A year ago, the Oakland Raiders finished tied for second in the NFL with 47 sacks. Of that total, 29.5 came from the team's deep rotation of defensive linemen, and a further nine came from linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, who often puts a hand in the dirt and lines up as a defensive end. The Raiders got five more sacks in their 2011 season-opener against the Denver Broncos.
When the Buffalo Bills meet the Raiders at home in three short days, controlling the defensive line at the point of attack should be Buffalo's top priority offensively. Oakland's entire defensive philosophy starts with being physical and active up front.
"The defensive line is the heart and soul of this team," explains Rich Langford of SilverAndBlackPride.com.
Oakland's deep and talented group of defensive linemen is headlined by Richard Seymour, the former New England Patriots star that Bills fans will therefore be very familiar with.
In his 11-year career, Seymour has accumulated 51 career sacks in 141 games. That includes 12 sacks in just over two years with the Raiders. The six-time Pro Bowl player is only the starting point for this defensive line, however.
"What is unique about the Raiders' defensive line is that Seymour and Tommy Kelly are legitimate every-down defensive tackles that are great at rushing the passer," Langford said. "Teams have a hard time doubling Seymour because Kelly is almost his equal."
It's true. Kelly does not have Seymour's pedigree nor production at the NFL level, but he's coming off a seven-sack season in 2010, and has looked outstanding playing next to Seymour.
The true up-and-coming prospect of the Raiders' defensive line, however, is third-year defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, a former third-round pick (2009) out of Wisconsin.
"He is really coming into his own," said Langford of Shaughnessy. "He manhandled the Broncos' Ryan Clady on Monday night, and that is no easy task. Shaughnessy had one sack in the Broncos game and was a consistent presence in their backfield."
Add in starting defensive end Lamarr Houston, an athletic former college defensive tackle, and the Raiders have a starting front four that rivals any front in the league. It doesn't stop there, either, as the Raiders have also built enviable depth behind that quartet.
"John Henderson is still a beast in his limited role," Langford explained. "Des Bryant is a very capable backup that can penetrate, and Trevor Scott and (starting linebacker) Wimbley are good pass-rushing defensive ends. Scott is coming off an ACL tear, though, and I am sure his snaps will be limited."
Due to the dominating nature of this defensive line, the Raiders are a team that does not dial up exotic blitzes, and plays a lot of man-to-man coverage behind their front four.
"They seldom blitz," Langford said. "When they do blitz, it is usually from the secondary. They never blitz linebackers."
Again, the numbers back this up. Starting safeties Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch combined for eight sacks in 2010, while the only linebacker to record a sack aside from Wimbley was then-rookie Rolando McClain, who only had a half-sack.
Oakland's defense is not an exotic one like Rex Ryan's in New York, but it is effective because of the depth and talent of its defensive line. Theoretically, the Bills should be able to find openings to exploit - but only if they can control things at the line of scrimmage. More than ever, offensive line play will be a key to the Bills' efforts on Sunday.