The Washington Commanders are coming back home to a sold-out crowd for their Week 3 matchup against the Buffalo Bills. Here are three keys to the game, presented by KIA.
1. Limit Josh Allen's opportunities to escape the pocket.
It sounds obvious, and of course it's easier said than done, but the fact remains that the best way to prevent the Bills' offense from having a prolific day is to give Allen as few opportunities as possible to make unscripted plays.
Although Allen, who has nine carries for 43 yards, is certainly capable of hurting defenses with his legs, he is at his most potent when he's scrambling around behind the line of scrimmage to find receivers downfield for explosive plays. The Commanders have firsthand experience in how much of a problem that can be, as Allen threw for 358 yards and four touchdowns during their last matchup in 2021.
Allen didn't do much damage on the ground against the Raiders -- seven yards on three carries -- but the Bills did utilize a heavy amount of play-action to get Allen on the run. Through two games, Allen ranks fourth in the league with a completion rate of 75% on play-action passes.
Therefore, the key for Washington's defensive front will be to have controlled aggression when rushing Allen and have exceptional rush discipline to keep Allen in the pocket. Washington had that for the most part against Russell Wilson in Week 2, and it managed to rack up seven sacks.
Granted, Allen is still a strong passer under pressure, completing 64.3% of his passes in such situations. But if the Commanders can rush as a unit, they give themselves a better chance at creating problems for Allen.
"You see that when these guys are disciplined in their feet and working off each other, how much more disruptive they can be," said coach Ron Rivera.
2. Give Sam Howell time to throw.
The Commanders have had a tough time keeping Sam Howell clean so far this season. Some of that is on the offensive line; some of it is the result of other factors. If the Commanders can give Howell time to work, the young quarterback has shown that he can pick apart a defense.
The Broncos learned that after the forced fumble by Jamin Davis in the second quarter. Howell completed passes into tight windows throughout the afternoon, from his fourth-down touchdown pass to Logan Thomas to the 35-yard completion to John Bates and the 30-yard touchdown to Terry McLaurin. Although he was still sacked four times, Howell calmly went through his progressions, found open receivers and placed the ball where only his receiver could make the catch.
Through two games, Howell is seventh in QBR and third in on-target rate when throwing from a clean pocket.
"He threw some really good balls," Rivera said. "The touchdown he threw to Logan was as good as it could be. The touchdown throw he threw to Terry was as good as it could be."
Although the Bills only have three sacks so far this season, they possess the best defense Howell and the Commanders have faced up to this point. They have quality pass-rushers like Leonard Floyd who can wreck an offense if given the opportunity.
Still, the Raiders moved the ball in spurts against the Bills, who allow the fifth fewest yards in the league, so if Washington can keep the pressure away from Howell, it'll make finding holes in the Bills' coverage much easier.
3. Lean on Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson.
The Commanders' offense was much more efficient in the second half against the Broncos, putting up 21 points and 200 total yards. Much of that is a credit to how dynamic Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson were with the ball in their hands.
It seems like Robinson and Gibson's roles are starting to become clearer after a game that featured them putting up a combined 182 yards on 25 touches. Robinson is the primary force on the ground, while Gibson can operate as a pass-catcher in the backfield.
Robinson, who had 87 yards on 18 carries, looked explosive in the second half with a 27-yard run -- the longest of his career – coming in the third quarter. Gibson, on the other hand, was a threat in the screen game with a 36-yard catch-and-run that nearly resulted in a touchdown had he not been tripped up.
The duo of Robinson and Gibson accounted for 143 (72%) of the Commanders' yardage in the second half.
The Bills were particularly stingy against the Raiders' ground game, limiting Josh Jacobs to minus two yards on nine carries. Conversely, they've also shown they can be taken advantage of against a quality running scheme. They had a tough time against the Jets, allowing 172 yards on 28 carries. In fairness, almost half of that came from an 83-yard run by Breece Hall, but the fact remains that the Jets' running back trio of Hall, Dalvin Cook and Michael Carter averaged 6.9 yards per attempt.
If the Commanders' ground and screen game continue to hum the way they did against the Broncos, that should improve Washington's chances of getting a statement type of performance from the offense.