Anyone want to tell me where that came from? Before the bye week, this team had amassed a whopping five recorded sacks. They almost doubled that on Sunday, bringing down John Beck a staggering nine times. The focal point of this pass-rush explosion was definitely third overall pick Marcell Dareus, who had 2.5 sacks and 3 quarterback hits, along with playing a huge role in the team blocking a Graham Gano field goal try. Dareus started at nose tackle in place of the injured Kyle Williams and seems to have a bright future on the inside if this one game is any indication. The entire defense was lights out, actually, serving up the Bills’ first shutout since 2006 against this banged-up Washington team.
What’s even more surprising than the way they played and completely shut down Shanahan’s offense is that they did it with a lineup much different from what they’re used to – Dareus on the nose shifted Carrington from linebacker to end, the season ending injury to Shawne Merriman pushed Arthur Moats and Spencer Johnson to outside linebacker, and Kelvin Sheppard took over for the aging Andra Davis, making his first start at inside linebacker. Still, with different looks and lineups, they knew what they had to do and got it done against a terrible Redskin offense who is playing with a handful of backups. Two regulars making noise, George Wilson and Jairus Byrd, each made beautiful plays to intercept passes from Beck in the second half and really kept the Redskin receivers in check throughout. Really, it shouldn’t be a surprise anymore when either of those two have a good game – this season, they’re easily two of the most consistent and effective defensive backs in the league.
Fitzpatrick came out and showed why the team just put pen to paper to keep him here, potentially, for another six years with another solid game. He completed 21 of 27 pass attempts for 262 yards and two scores and kept his poise through the entire bout. He did turn the ball over twice, but ultimately, he was commanding at the line and made the right throws at the right time – squeezing throws into coverage for Steve Johnson and David Nelson while continuing to keep the screen game a big part of this offense en route to a 74 yard receiving performance from Fred Jackson. 14 showed off just how much control he has over this group, getting a near-impressive hustle from ten other guys back into formation quick enough to spike the ball and stop the clock late in the game. Ultimately, there was a Bill offsides, but the way he got everyone on the same page and moving to their spots so quick is a testament to how well-disciplined they all are and how respected he is. Another thing that Fitzpatrick did in this game was get Scott Chandler’s name closer to the record books. With his two touchdown grabs – his only catches of the game – Chandler tied former Bills Pete Metzelaars and Jay Riemersma with six scores by a tight end in a season, a franchise record that Chandler is likely to break. Chandler has been able to take advantage of teams respecting big-bodied slot receiver David Nelson with double coverages and getting open when it’s most advantageous, which is way more than most of his predecessors can say.
I mentioned the defensive lineup shifts, but the ones on offense are just as huge, even if there’s only a few. We’ve mentioned it before, but CJ Spiller has been playing wideout in Donald Jones’ absence and while he only had two catches for nine yards, it looks like he might be a better fit there in this league than coming out of the backfield. He runs decent routes for someone who learned the position in a pinch, catches the ball well, and obviously has a wealth of speed. I’d like to see him continue to play there after Jones returns, honestly. Another replacement, one that has been absolutely outstanding, is Andy Levitre. Levitre has been the team’s most consistent offensive lineman since being drafted in 2009 and, despite rumors of his demotion and possible release in the preseason, has been stellar at left guard this year yet again. With the team’s top two left tackles on the shelf, Levitre was asked to make the shift over to the edge and has been outstanding there. That puts the team in a great position come spring, when both starting tackles (Demetrius Bell and Erik Pears) have expiring contracts. Rookie Chris Hairston looked good enough to stick there in the limited action we saw this year and Levitre’s temporary replacement at guard, Chad Rinehart, has made it business as usual over there, holding up well and getting good push. It doesn’t seem entirely out of the realm of possibility that Levitre, Rinehart, Wood, Urbik, and Hairston could be the top blockers next year, though I do think that they’ll be able to pull in Pears without much issue and would like to do just that.
Later in the game it became evident that the coaches took their foot off the gas, as the prevent-style defense and over-use of the wildcat showcased in the last twenty minutes or so made the team look sloppy and confused. Still, after a few drives of looking foolish, they stepped it up and made a great stop on fourth and goal to keep this game a shutout. A huge tip of the cap is due to this entire defensive staff as Washington coach Mike Shanahan is renowned for his schemes that make use and garner production out of less than average players and, before Sunday, had never been shut out in his lengthy NFL coaching career.
It feels good to finally expect the team to win games against lesser teams – and I’m not convinced that the Jets aren’t part of that category. We’ll find that out on Sunday back home in the Ralph. I’ve got some more stuff besides this game to talk about so there’ll be another piece on its way soon, so keep an eye out for that. Until next time, thanks for reading and Go Bills.