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3 Keys To Washington's Road Matchup With The Bills

Sam Cosmi blocks Shaka Toney during 1-on-1 pass blocking drills during practice on Sept. 21, 2021. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
Sam Cosmi blocks Shaka Toney during 1-on-1 pass blocking drills during practice on Sept. 21, 2021. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the team.

The Washington Football Team has another measuring stick ahead of it for Week 3.

After splitting its first two home games, Washington will travel for the first time this season to face the Buffalo Bills. Here are three keys to securing its first road win against the Bills since 1987, presented by Van Metre.

1. "It starts with the quarterback."

If Washington wants to make a statement against one of the AFC heavyweights, it really comes down to one thing: creating problems for Josh Allen.

"I think it starts with the quarterback," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "Big, strong athletic guy, able to extend plays, tremendous arm talent, arm strength, tough guy to bring down."

It's no coincidence that the Bills' emergence as a contender aligns with Allen's progression since 2019. He's thrown 57 touchdowns to just 19 interceptions in that span, and as a result, his team posted back-to-back winning seasons with playoff appearances to boot. In 2020, the Bills boasted the second-best offense, averaging nearly 400 yards per contest.

Allen's legs, which have carried him to more than 1,600 yards and 25 touchdowns, are just as potent as his arm. That's a red flag for a defense that allowed Daniel Jones to rush for 95 yards in Week 2. Finding a way to hamper Allen's ground game would take away a healthy chunk of Buffalo's offense.

2. Keep its offense on the field.

Third downs continue to be a problem for the team as a whole, but it has especially affected the offense. Washington ranks last in the NFL with a 30% conversion rate.

The most frustrating part about that particular statistic is when Washington finds a way to stay on the field, it can put up points. On two of Washington's touchdown drives against the New York Giants, the offense marched to the tune of 13 and 12 plays. The same could be said against the Los Angeles Chargers, when it orchestrated an eight-play, 81-yard drive at the start of the second half to take a 16-13 lead.

Washington did prove that it can pick up third downs when it needs them; Adam Humphries corralled a seven-yard pass on a 3rd-and-5 that helped the offense inch closer to field goal range. So, that's a step in the right direction. It'll need to stack plays like that together in order to keep up with the Bills.

Buffalo's offense hasn't gotten off to a hot start, but that doesn't mean it's incapable of busting up games like a table at a Bills tailgate.

3. Keep protecting Taylor Heinicke.

Here's some stats on how the offensive line performed in 2020: 50 sacks allowed -- tied for second-most in the NFL -- with an adjusted sack rate of 7.3%.

Things have changed in a year.

Washington's offensive line has been one of the best at protecting its quarterbacks through two games. It has only allowed two sacks, although technically Ron Rivera and Scott Turner determined that the second one wasn't its fault, which is second-lowest in the league. It's adjusted sack rate has also improved; this year, it's been cut by more than half down to 3.5%, which is the third-best behind the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars.

That has allowed Taylor Heinicke to operate with a clean pocket, which is where he did most of his damage against the Giants. He completed 34-of-46 passes for 336 yards and a pair of touchdowns, one of which was an impeccable toss to Ricky Seals-Jones, to one interception.

Buffalo's defense has been stingy against the pass with the third-best DVOA while allowing the second-fewest yards. And on top of that, the Bills already have eight sacks on the year. The offensive line can't have an answer to all the challenges Washington will face, but giving Heinicke as much time to work as possible will help.

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