The Game Matchups Preview series is dedicated to breaking down how the Buffalo Bills match up with their opponent in every game of the 2023 NFL season. This series will look at five key matchups; Bills Pass Offense vs. Opponent Pass Defense, Bills Rush Offense vs. Opponent Rush Defense, Bills Pass Defense vs. Opponent Pass Offense, Bills Rush Defense vs. Opponent Rush Offense, and Bills Special Teams vs. Opponent Special Teams. This entire analysis will conclude with three sections; “Why Buffalo Will Lose”, “Why Buffalo Will Win”, and a score prediction for the game.
Below I present 2023’s third edition of this analysis for the Bills Week 3 clash with the Washington Commanders. Included is my “patented” 👏 scale which ranks the advantage in each matchup from 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage) to 👏 (Minimal Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Commanders Pass Defense
How do you quickly move on from a disastrous Week 1 performance? You play well enough to earn yourself an 11th AFC Player of the Week Award in Week 2. That’s exactly what Josh Allen did last week in a game that saw him reel in his big-game hunting instincts in favor of a more consistent and efficient approach. He completed 83.8% of his passes due in large part to the third-lowest Intended Air Yards per Pass Attempt (4.4) of his career. With teams almost exclusively attacking Allen with two-high shells, this approach may foreshadow how Allen plays the remainder of the season. The intermediate is open right now for Buffalo and as long as Allen can avoid the temptation of the deep ball opponents will have to find ways to consistently beat the Bills 9-on-11. The next team that will attempt to do just that is the Washington Commanders.
The onus at stopping Allen underneath this week will be on the Commanders CB trio of Kendall Fuller, Benjamin St-Juste, and Emmanuel Forbes. Fuller is the true veteran of the bunch entering his eighth season in the NFL with an instinctive skillset that makes him a perfect fit in Washington’s Zone Match scheme. On every play, Fuller is joined by St-Juste whose unique size (6’3” 200lb) allows him to work both inside and outside for the Commanders. Against the Bills, St-Juste is the ideal player to line up inside over Dalton Kincaid (TE) meaning rookie Emmanuel Forbes may be in line for more snaps this week than his 66% season average. Forbes on the outside means he will likely be matched up with Gabe Davis (WR) for much of the game, a matchup that the Bills will look to attack. Though highly talented and insanely fast, weighing in at just 180lb makes Forbes susceptible to big-bodied receivers. This concern could result in a higher usage of thick nickel Percy Butler and/or safeties Kamren Curl and Darrick Forrest vacating their two high positions. With Buffalo’s clear advantage in skill players Washington’s defensive line is going to be under pressure to generate a lot of…pressure on Sunday.
While the Bills’ offensive line has played surprisingly well through two weeks, they have yet to play a complete defensive line. It just so happens that their opponent this week has one of the most complete defensive lines in all of football. With two excellent edge rushers and a dominant duo at DT, it comes as no surprise that the Commanders come into Week 3 leading the NFL in Sacks (10). On the outside, a newly healthy Chase Young and the long Montez Sweat should give both Dion Dawkins (LT) and Spencer Brown (RT) fits. On the inside Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen are coming off a 2022 where they combined for an astounding 19.0 Sacks. Both DTs have the ability to bend the pocket from the middle and will force the Bills to alternate the side that Mitch Morse helps to. The scheme will be more important for Buffalo this week than any prior as they try to take the Commanders’ biggest advantage from them in any way possible.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Rush Offense vs. Commanders Rush Defense
The Bills drafted James Cook 63rd overall in 2022 with hopes that his elite speed and agility would add a much-needed component to the Bills offense. His rookie season was a successful one but early returns in 2023 are indicative of even greater value. In Week 2, Cook rushed for 123 yards on just 17 carries, only one of which was for negative yards. More importantly, the Bills seem to have found an accelerant for Cook who was a dominant runner when rushing outside the tackles last week. His breakaway speed and ability to quickly cut laterally make him an incredibly dangerous runner to the edge. Now add to that the power rushing abilities that his RB mates, Damien Harris and Latavius Murray, have between the tackles and it’s quite possible that the Bills have a complete RB room for the first time in the Josh Allen era.
The Bills’ diverse RB room is going to stress a Commanders LB corps that is the weakest part of their defense. Cody Barton is their only every-down linebacker after coming to Washington by way of Seattle this offseason. An athletic linebacker, Barton can be a tackle machine but his inability to slip blocks has held him back throughout his career. In typical Nickel looks Barton is joined by Jamin Davis who at 6’4” has similar athletic advantages as Barton but the same struggles with dealing with blockers. With their deficiencies at this position, the Commanders will often move their best second-level player forward in Kamren Curl. An ascending safety Curl is one of the better all-around defensive players in the league and in 2022 finished sixth in Missed Tackle Rate (4.7%), second in Average Depth of Tackle (3.9), and fourth in Run-Stop Rate (5.7%) amongst NFL safeties.
The Bills’ ground game against the Commanders will be an important part of opening up the pass game. While Cook, Harris, and Murray will be key for that it would be ignorant to avoid what Allen will bring on the ground as well. With the Commanders’ defensive ends needing to apply heavy pressure to Allen, look for the Bills to use Washington’s pass rush against them. This means play-action and trap runs to the B-Gaps by not only Cook but Allen as well. Doing this on a consistent basis should not only slow down the Commanders’ pass rush but also force Washington to bring one of their two safeties forward, a no-no against Buffalo.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏
Bills Pass Defense vs. Commanders Pass Offense
Through two weeks the Bills’ pass defense has been amongst the league’s best, ranked fifth in Passer Rating against at just 73.2. Of course, context matters in all situations and in this one, the Bills have gone up against Zach Wilson and Jimmy Garoppolo, each of whom have only one real receiving weapon in Garrett Wilson and Davante Adams, respectively. Still, the Bills scheme coupled with their talent in the secondary has allowed them to slow down opposing passers year after year with the start of 2023 seemingly no different. Micah Hyde, whose health is a concern, and Jordan Poyer continue to be a dominant safety duo while Tre White is rounding back into All-Pro form at CB and Christian Benford continues to impress at CB2. There are few teams that will successfully test the Bills Pass Defense this season with the next one attempting to do so led by a first-year starter.
That player is second-year passer Sam Howell. Through his first two games, Howell has played slightly above the expectations of a first-time full-time signal caller. He’s led his team to a 2-0 start while posting a tenable 42.92 QuBeR heading into his most difficult matchup to date. Sean McDermott’s Palms Scheme has proven to be a scheme of nightmares to young quarterbacks as they are often goaded into throws that appear open with a defensive back or linebacker spying the area. This will put all the more emphasis on Howell’s weapons to not only win their routes but clear them more often than not. Luckily for Howell, he has a massive stable of weapons that features the often-underappreciated Terry McLaurin (WR), speedster Jahan Dotson (WR), even faster Curtis Samuel (WR), and ex-Bills tight end Logan Thomas. It’s a well-rounded group that has the ability to attack any level of the field, which is the perfect counter to a scheme that excels at shutting down individual levels.
With Washinton at a disadvantage through the air, they will need to give their quarterback time to find truly open receivers. Unfortunately for the Commanders, Howell has been sacked 10 times this season, just one less than league leader C.J. Stroud (11). The issues have been dispersed fairly evenly across the offensive line with Nick Gates (C) and Andrew Wylie (RT) struggling just slightly more than the other three OL. This could mean yet another big week for the Bills’ young DL duo of Ed Oliver and Greg Rousseau, each of whom look like they have made a massive jump in 2023. Oliver’s speed and burst should test Gates while Rousseau’s length should give Wylie fits on the edge as the Bills should only need to send four rushers to consistently get to Howell on Sunday.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏👏
Bills Rush Defense vs. Commanders Rush Offense
When you hold the defending rushing champ to -0.22 Y/A you’ve had a pretty good day. The Bills rushing defense had a pretty good game against the Raiders in Week 2 holding Josh Jacobs to -2 yards just a week removed from giving up 127 yards to Breece Hall. The reality of the Bills rushing defense probably lies somewhere in between here; around a Top-10 unit with run-stoppers at every level. The Bills can win up front with defensive ends that can maintain contain and defensive tackles that can bend the OL. The Bills can win at linebacker with one of the league’s best in Matt Milano and a so-far impressive Terrel Bernard. And the Bills can win in the secondary where Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Tre White, and Christian Benford are all able and willing tacklers. It’s not all roses but the Bills rush defense has been solid, outside of one play, to begin the 2023 campaign.
This week that Bills rush defense will be tasked with bringing down one of the more powerful runners in the NFL, Brian Robinson. With Robinson, every play is a head-on collision where yards after contact aren’t just desired, they are expected. The Commanders don’t discriminate which gap they send Robinson through, but he does far and away his best work up the middle as a downhill runner. This is cause for concern for a Bills team that utilizes a smaller LB duo in Terrel Bernard and Matt Milano meaning even more of the Bills’ run defense will depend on their defensive tackles than normal. Buffalo will need Ed Oliver, DaQuan Jones, and Jordan Phillips to consistently win against Saahdiq Charles (LG), Nick Gates (C), and Sam Cosmi (RG), otherwise the Commanders should be able to pick up plenty of first downs and burn clock in the process.
The Commanders do have some alternative approaches to picking up yards on the ground though with all different players capable of doing so. Antonio Gibson (RB) is just two years removed from a 1,000+ yard campaign and has been relegated to a reserve role but can pick up yards when called upon. Curtis Samuel (WR) is a player the Bills will have to be aware of as a jet sweep option that if given a lane could easily break off a big run against the Bills defense. And Sam Howell, though he hasn’t released his rushing abilities in the pros scrambled for 828 yards and 11 touchdowns in his final season at UNC as a more than capable runner. All the variances in the run game could come into play against the Bills as the Commanders try to avoid mistakes and continually move the sticks against a tough opponent.
ADVANTAGE: Commanders 👏👏
Bills Special Teams vs. Commanders Special Teams
Tyler Bass has attempted 10 kicks this season and all of them have resulted in points. The fourth-year kicker is dialed in right now and is well on his way toward a possible All-Pro campaign in 2023. As for punter, Sam Martin continues to be one of the most rarely used players in that role league-wide but in Week 2 did a much better job than Week 1. Last week he punted the ball just one time for 54 yards, no return, and it landed inside the 20. The Bills special teams rounds out with Damien Harris on KR whose lone return went for 41 yards and Deonte Harty on PR who has only had one return opportunity but looks primed to break a big one at some point this season.
The Commanders are off to a fine start at kicker with Joey Slye. He’s missed just two of his six Field Goal attempts, from 49 and 59, and has drilled all five of his XP attempts. Of further note, all 10 of his kickoffs have gone for touchbacks making it unlikely Harris has his second return of the season this week. Punting is Tress Way who has a solid 40.6 net yards per punt but more impressively has seen 55.6% of his punts land inside the 20. Lastly, on return, the Commanders use Jamison Crowder for PR who has five PR for 19 yards, and Antonio Gibson on KR where he has one for 21.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏
Why Buffalo Will Lose
The Commanders are all about good vibes this season and good vibes have led them to a 2-0 start. Hosting the Bills in 2023 is different than hosting teams in seasons prior with Washington now set to have a real home-field advantage. On defense, that should be a boon for the Commanders who hope their crowd can contribute to intangible issues while their defensive line creates tangible ones. As always, it’s all about turnovers, and if the Commanders can consistently get to Josh Allen and/or force him into a few boneheaded mistakes Washington could easily improve to 3-0.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Commanders will look to Sam Howell to continue to improve. As wild as it might sound, he may be the best quarterback the Bills have faced thus far this season with undoubtedly the best stable of pass catchers. A big play or two by Howell coupled with Brian Robinson burning the clock throughout the game should allow for the Commanders to keep Josh Allen off the field and play ahead all day Sunday.
Why Buffalo Will Win
The Bills are simply the better team in almost every facet. There are only a few teams the Bills will face this season that have a true path to beating the Bills that doesn’t involve the Bills beating the Bills, and the Commanders aren’t one of them. The Bills receivers have mismatches all over the field and Josh Allen is simply too good of a quarterback not to put up 20+ points against this defense. Add to that a running game that seems on the verge of fully clicking and Ken Dorsey’s newfound ability to scheme away pass rush and the Bills should handle business on that side of the ball.
On defense, it’s all about the games that Sean McDermott can play with Howell’s head. Make no mistake; Howell looks like he will be a fine quarterback, but it’s highly unlikely he is ready for the looks the Bills will throw at him Sunday. Up front, the Bills should be able to generate pressure while behind them players like Matt Milano and Jordan Poyer will be lurking in passing lanes. There is some concern that Brian Robinson could beat up the Bills on the ground but after what Buffalo’s defense did to Josh Jacobs last week, don’t be so sure that concern is a major one.
Prediction: Bills 28 – Commanders 18
I’m more confident that Week 1 was an aberration for the Bills than Week 2 was. With that in mind, some teams the Bills face in the upcoming weeks may be in for some trouble. As long as Allen remains content to take what opponents give him, he will have players like Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Dawson Knox, etc. to feed the ball to and put up points. Four touchdowns should do the job for the Bills this week with Allen leading yet another efficient offensive performance and Sean McDermott making Howell struggle in the Commanders’ first loss of the season.