WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
With Tim Hightower done for the year, onetime Mike Shanahan favorite Ryan Torain (152 rushing yards, 1 TD) gets another chance to be the featured back for a Washington offense that figures to go run-heavy this week. The oft-injured 25- year-old has shown he can handle the role in the past, having amassed a team- best 742 rushing yards a year ago and accumulating 135 yards and a touchdown on just 19 attempts while filling in for an ailing Hightower in a Week 4 win at St. Louis, but has never been able to consistently stay healthy. Moss’ unavailability makes talented tight end Fred Davis (28 receptions, 423 yards, 2 TD) the unquestioned go-to-guy for Beck (396 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) when the longtime backup drops back to pass, with veteran Jabar Gaffney (23 receptions, 1 TD) and speedster Anthony Armstrong (5 receptions, 1 TD) now the primary outside options. The latter averaged nearly 20 yards per catch as a situational deep threat last season, but has been slowed for much of this year by a hamstring injury. Though Beck’s intelligence and mobility are viewed as pluses, those assets haven’t translated to on-field success, as the fifth-year journeyman is 0-5 as starter for his career and has thrown twice as many interceptions (4) as touchdown passes (2).
The Bills have had one of the NFL’s most opportunistic defenses this season, but the group still has given up yards in bunches and lacked a sustained pass rush. Buffalo is permitting an average of 420.5 total yards per game (31st overall) and produced a paltry four sacks in six contests, with the injuries to Merriman and 2010 Pro Bowl honoree Kyle Williams each proving to be difficult to overcome. The team will get veteran linebacker/end Chris Kelsay back from a two-game absence caused by a calf strain this weekend, which should aid a secondary that’s been burned for nearly 285 passing yards per game (30th overall) on the year. The Bills have come up with 12 interceptions — the second-highest total in the league — however, and taken three of those picks back for touchdowns. Strong safety George Wilson (57 tackles, 3 INT, 5 PD) leads the team in interceptions as well as in tackles, an indicator that Buffalo has also had problems stopping the run. Opponents are averaging a hefty 5.1 yards per carry on the defense, the fourth-highest number in the NFL, as well as 135.7 rushing yards per game (30th overall).
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
A solid Buffalo offense has leaned heavily on the contributions of Jackson (601 rushing yards, 6 TD, 24 receptions) as both a runner and receiver, and there’s little reason not to suggest that won’t be the case again this week. The versatile 30-year-old is second in the league in yards from scrimmage (146.7 ypg) and is averaging nearly six yards per carry, while providing a reliable pass-catching outlet for steady quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (1477 passing yards, 12 TD, 6 INT) as well. The latter is also in the midst of a career year, having completed better than 66 percent of his throws thus far in 2011, and has received excellent protection from a no-name crew of offensive linemen that have yielded a mere six sacks through the first six games. Wide receivers Stevie Johnson (33 receptions, 382 yards, 4 TD) and David Nelson (27 receptions, 2 TD) give Fitzpatrick a pair of capable downfield targets, while Gailey has been deploying 2010 first-round pick C.J. Spiller (107 rushing yards, 1 TD, 11 receptions) out wide in recent games in an effort to take advantage of the dangerous running back’s big-play potential. The Bills have scored at least 20 points in every game this season and are fourth overall in rushing offense, averaging an impressive 141 yards per game on the ground.
While the Redskins have been beaten up on offense, a defense that was a prime reason for the club’s 3-1 start hasn’t beaten nearly as stout during its current skid. Washington allowed 422 and 407 total yards, respectively, in losses to Philadelphia and Carolina following a bye, with those two foes combining for a startling 367 rushing yards over those games. Injuries have had an effect on this side of the ball as well, with iron man inside linebacker and former Bill London Fletcher (43 tackles, 0.5 sacks) in danger of missing the first game of his distinguished 14-year career after tweaking his hamstring against the Panthers and free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (25 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 INT) sitting out last Sunday’s loss with a knee problem. The team is hopeful both will be ready to go this week. If the Redskins are able to keep Buffalo’s potent ground game in check, Fitzpatrick won’t have it easy against a secondary that’s surrendered just five touchdown passes on the year and possesses two playmaking cornerbacks in DeAngelo Hall (31 tackles, 1 INT, 5 PD) and Josh Wilson (27 tackles, 5 PD). The duo is backed by a very good pass rush that’s generated 21 sacks, tied for tops in the league, and contains one of the game’s elite pressure creators in standout outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (21 tackles, 4.5 sacks). Defensive end Adam Carriker (10 tackles, 4.5 sacks) has also made an impact in that department, as has promising rookie Ryan Kerrigan (24 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) opposite Orakpo.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Turnovers. A critical element to Buffalo’s early-season success has been the defense’s ability to force mistakes out of the opposition. In their two signature wins over New England and Philadelphia, the Bills intercepted Tom Brady and Michael Vick four times each, and the team leads the AFC with a plus- nine turnover margin. Buffalo can get into trouble when it’s not effective in this aspect, however, as evidenced by the zero takeaways in had in its loss to the Giants two weeks back. Washington, meanwhile, has committed seven giveaways during its two-game slide and isn’t good enough offensively to compensate being error-prone.
The Redskins’ defense needs to get back to the stifling form it displayed over the season’s first few weeks, particularly against the run. Washington has allowed an average of 71 rushing yards in its three wins and 164 in its trio of defeats.
The pass rush. Buffalo’s done a remarkably good job of protecting Fitzpatrick this season, but the only time the line faced a front the caliber of Washington’s was two weeks ago, when the Giants sacked Fitzpatrick three times and intercepted him twice. While the Bills’ attempts to pressure the quarterback have been usually futile, keep in mind that Beck’s taken an alarming 14 sacks in 159 pass attempts over his nomadic career.
Prediction – The annual failed game in Toronto sees the Bills, who are having a good season at 4-2, take on the Skins, who are 3-3 and hanging around in the very average NFC East. Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills normally don’t play well in this game, but this is a different year, and with the run game playing well with Fred Jackson, and they should be able to outscore the John Beck led Skins, who struggled in their last game, a loss to the Eagles. Buffalo 17 Washington 14