The Buffalo Bills play host to Washington this weekend, looking to improve to 6-2 for the first time since 1992 (and give themselves their best record at a season’s midpoint since 1993, when they were 7-1). In trying to hold off a Washington squad that’s improving in the aftermath of head coach Jay Gruden’s firing, Buffalo will have to come out playing more sound football than they did last week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Washington is only 1-2 since Gruden was fired, but after losing all five of the games he coached by an average score of 30 to 15, Washington’s defense has tightened. They’ve beaten the Miami Dolphins in a close contest (17-16), and they’ve lost tight games to strong NFC foes in the San Francisco 49ers (9-0) and the Minnesota Vikings (19-9).
Which Washington players are the ones we’ll be watching this weekend? Here’s our list.
[Insert Washington QB Here]
With veteran Case Keenum still in concussion protocol, it’s possible that the team will turn to rookie Dwayne Haskins on Sunday. While Keenum isn’t a world-beater, he’s light-years ahead of the raw rookie. Keenum has completed 67% of his passes for 1,343 yards, nine touchdowns, and only four interceptions on 188 attempts. Haskins, meanwhile, has completed 12-of-22 passes for 140 yards with four interceptions in two relief appearances. Whichever quarterback plays will be in a tough environment at New Era Field, but if it’s Haskins, the Bills will be at a distinct advantage.
RB Adrian Peterson
Buffalo may have its ageless wonder in Frank Gore, but Peterson is another veteran defying the sands of time. At 34 years old, he began this season as a healthy scratch. In the four games to follow, he carried the ball 40 times for 108 yards and a touchdown, adding three catches for four yards. Since Gruden was fired, Peterson has been a workhorse, totaling 57 carries, 275 yards, four catches, and 45 yards receiving. A strong downhill runner, Peterson possesses the talent to shred Buffalo’s run defense similarly to the way the Eagles’ Jordan Howard did last week (24 carries, 96 yards, one touchdown). While he isn’t as much a threat in the passing game, Peterson is still a dynamic runner, and if he’s able to play (he did not practice Wednesday or Thursday thanks to a high ankle sprain), he’ll be the focal point of Washington’s offense.
WR Terry McLaurin
The speedy rookie leads Washington in targets (46), receptions (28), receiving yards (458), and receiving touchdowns (five) this season. He has shown great hands and excellent route-running ability, and he’s also shown that he’s far more than just a deep threat. If the Bills want to take away one receiver from Washington’s attack, he’s the one who should be their main focus. If Keenum is cleared to play, McLaurin becomes much more dangerous. Although he clearly has a good rapport with his former college teammate Haskins, the rookie quarterback hasn’t shown any sort of readiness to play at the professional level just yet. Buffalo will need to limit McLaurin’s touches on Sunday.
DL Matthew Ioannidis
Ioannidis is big (6’3” and 310 lbs) and excels against the run and as a pass rusher. He’s notched a tackle for loss in each of Washington’s last four games, including a performance against the 49ers where he combined for nine tackles on 45 defensive snaps. Overall, Ioannidis has 40 tackles, fourth on Washington’s roster, five tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and a team-leading eight quarterback hits. The Bills will need to pay particular attention to Ioannidis on Sunday.
CB Quinton Dunbar
Washington’s starting corner across from Josh Norman, Dunbar was limited in practice on Wednesday with a hamstring injury. He was able to practice in full on Thursday, though. In six games, Dunbar leads Washington in interceptions (three) and pass breakups (five). Given most teams’ unwillingness to throw at Norman, Dunbar needs to play well in order to keep Josh Allen and the Bills’ passing game in check. If his hamstring isn’t 100%, the Bills could try to take advantage deep. They should test him early on Sunday.