The Buffalo Bills take on the Las Vegas Raiders this week as they look to avoid falling to 0-2 for the first time since the 2018 season. Buffalo dropped a frustrating 22-16 contest to the New York Jets on Monday night, while the Raiders beat the Denver Broncos 17-16 on Sunday to open their season 1-0.
There are quite a few Bills who need to find redemption this week, and while one of them may be a bit too obvious, it would be disingenuous of me to omit him from the list this week. Here are our five players to watch in Buffalo’s tilt against the Raiders.
QB Josh Allen
It’s never a good feeling when your team’s franchise quarterback, a guy who’s clearly more talented than nearly everyone in the league, is the main reason why your team lost the game. However, that’s what happened on Monday night, as Allen inexplicably fired interception after interception, totaling three picks on the night, before also losing a fumble that allowed the Jets to take the lead with under two minutes to play in regulation. The other thing we have to remember, though, is this: That’s life. Sometimes, the best players do things that make us wonder whether they forgot which team they were on for an evening. Allen’s Brett Favre streak sometimes leads him to some bad places, and last week, it led the Bills to a loss. He needs to trust what he sees in front of him this week, take the easy money when it’s there, and remain patiently aggressive in his approach. To the latter point, all I mean is that he needs to keep taking shots when those shots present themselves rather than trying to force those great moments like he did against New York. Another thing I’d like to see is offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey putting Allen under center a bit more. The run game could benefit, and more importantly, the either-or reads of hard play-action passing could help Allen to settle into some big plays more organically. Allen has always been a strong play-action passer, and the Bills have a good enough running game where the Raiders will need to honor the run. Especially if the Bills use “12” personnel as often as they did last week, there are plenty of benefits to going under center more. Either way you slice it, this is a big bounce-back opportunity for Josh, and he needs to be a goldfish when it comes to his mistakes.
RT Spencer Brown
Speaking of guys who need to have a big game, there’s no one on the team whose seat is hotter than Buffalo’s starting right tackle. Brown was a liability last year, and he was no less a liability in the season opener. Sure, the Jets have a great defensive front, but Brown was absolutely manhandled at the point of attack, showcasing his biggest deficiency — technique — time and time again. In a sport where the low man wins, you can’t be 6’8” and fail to get low into your anchor, yet Brown continually tries to block shorter opponents from an upright stance, a recipe for disaster both for him and for whatever play Buffalo is running. Germain Ifedi was a healthy scratch last week, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bills scratched someone else this week and put Brown on a short leash. Maxx Crosby is an excellent pass rusher, and if he’s matched up against Brown, that isn’t a good matchup for the Bills. Brown needs to be much better this week, or we may see someone else at right tackle sooner rather than later.
DE Leonard Floyd
The veteran had a huge game last week, notching 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hits, and one tackle for loss in the game. Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was not sacked against the Broncos, and he was only hit three times in his 26 drop backs. Someone has to be able to disrupt the passer, and Floyd appears as if he may be the key. He’ll also needs to do a good job setting the edge against a rushing attack led by Josh Jacobs. The Vegas offensive line was exceptional in pass protection last week, but they were abysmal in run blocking, as Pro Football Focus graded them at a 57.6 in that phase. Forcing the Raiders to fall behind the chains by stopping the run on early downs will give Floyd the chance to pin his ears back and attack.
LB Terrel Bernard
Yep, two weeks in a row. He’s going to be a huge factor in what happens for the team on defense, and after he started slowly last week, he played much better by the end of the night. There were a few times where he didn’t seem confident in what he was reading, but again, as the night progressed, he found his footing and looked more confident and decisive shooting gaps. That could have been due to the fact that Zach Wilson was playing quarterback, so there wasn’t much aerial attack to fear, but that same comfort won’t be afforded to the Bills’ defense with Jimmy Garoppolo this week. While “Jimmy G” isn’t Aaron Rodgers, he’s not Wilson, either. The Raiders will probably try to draw Bernard up with play-action and then throw behind him, so Bernard to going to have to read his keys and play decisively.
S Taylor Rapp
It appears that Rapp is the answer to the question of what Buffalo will do against heavier run teams, as they opted to bring in a third safety instead of a third linebacker to replace Taron Johnson at times last week. Who knows if that’s the start of a trend or if it was the game plan for that week, but this game will be the first chance we have to answer that question. Dorian Williams, Buffalo’s rookie third-round draft choice and the team’s backup to Matt Milano at linebacker, did not play a single defensive snap last week, although he did play 18 snaps on special teams. I think I’d rather see the team go with a traditional 4-3 look if the Raiders come out with a heavier personnel grouping, but I also don’t think that head coach Sean McDermott is going to do it. So, Rapp slots in as that third linebacker, of sorts. He had five tackles last week, and if he’s called upon again this week, he’ll need to be stout in run defense.