It’s Taylor time, baby.
In last Thursday’s 30–29 nail-biter over the Giants, Taylor Heinicke showed why he deserves the permanent starting quarterback role. Completing an efficient 73% of his passes on 46 attempts, Heinicke was clicking with his receivers all night — most notably Terry McLaurin, who once again proved that he is one of the most talented receivers in the league. Washington now travels north to face the Bills, who are coming fresh off of a 35–0 demolition of the Tua-less Dolphins. While Josh Allen has regressed from last year’s supernova season, he’s still a top-tier quarterback who can wreck defenses through the air and on the ground. Along with the uber-talented Stefon Diggs, an improving rushing attack and the return of offensive mastermind Brian Daboll, the Bills have one of the most prolific offenses in the league. Heinicke and Co. will look to further improve on a great game and show fans across the league that the Washington Football Team should still be considered strong NFC East title contenders.
Here are three keys for Washington to shock Buffalo on Sunday afternoon:
Let Antonio Gibson cook
After a successful rookie campaign, Gibson has proved that last year’s performance wasn’t a fluke, averaging 4.5 yards/carry in two games. In Thursday night’s contest against the Giants, Gibson averaged an astounding 5.3 YPC on only 13 rushing attempts. Buffalo’s run defense, however, is much improved from last year; they’ve held Najee Harris and Myles Gaskin to a combined 71 rushing yards to start the season. Despite this, Gibson offers so much more than just pure rushing. He came into the league as a receiver, and Scott Turner’s offense has been designed to get his running backs receiving volume. If Gibson can get 20 touches and be as efficient as he was with 15 last week, Washington will be in prime shape. Whether it be through the air or on the ground, Antonio Gibson will be a huge key to Washington’s success this week.
Contain Josh Allen
It’s no secret that Josh Allen is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league and that he has one of the strongest arms on the planet. For Washington’s defense to succeed on Sunday, they need to contain Allen. His scrambling ability allows him to escape pressure and make big plays happen. Getting pressure on Allen will force him to make quick decisions and not allow Buffalo’s plays to fully develop. Washington’s defense has been built to give up short completions, but if they allow Allen to complete deep throws, they would dig themselves into a very deep hole. Forcing quick throws will render Allen unable to run around the backfield and incapable of making magical plays happen like he seems to do on a weekly basis. This may be the most important key, as Washington has yet to prove they can consistently generate pressure over the course of a full game this season.
Hold the Bills to under 28 points
The Bills, as previously noted, sport one of the most talented passing offenses in the entire league. Last year, they averaged an astonishing 30 points per game — good for third best in the league — en route to a 13–3 division record and an AFC East division title. Compare this to Washington’s 21 points per game in 2020, and it’s easy to see why Washington wants to avert a shootout. 28 points feels like the magic number at which Washington can keep pace, but if the Bills continue to add on, it will be an extremely difficult uphill battle. It is notable that the Bills’ offense hasn’t looked nearly as white-hot as it did last season; they put up a mere 16 points against the Steelers in Week 1, and although they dropped a 35 piece on the Dolphins last week, Josh Allen struggled through a 170 yard, 63.3 QBR dud. Despite Buffalo’s offensive struggles thus far, they’re still a very talented team, and the defense has to create some pressure if they want to have a chance to hold Buffalo under 28 points.
Winning is never a simple feat, but this matchup will be one of the most challenging Washington will have all year. If they want to stun the Bills and come away with a huge victory, they need their defense to create some pressure, and the offense needs to build off its impressive performance from last week.