Josh Allen was doing Josh Allen things to the Washington Commanders during their last matchup with the Buffalo Bills in 2021. They feel like they have a better shot at giving the Pro Bowl quarterback problems this time around.
The last time Washington squared off against the AFC powerhouse, Allen and the Bills handily took down the Burgundy & Gold with a 43-21 victory. Allen had a standout day, throwing for 358 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 8.3 yards per pass, which helped his team rush out to a 21-0 lead.
The stats show that Allen didn't do much on the ground -- four carries for nine yards with a long of four yards -- but the box score doesn't show everything that Allen did to avoid pressure. Despite having defenders in the backfield, Allen found ways to sidestep and juke around players in the pocket to deliver daggers to the Commanders' secondary.
Rush discipline, or lack thereof, was at the root of the problem for the Commanders, and that was harped on by coach Ron Rivera after the game. Since then, the defensive front has dramatically improved in rushing as a unit, and the team believes it will give them a better chance at containing Allen.
"A lot better," Rivera said on Monday. "In fact, there's a couple of points of emphasis that Jack [Del Rio] has made throughout that period from two years ago to now, and you see it now. You see that when these guys are disciplined in their feet and working off each other, how more disruptive they can be."
Check out the best photos from the Commanders' first practice of the week as they prepare for their Week 3 matchup against the Buffalo Bills.
Though two games is a small sample size for a 17-game season, the early returns point to how much the front rushing the passer in unison can pay off.
Aside from racking up 10 sacks, which is tied with the Dallas Cowboys for most in the league, Washington also has the fifth best pass-rush grade, according to Pro Football Focus. The Commanders have 20 hurries with 10 quarterback hits, with eight players recording at least .5 sacks.
Rushing in sync has led to several individual accolades as well. Montez Sweat’s three sacks are tied for second most in the league; Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen are among the top 15 defensive tackles in terms of overall grades given out by PFF; and Chase Young, who made his 2023 season debut in Week 2, has the eighth best pass-rush grade from the analytics site.
By Del Rio's standards, it's not a bad way to kick off the season.
"I think we're off to a good start with rushing [with] a pack mentality, and we'll need that to continue," Del Rio said.
The rush discipline was part of the reason Washington managed to corral Russell Wilson for seven sacks in Week 2. In the first quarter, pressure from Sweat and James Smith-Williams forced Wilson to step up in the pocket. He managed to avoid Allen, but he was slowed up enough for Smith-Williams to take him down.
Later in the fourth quarter, Young's bull rush on left tackle Garett Bolles forced Wilson to try and roll out to his left. Allen, who had looped around Young, was in his way, though, and all Wilson could do was wait for Sweat and Young to sack him for a 10-yard loss.
There were also moments where the rush discipline was not where it needed to be. During the Broncos' final drive, Abdullah Anderson crashed into the "A gap," which opened a hole for Wilson to run free for a 15-yard gain.
Rivera said those plays were moments that showed the defensive front how important discipline will be. Del Rio had a simpler bit of advice.
"Rush with awareness," Del Rio said.
The Commanders will need plenty of that against Allen, who had a bounce-back game against the Raiders. Rather than put Allen in perilous situations, which is what happened in the Bills' loss to the Jets, Buffalo utilized more play action to get Allen on the move. It was a sound strategy that led to Allen throwing for 274 yards and three touchdowns.
The key, Del Rio said, is for the Commanders to "be on the hunt."
"You have to rush, and you have to go, but you have to have that awareness of the pack so you keep him trapped," Del Rio said. "So that's the challenge. When a guy's a big, gifted athlete like Josh is, that makes it just a bigger challenge."
For players like Payne, who experienced firsthand the kind of damage Allen's mobility can do to a defense, they know it will be priority to contain him.
"He's just a playmaker, man," Payne said. "You gotta be aware of him as a runner, more so than anything. So, you just gotta keep him in the pocket and having some awareness when we rush him."
Allen is not the only mobile quarterback Washington will face for the rest of the season. Del Rio said the team is going to be tested by an "onslaught" of signal-callers who can use their legs.
Keeping Allen bottled up will go a long way in showing what the Commanders can do against quarterbacks like that.
"We are a stout, solid defense," Rivera said. "When you can play against teams like this and perform well then you really start making the mark as an organization and as a team can really step up and get some attention from some folks."