The Buffalo Bills are in search of their second victory this year, as is the Washington Football Team. The clubs face off this Sunday in the “17th” game of the season, as this is the matchup that was determined via a new process in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Bills and Washington were both in first place in their division last year, and the league has the AFC East starting their rotation of “17th games” with the NFC East.
The Bills played Washington in 2019, winning 24-9 in what was a career game at that point for running back Devin Singletary. He carried 20 times for 95 yards and a touchdown, a yardage total that he has only surpassed once (he gained 106 yards in last year’s win over the Denver Broncos). The Bills and Washington are both totally different teams than they were in that matchup, however.
Here are Washington’s impact players, a group that Buffalo has to shut down in order to come out on top this week.
RB Antonio Gibson
An adept pass-catcher as well as a dangerous runner, Gibson can do it all. He shares backfield duties with another strong receiver in J.D. McKissic, but it’s Gibson who has the ability to give defenses big headaches. Buffalo has tightened its run defense significantly this year, allowing just 146 yards on 41 carries for a paltry 3.6 yards per attempt so far. If Star Lotulelei, who is battling a groin injury, can’t play, that should help Gibson’s chances of finding room to run. Buffalo was able to contain Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 though, in a game that Lotulelei missed. Repeating the first two weeks’ defensive performances will put pressure on quarterback Taylor Heinicke to win the game himself, which is a scenario that favors Buffalo’s defense.
WR Terry McLaurin
The speedy wideout is a shifty nightmare to cover, as he’s capable of creating space in a short period of time thanks to his dynamic burst and agility. While Tre’Davious White is one of the league’s best corners, the Bills will either have Levi Wallace (hampered by a knee injury) or Dane Jackson (whose performance was deemed “inconsistent” by defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier during the preseason) lining up across from White. The Bills usually start off by trusting their players to play the man lined up across from them, but if they have to use White to shadow McLaurin, it could take them out of their comfort zone—literally, since cover-three looks are what this team is best suited for—and force them to play more man.
TE Logan Thomas
This guy is one of my favorite stories in the league. I’m not even mad that he’s found such great success as a tight end after he left the Bills, and after the Bills took a chance on developing him as a tight end while he learned the position after starting his career as a quarterback. Thomas always had the physical tools, but now that he’s added some positional savvy to his experience, he has become one of the league’s best tight ends. Last year, he caught 72 passes for 670 yards and six touchdowns. So far this season, he’s been targeted ten times, and he has eight grabs for 75 yards and a score. The Bills did well to contain Mike Gesicki last week. They’ll need to do it again this week.
DE Chase Young
This is the player with the single-greatest ability to destroy the Bills’ game plan this week. Young is an incredible athlete and a headache for opposing offenses. He’s off to a slow start this year, as he has just six tackles and two tackles-for-loss without a quarterback hit or a sack through two games. His size and speed will be a problem for both Dion Dawkins and Daryl Williams, but it’s a one-on-one matchup with the latter that concerns me most. Look for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to use tight end Dawson Knox as a chip blocker to slow Young throughout the afternoon.
LB Jamin Davis
From what I can tell, the young middle linebacker is going through some of the same growing pains right now that our own Tremaine Edmunds did in 2018 and 2019. Davis is an elite athlete who sometimes can be tricked by “eye candy,” or the motion so common in NFL offenses before the snap. The Bills and Brian Daboll give opposing defenses plenty to digest before the play even begins, so this could be a week where the Bills can spring a big one if the rookie linebacker misreads his keys. Washington’s linebackers overall have been disappointing, and they had a lot of trouble containing a mobile quarterback in Daniel Jones last week. Davis and the linebacker corps will have their hands full this week with Josh Allen. The Bills may be able to find some space in the intermediate-middle of the field.