Washington will face the first of seven consecutive Pro Bowl quarterbacks in Josh Allen on Sunday. Allen passed for 37 touchdowns during his breakout 2020 season, after throwing for 30 touchdowns over his first two years, while finishing second in MVP voting and leading the Bills to the AFC championship game for the first time since the 1993 season. Allen landed a six-year, $258 million contract extension this offseason after finishing in the top five of the league in touchdown passes, completion percentage (69.2), passing yards (4,544) and passer rating (107.2).
Allen has a strong arm and can throw the deep ball, but he also is able to extend plays with his legs. Washington’s secondary is aware of what it is facing Sunday.
“Everything,” cornerback Kendall Fuller said when asked about the challenges Allen creates. “He can throw, he can run, he’s making good decisions, he’s giving guys a chance to make plays, and he’s not scared to put the ball in his own hands.”
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio called Allen a strong, athletic quarterback who can be hard to bring down. Defensive end Chase Young is looking forward to the challenge of getting after the quarterback, saying he trusts the defensive line will put him on the ground.
“Our job: Josh Allen,” Young said. “We got to take care of him. And the DBs, they got to take care of [wide receiver Stefon Diggs]. If there are any two that we got to key on, it’s Stef and it’s the quarterback.”
In his first season with the Bills in 2020, Diggs led the NFL in receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535). Washington rookie cornerback Benjamin St-Juste said that this week in practice, to prepare for Allen’s playmaking skills, the defensive backs practiced plastering wide receivers and not leaving them when the quarterback scrambles.
But Allen also has proved he’s not afraid to run if no one is open; he has averaged 5.2 yards per carry during his career and has scored 25 rushing touchdowns since he entered the league in 2018. No quarterback has more during that stretch.
Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said some of Allen’s runs are designed and others are scrambles when the play breaks down. How much of each the Bills run in a game depends on the defensive scheme and what Daboll thinks benefits the offense.
Last week, Washington struggled to keep Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in the pocket, allowing him to escape for 95 yards on nine carries and score a touchdown. Facing another mobile quarterback, the defense looks to fare better.
“[Allen’s] ability to run is obviously something that we’ve got to be disciplined about,” Coach Ron Rivera said. “We saw it last week with Daniel Jones, so the emphasis has been on that, making sure they’re preparing for it, making sure they understand what their role is and how they fit that.”
After facing Allen, Washington is in line to take on Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, New Orleans’s Jameis Winston, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Denver’s Teddy Bridgewater and Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady — all Pro Bowl picks in previous seasons.
Sunday’s game will be Washington’s first road test and its first road game in a stadium at full capacity since 2019. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke said that while the Buffalo fans will be loud for the first road start of his career, there’s not a lot he will change aside from silent counts. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner said Washington has been practicing with crowd noise all week, but he doesn’t think playing on the road will be an issue for the offense as long as the players communicate properly.
“I don’t want to make too much of it for Taylor where he makes it more than it is,” Turner said. “Just what I stress with him is make sure you do a great job communicating, make sure you’re looking at guys when you’re talking to them so they can also read your lips as well as try to hear you.”
The Bills are No. 2 in total defense heading into Sunday’s game. Buffalo shut out the Miami Dolphins last week and has given up just 468 yards in two games.
Turner said the Bills’ defensive line is extremely active and has eight guys whom they can rotate into the action. He added that the Bills’ secondary plays more press-man coverage than Washington’s first two opponents; the Bills are allowing a league-best 4.2 yards per pass attempt.
Washington will counter with some technique that its receivers focused on during practice this week.
“My group, we’re in a dictator mind-set,” wide receivers coach Drew Terrell said. “We’re going to dictate to those guys; we’re not going to allow them to control the game... Because at the end of the day, they got to defend us.”
Injury report: Washington defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis (knee) was downgraded to out for Sunday’s game while running back Antonio Gibson (shoulder) will play despite being on the injury list earlier in the week. Bills cornerbacks Levi Wallace (knee) and Dane Jackson (knee) are questionable.