The Buffalo Bills are facing off against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday for the fourth time since 2011, including three of the last four seasons. The Bills lost a more-or-less season-ending blowout last year, when a 24-9 third-quarter lead somehow turned into a 38-24 shellacking in Oakland (on my birthday, no less).
This will be the first time the Raiders have visited Orchard Park since 2011, when the Bills pulled off a comeback of their own by scoring touchdowns on all five of their second-half possessions to turn a 21-3 halftime deficit into a 38-35 victory.
I reached out to Levi Damien of Silver and Black Pride, SB Nation’s Raiders site, for what we can expect to see from Jack Del Rio’s boys this year.
The big news coming into the game is the one-week suspension of former Bills draft pick Marshawn Lynch. Looking at the stat sheet, he seems to be playing well for his age but not nearly the force he was in Buffalo or Seattle. How has he been playing this year, and how much will his suspension affect the offense?
His numbers aren't entirely indicative of the seasons he's having. They don't give him the ball but like 11 times a game on average, keeping his overall numbers down. The offensive line has been asked to change from more power blocking to more zone blocking this season and it has not worked out well. The holes Latavius Murray was getting last season, Marshawn is not getting. His yards after first contact are still among the league leaders. There were some signs he would see improved numbers. If you look at the game two weeks ago against the Chargers, he was picking up yards in chunks early on, averaging 6.1 yards per carry in the first half. The week prior, he was averaging 5.2 yards per carry in the first half. But the Raiders offense was predictable and his yards per carry would tank in the second half. Against the Chargers they just simply went away from the run altogether, which was ridiculous considering the success they were having against them.
Last week they used more play action, deep passes, and power running. All of which have a lot more to do with the success or failure of the running game. It's a shame, really, that Lynch only got to enjoy it for two carries last week and should they stay with what worked for them last week (the same thing that worked for them last season, not surprisingly), he won't get to enjoy it this week either. He is still fully capable of making something out of nothing. His worst games this season were when he was clearly trying too hard to make a big play and not taking the yards in front of him. The coaches say that Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington are more than change-of-pace backs, but there's no proof of that. They carried the load for two games last season and the results were marginal to underwhelming. What they have going for them is there are two of them, so both guys will remain fresh.
The Bills have a penchant for forcing takeaways, but they've allowed 328 and 384 passing yards in their last two games. How do you see Derek Carr and his talented receiver group, especially Amari Cooper, faring against the Bills' secondary?
As I mentioned above, should the Raiders' game plan continue to feature play action and stretching the field with the deep ball, they will have success. They were predictable and stale over the first six weeks. They got away with it in the opener and against the Jets in Week 2, but teams caught on after that and shut them down. The offensive line was also struggling due to new blocking schemes. They were arguably the best line in football last season, and falling off like that doesn't happen naturally. We have only seen the offense perform as we knew them to perform throughout last season for the game last week against the Chiefs. The question we pose now is if that was just their plan for that game or if it's their game plan from here on out. If it's the latter, yes I expect Carr, Coop, and Co. to put up good numbers.
NaVorro Bowman was with the team for three whole days before earning the start on Thursday Night Football against the Chiefs and finished with 11 tackles (six solo). What were your impressions of him through one game, and can he help a defense that currently sits at 26th in total yards allowed?
He can absolutely help. If only because they had essentially no one to play middle linebacker. Once again this season, just as pretty much every season since Reggie McKenzie took over as GM, the Raiders have neglected the middle linebacker spot. This offseason, they didn't sign a middle linebacker in free agency, and didn't draft one until the 5th round (Marquel Lee). So, they had a rookie 5th round pick, a second-year former 6th round pick (Cory James), a former practice squad player (Tyrell Adams), and an undrafted rookie (Nicholas Morrow) as the candidates for the starting middle linebacker job. Adams has since been cut (editor’s note: We heard), and James and Morrow are better suited as weakside backers.
It has long been a head scratcher that a team with a GM, head coach, and defensive coordinator who were all former NFL middle linebackers continue to place no value on the middle linebacker position. The alternative theory is that because of their background as middle linebackers they all think they can A) spot talent others can't and B) can coach them up as others can't. It hasn't worked out.
Bowman in particular is a veteran who has a proven track record. That goes a long way when you consider the lack of experience the Raiders have otherwise. He is a lock down run stopper. Where he struggles is in coverage. That could be his Achilles injury from last year plus his ACL injury that kept him out the entire 2014 season has caused him to lose a step. Those who cover the 49ers who watched him the first five games this season say he isn't the same player he once was. In a new defense, having played just one game after three practices, the jury is still out on what he can do in this Raiders offense.
The list of banged-up Raiders includes a number of rookies, including the team's top two picks, cornerback Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu (currently on IR). As a whole, has the rookie class had much impact? How have they looked when they've been healthy?
They have had almost no impact. Conley was the only player who was expected to make an early impact as either a starter or in the slot, making for a somewhat disappointing rookie class at least with regard to early returns. Third round pick Eddie Vanderdoes has been the only starter, but has not been much of a factor. He is still simply trying to overpower offensive linemen and often loses the ball carrier in the process or driving out of his gap. The most productive rookie thus far is undrafted linebackers Nicholas Morrow. He has been a revelation out of Division III Greenville. He is banged up, but figures to play this week.
Fill in the blanks: The (blank) will win, because (blank).
The Raiders win because I don't think they would be stupid enough to abandon the game plan that got them the win last Thursday. They were able to beat the Bills last season 38-24 last season with a 4th quarter comeback. It will be a tough game, because the Bills are a damn good team and the game is in Buffalo. But I think the Raiders can pull it out. Score projection 20-16.