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Scouting report: Old-school approach may benefit Bills against Washington

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Getting on the board (copy)

Bills running back Devin Singletary enters his team's Week 3 game ranked No. 10 in the NFL in rushing yards.

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When the Bills run: Having a top-10 rushing offense is not something most Bills fans banked on entering the 2021 season, but that’s where the team is through the first two weeks, averaging 130 yards per game on the ground. Devin Singletary has done most of the work, with 154 yards on 24 carries. Singletary has looked explosive, especially on a 46-yard run against Miami. A strong running game that can potentially neutralize Washington’s best defensive strength – its defensive line – will be important Sunday. Washington is allowing 126.5 rushing yards per game, which ranks 23rd in the NFL. Washington was hurt by Giants quarterback Daniel Jones on the ground, which spells potential trouble when trying to defend Bills quarterback Josh Allen. EDGE: Bills.

When the Bills pass: As mentioned above, Washington’s defensive line is legit. The team starts four former first-round draft picks up front: Defensive end Chase Young (second overall in 2020) and Montez Sweat (26th, 2019) and defensive tackles Daron Payne (13th, 2018) and Jonathan Allen (17th, 2017). It’s a good bet Washington will watch film of Pittsburgh’s defensive line against the Bills’ offensive line and try to duplicate that effort. The difference, though, is that Washington is having a difficult time covering anyone. Allen, who has admittedly not looked great the first two weeks, will need to get the ball out of his hands quickly. His receivers should be able to win against an inferior Washington secondary. EDGE: Bills.

PlayAction is new to The Buffalo News' extensive NFL coverage. Each week, Mark Gaughan, who has covered the league throughout his 38 years at The News, distills X's and O's and strategy relating to how the Bills match up with their next opponent. All in about two minutes.

When Washington runs: Antonio Gibson, a converted wide receiver, is Washington’s primary runner. He’s ninth in the league with 159 yards through two games. Gibson has the speed to get wide and naturally has solid hands coming out of the backfield. JD McKissic is Washington’s No. 2 running back, but has just 18 yards on five carries early in the season. Former University at Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson, a rookie for Washington, has two carries for 9 yards. Buffalo’s run defense has flown under the radar but is off to a great start, allowing just 73 yards per game. That ranks seventh in the NFL. EDGE: Bills.

When Washington passes: A hip injury suffered by Ryan Fitzpatrick in the season opener means there won’t be a reunion with the quarterback who Bills Mafia still has a soft spot for. Instead, the Bills will face Taylor Heinicke, who went 34 of 46 for 336 yards and two touchdowns in leading a 30-29 victory over the New York Giants in Week 2. “He’s real good,” Bills safety Micah Hyde said of Heinicke. “A definite guy that we have to prepare well for. More weapons outside. Good run game. He has some weapons around him, so we have to prepare accordingly.” Heinicke’s top receiver is Terry McLaurin, a former third-round draft pick who has 15 catches for 169 yards. It will be fun to watch him match up against Tre’Davious White. Former Bills tight end Logan Thomas has eight catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. EDGE: Bills.

Special teams: Dustin Hopkins, the former Bills draft pick, got a redo for Washington last week. After missing a 48-yard field goal that would have won the game, Hopkins got another chance when the Giants were ruled offside. He made good on the 43-yard attempt. Hopkins is 6 for 7 on field goals this season. Washington punter Tress Way is one of the NFL’s best. He’s averaging a whopping 46.7 net yards early in the season. EDGE: Bills.

Coaching: The relationship between Bills coach Sean McDermott and Washington coach Ron Rivera goes back to 2001 when both worked under Andy Reid in Philadelphia. When McDermott was fired by the Eagles in 2011, Rivera hired him to be his defensive coordinator in Carolina. There is a deep mutual respect – and understanding of the other – on both sides of this coaching matchup. EDGE: Bills.

Prediction: Bills 31, Washington 17.

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News Sports Reporter

I started at The Buffalo News in 2009, and have previously been honored as one of the top 10 beat writers in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors for my coverage of the Bills. I live in Amherst with my wife, Melissa, and son, Elliott.

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