After a disappointing loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Buffalo Bills are looking to rebound against the Washington Redskins on Sunday. A lot of people are picking the Bills to win this one with ease but don’t be surprised if Washington gives Buffalo a run for their money. To preview the match-up we talked to Andrew York from Hogs Haven to see what’s going on in Washington.
1) What has been the reaction to the whole Trent Williams situation this year?
It’s been a roller coaster. When it was first reported that Trent didn’t report for mandatory practice, I think fans were evenly divided about whether or not the team should trade him or try to retain him. He still had 2 more years on his contract, so most fans weren’t in favor of extending him if he just wanted more money (considering he had been paid like a top-5 LT for years). As time went on, we got more reports that the holdout wasn’t just about money, and had at least as much to do with his frustration with team doctors. For a long time, both Trent Williams and the front office refused to talk much about this situation, so we didn’t really know what each side’s grievances were.
As I write this Halloween night, Trent Williams has just today given a press interview where he goes into detail about his side of things. He says a lump on his head was discovered 6 years ago and dismissed by team doctors as benign, but this offseason was diagnosed as a rare and potentially life-threatening cancer and removed in a major surgery from which he is still recovering (he hasn’t been medically cleared to play yet). This story is still breaking, so I won’t opine too much about it yet, as more will undoubtedly come out in time. It could explain the team’s reluctance to entertain trade talks (if he wasn’t medically cleared to play) and it could explain the somewhat personal way in which Trent seems to have been refusing to stay with the team. Given that we still have much to learn, I’ll only say that trading Trent would probably be in everyone’s best interests. Trent wants to go, and the team needs draft capital more than expensive Pro Bowl veterans in what looks to be a rebuild.
2) Are fans ready to see Dwayne Haskins get game action the rest of the season?
I think the fanbase is somewhat evenly split about whether or not Haskins should be starting right now. There are quite a few who think he should be getting that game experience in a lost season, but there are also quite a few who think starting him too early would be detrimental to his development. However, almost every coach, player, and former player who is asked about it seems to think Haskins isn’t ready to start, and I tend to think they know what they’re talking about more than fans do. I’d rather the football people make that decision based on what they see in practice, and clearly what they see isn’t good enough yet. Ever since the Redskins drafted Haskins, they have been preaching patience with him, so I think they knew from the start that he was a very raw prospect (only started one year in college) with tremendous talent who would require time to develop.
Given that lead QB Case Keenum is in the concussion protocol, we may not have a choice. I think the team would clearly prefer to start Keenum, but it looks like Haskins will start if Keenum isn’t cleared in time. I personally think that it’s fine to continue starting Keenum if Haskins isn’t ready for now, but Haskins needs to start a few games this year so the team can evaluate him in games. The Redskins will likely have a top-3 pick in next year’s draft without needing to trade, the first time that has been the case in many years. We need to know if that rare pick should be spent on a QB or if we can trade back and build the rest of the team around Haskins.
3) What can this team improve on to make the season somewhat of a success?
The team can improve upon virtually every aspect of play and coaching. In terms of likely areas of growth, I think the team is getting better at rushing the ball with interim head coach Bill Callahan’s commitment to the run game. The passing offense was largely designed by former head coach Jay Gruden and the rushing offense was largely designed by Bill Callahan, and the two never meshed well together in years past (largely because the run and pass plays looked different, telegraphing our intent). New offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell was brought in this year to help make the run game mesh with the pass game, and Callahan’s commitment to running the ball has really set up the play-action passing game. The offense still looks bad (largely due to poor QB play), but I think we will have a productive rushing game that helps out the passing game due to play-action passes. We can also get more passes to rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who has looked like one of the steals of the draft. He has 4.3 speed, but is also a polished route runner and is surprisingly physical. He is one of the players the Redskins will be building around for years, and we need to get him more involved.
On the other side of the ball, I think the defense started out terrible, but has been slowly improving over the course of the season (even if it’s not obvious in the box score). We’ve got a lot of young players on defense who were making mistakes early on, but have since started to develop more consistent play. We’ve also got several veteran players who were sidelined by injury, but are now coming back healthy. As much as our defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has been (deservedly) maligned by Redskins fans, I think he has finally started to improve his playcalling and defensive scheming too. I don’t think the defense will be great, but I expect it to be better than one of the NFL’s worst (like in the first few weeks of the season).
4) How should Buffalo go about attacking this team?
On offense, Buffalo should go for lots of screens and passes to RBs (our LBs are terrible in coverage), as well as the occasional deep shot to a speedy WR matched up with CB Josh Norman in coverage. Josh Norman was once an All-Pro talent, but has been pretty terrible this year, particularly against deep threats. Buffalo should not go for runs up the middle, as we’re a bit better at defending that with a capable interior defensive line.
On defense, Buffalo should double-team WR Terry McLaurin to shut down the passing game. He’s our only pass catcher who consistently gets open, though getting open is no guarantee of success with Case Keenum throwing the ball. You should also stack the box, because our offense is likely to lean on the run. If Case Keenum starts at QB, you should shift coverages right before the snap, because he often seems to decide where he’s going to throw before the snap and stares down his intended pass catcher. If Dwayne Haskins starts, just use lots of disguised coverages and blitzes. The game is still too fast for him.
5) Predictions for Sunday?
The Bills win, but maybe not by a lot. The Redskins offense will be terrible and will likely give up a lot of turnovers to a great Bills secondary. But I think the Redskins defense won’t be as terrible as their season rankings make them seem. We have a lot of good players on defense, and they’ve been slowly gelling over the course of the season. They will continue to get placed in bad situations by the offense, but I think they could keep this a low scoring game. Especially if the defensive players up front can get pressure on Josh Allen. I predict a low-scoring Bills win, though I am always prepared for my Redskins to disappoint even those low expectations.