The Buffalo Bills face off against the Washington Commanders this weekend in a clash of two teams with some pretty deep connections. Obviously, Washington head coach Ron Rivera and Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott go back a long way, as McDermott worked under Rivera with the Carolina Panthers from 2011-2016. However, the chess match between the coaching staffs goes deeper than even that.
Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was also on Rivera’s staff in Carolina, as he served as the Panthers’ quarterbacks coach from 2013-2017. And Washington’s offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, has been a thorn in the side of the Bills for years now, as he was the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2018-2022.
There are plenty of story lines to follow here, with some having to do with injury and some having to do with talented players on the other side of the ball. One thing is clear, though: In what has the potential to be a classic “trap game” given the big divisional showdown Buffalo has with the Miami Dolphins in Week 4, the Bills need to deliver a win at FedExField.
If they’re going to do just that, here are five players we think are essential to victory Sunday afternoon.
RB Damien Harris
With a tropical cyclone bearing down on the Nation’s Capital, the potential for a muddy, rainy mess of a game is pretty likely. That means Buffalo may rely on the running game far more than we’ve been accustomed to in the last few years. While James Cook has looked every bit the part of RB1 thus far, in a game where running backs may need 35-40 touches, he isn’t the guy to take on that big of a workload. Enter Harris, the 5’11” battering ram who hasn’t seen much action yet. He scored his first touchdown with the Bills last week, but he looked to be RB3 in terms of total touches — as veteran Latavius Murray had more touches through three quarters when the game was still somewhat close. It’s quite possible that Murray goes out and sees the carry total I’m projecting here for Harris, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see 8-12 carries for at least two of Buffalo’s backs. Harris is built for the downhill run game, and if he can bull his way to some physical first-down gains, it will not only keep the Bills on schedule, but also open things up in play-action scenarios.
WR Stefon Diggs
It’s cliche, sure, but Buffalo’s top target will need to be big this week. The Commanders have done a nice job shutting down opposing tight ends — in Week 1, they held Zach Ertz to six catches for just 21 yards — so it could be a tough week for Dalton Kincaid and Dawson Knox. With the latter dealing with a back issue, it’s possible that we see more Quintin Morris on the field this week, as well. Washington held Denver’s top wideout, Courtland Sutton, to five catches for 66 yards. While Sutton is certainly talented, he isn’t Diggs, and No. 14 is easily the best pass-catcher Washington has seen this season. Especially if the horrendous weather forecast proves true, someone will need to catch a few passes in big situations. It might not be the biggest day numbers-wise of Diggs’ Buffalo career, but he’ll need to be efficient in order to keep the chains moving.
RT Spencer Brown
Yes, two weeks in a row. Brown was dynamite against edge rusher Maxx Crosby last week, and his prize this week is a date with pass rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat. Washington’s defensive line as a whole is exceptional, and Brown can’t afford to backslide to another mediocre-or-worse performance after arguably his best game as a professional. Buffalo won’t be able to key in as much on one of Washington’s pass-rush monsters because there are two of them rather than just a single big threat, so Brown may not see as much help this week as he did last week. He needs to be up to the task.
DE Greg Rousseau
Groot has been quietly fantastic this season, continuing a trend that’s really been the case for his whole career. He may not tally huge sack numbers, but Rousseau is rarely, if ever, out of position. He does a great job setting the edge, he’s excellent in pursuit, and he plays sound, disciplined football in passing lanes, as well. Rousseau doesn’t officially have a sack yet, since the one quarterback takedown he had last weekend resulted in a one-yard gain for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. That was less a product of Rousseau being late or ineffective than it was proof of the existence of inertia, though, as that tackle still kept the Raiders in a long to-go situation. Rousseau will notch his first sack of the year on Sunday. I’m calling my shot.
DT Ed Oliver
Speaking of people playing out of their minds, Oliver was a one-man wrecking crew during Week 2, and he was noticeably disruptive Week 1 against the New York Jets, as well. While it’s still early, Oliver is on pace for 17 tackles for loss, 34 quarterback hits, and four sacks based on his early season returns. Those would be monumental numbers for a guy who’s never approached that in his career. Frankly, I don't need the numbers as long as he keeps chucking offensive guards so far into the backfield that they make the tackle for him. In a game that has the potential to feature a heavy dose of the running game thanks to the weather, Oliver’s continued dominance would go a long way towards giving Buffalo a win.