning legs and a good play call by the defense is erased. Opinions aren’t always positive about the man, but the player is still excellent.

Play 5

Washington seems to be better using movement along the line to buy time and find better match-ups. I wasn’t impressed with the offensive line’s ability to plow ahead, and Peterson’s lane-changing ability seems to be necessary for those calls. When pulling either collectively or a player or two at a time, Washington seems more in their element. Giving an experienced vet like Peterson time to see lanes develop often means he’ll find something.

Play 6

Adrian Peterson isn’t afraid to be a battering ram either. There’s room to try some finesse but that would require slowing down. Peterson sees hesitation could lead to a shorter gain so he simply smashes ahead, using the wall in front of him as brakes and the pushing for a bit more yardage.

Play 7

What if I were to tell you a 1-7 team has actually been good at something? Washington has been fantastic at running to the right end. With a 6.88 yards/attempt average they’re the second-best team in the league running in this area of the field. It’s not a fluke either. Though Sims’s run in Play 2 brings their average up a good deal they’re fourth in the league in attempts. Terrible performance outside the Sims run would help normalize their average. The right side in general has been solid. Runs labeled as off the right guard are averaging 4.11 yards per attempt, good for 12th best in the league.


Summary

Washington played pretty well on offense in the first two weeks. They kept their game against Philadelphia competitive and made the Dallas Cowboys work for their victory as well. They did this with less than 50 rushing yards in both weeks. Adrian Peterson was a healthy scratch in Week 1 and didn’t see more than 12 carries in a game until Gruden was kicked to the curb.

With Peterson balancing their offense, it could lead to Washington controlling the clock using a similar game plan that Philadelphia used against Buffalo. Longer Washington drives will limit Buffalo’s offensive opportunities and keep the score low. From there, anything can happen. A single breakaway from Steven Sims might be all the difference needed on Sunday.