Taylor Heinecke has looked very good, especially relative to expectations, since taking over for Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 1. Heinecke also had a stretch at the end of the 2020 season where he was the Washington starter and fared admirably against very good competition, so it is likely that the competence he has shown this year is real and not just a small sample size mirage. Washington won a wild Thursday night game in Week 2 against a mediocre Giants team in a game that went back and forth at the end with both teams trying to find a way to lose and Washington coming out with the victory. This matchup on the road will present by far their toughest test of the year.
Washington is likely to try to control the game and feed Antonio Gibson the ball at a high rate while also getting the ball out of Heinecke’s hands quickly. Buffalo is a very difficult place to play and their defense has been great this season, surrendering only 16 offensive points combined in their first two games of the season. Washington has a much better offensive line and running game than either of the Bills first two opponents so it will be interesting to see if they can impose their will here and pound the ball to give Heinecke easier situations to throw from. Buffalo has a shutdown corner in Tre’Davious White along with great scheme and personnel in their secondary and pass rush. Washington will need to get creative with their primary pass-catcher Terry McLaurin to create opportunities for him to make plays. The Bills also have very athletic linebackers who cover ground well sideline to sideline and should be able to make plays on short passes to prevent short gains from turning into long ones. Buffalo HC Sean McDermott is one of the brighter defensive minds in the game and should have some creative looks to throw at Heinecke as the Bills usually play zone but can also mix it up depending on their opponent. I expect Washington to use their backs heavily early in this game and also to dial up some looks for tight end Logan Thomas.
Buffalo has not looked like the offensive team we saw tear through the AFC last year behind a high volume and high-efficiency passing attack. The Bills threw often but had little success in Week 1 as the Steelers had a great game plan and held the Bills to 16 points. In Week 2, the Dolphins laid a complete egg and lost their starting QB early in the game which led to the Bills taking their foot off the gas and never needing to throw with their usual volume.
This week will be an interesting test as Washington presents Buffalo with the easiest matchup in the secondary they have seen all year, although it wouldn’t be fair to call them an easy opponent. I expect Buffalo to get back to the team we saw in 2020 this week. Washington has a very good defensive line but gave up a very good game to Daniel Jones in Week 2 and allowed Justin Herbert to throw for 337 yards in Week 1. Washington’s defense is very good against the run and the matchup dictates more success through the air, so a spread attack with pass heavy tendencies is likely in the cards for Buffalo here. Buffalo has shown the awareness in the past to abandon the run, almost completely, in matchups like this where there is a clear “path of least resistance”. After laying an egg at home in Week 1, it is safe to expect Buffalo to be very aggressive from the outset in this return home to the #BillsMafia.
Buffalo will be aggressive from the outset on both sides of the ball. As outlined earlier, they will find more success through the air and surely want to get their high octane offense looking like itself again. On the other side of the ball, Washington will attempt to slow things down but the Bills will likely give extra attention up front and bring pressure on Heinecke to shrink the field and force him to beat them downfield. The likeliest game flow is that the Bills take control early and it is a matter of whether they get field goals or touchdowns in the first half that will decide if this game can flip the switch. If the Bills are unable to convert drives into touchdowns, we are likely in store for a similar game to what each of these teams saw in Week 1 — a 23-16 loss to the Steelers for Buffalo and a 20-16 loss to the Chargers for Washington.