When the NFL announced the 2017 regular season schedule, few saw the Buffalo Bills owning a better record than the Oakland Raiders at the time of their late October matchup. Expectations were super high for the Raiders and relatively low for the Bills. But week eight is finally here, and guess what: Buffalo is 4-2 while Oakland sits at 3-4.
A multitude of factors played a role in the current reality. The Bills are getting superb play out of their secondary and reliable play at times out of the offense, especially at home. Meanwhile, Derek Carr‘s back injury put a huge dent in the Raiders postseason aspirations. But he’s back now and proved his worth as the second highest paid quarterback in the league last week against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Both teams have to feel confident heading into Sunday’s tilt at New Era Field. Buffalo made some big plays down the stretch on both sides of the ball in last week’s 30-27 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And Carr’s late heroics to cap off one of the greatest games in Thursday Night Football history played a huge part in reviving Oakland’s chances at making the playoffs.
The Raiders own a great deal of success in the recent history of this series. Though they’ve won six of the last eight against the Bills, they’ve also lost two in a row on the road. Factor in the weather forecast, with possible rainy conditions along with temperatures in the 40s, and the “tough place to play” mantra that encapsulates Buffalo becomes even more pronounced.
Be that as it may, the Bills still need to execute their game plan on the field to achieve success. What elements of that game plan are most crucial to Buffalo erasing a two-game skid against the Raiders? Below are the week eight Buffalo Bills Keys to Victory.
Contain Carr and His Weapons
This one’s pretty obvious considering what NFL fans witnessed last Thursday. Not only did Carr become just the second quarterback to throw for over 400 yards this season (Tom Brady did so in week two against the New Orleans Saints), he also put his team on his back when they needed it most. With the Raiders staring at a 2-5 record and massive playoff uncertainty, the Raiders franchise signal caller willed them down the field for the game-winning score.
Regardless of the conditions on Sunday, Carr is a player the Bills can’t take lightly preparing for. Though the secondary is full of new faces, fans know full well what the now fourth-year pro is capable of. Last year, the Raiders scored 29 unanswered points on the Bills in the second half after falling behind 24-9. It included touchdown passes by Carr to two players who remain his favorite targets, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper.
That latter wideout put together a breakout performance against the Chiefs after well-documented struggles leading up to last Thursday’s game. He certainly showed what he’s capable of in terms of winning contested balls and gaining yards after catch en route to the end zone. For a Bills team that utilizes a lot of Tampa-2, Cooper’s ability to run routes that exploit zone seams between the second and third level of the defense is a concern.
Adding to that fretfulness is a secondary dealing with injuries to a few key players. Both safety Jordan Poyer (knee) and corner E.J. Gaines (hamstring) are questionable for Sunday’s game. Those two have combined for three interceptions and 13 pass breakups so far in 2017. If they can’t participate, it makes containing Carr and his bevy of weapons in the passing game that much more of a challenge.
Win the Turnover Battle
Despite injuries to the aforementioned members of the Bills secondary, opportunities should still abound to force mistakes out of the Raiders offense. Buffalo comes into this game leading the NFL in turnover margin, with safety Micah Hyde tied for tops in the league with four interceptions. The team as a whole is also top five in forced fumbles, interceptions thrown and fumbles lost.
Meanwhile, the Raiders are in record territory with respect to ineptitude picking off passes. Heading into Sunday’s game, they still have yet to intercept an opposing quarterback. Per Elias Sports Bureau, that makes them the first team in NFL history to go their first seven regular season games without an interception. It’s no wonder then that Oakland owns the tenth worst turnover margin in the league.
But that’s not to say they’re incapable of forcing turnovers. The Raiders have proven extremely adept at coming up with fumbles. Only two NFL teams have more fumble recoveries than Oakland’s five on the year so far. Linebacker James Cowser came up with two himself in what was otherwise a forgettable 27-10 loss to the Washington Redskins in week three.
The Bills skill position players need to be on the lookout. Much like Cooper, LeSean McCoy had his first breakout performance of the season last week. But overall, he has two fumbles this year. Fullback Mike Tolbert‘s put the ball on the ground once himself. So the Raiders’ acumen in stripping opposing players is a concern heading into this game. But that’s still no excuse for the Bills not coming out on top in forcing turnovers Sunday.
Put the Raiders Secondary Under Pressure
Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor continues to prove doubters wrong regarding his ability to throw downfield. He did it on a consistent basis in last week’s win over the Bucs. 20 percent of Taylor’s completions went for over 20 yards, including three to a new arrival with plenty of potential in the Bills passing game moving forward. Deonte Thompson signed with the Bills last Tuesday and made his presence felt almost immediately.
The journeyman receiver, who had a brief stint with the Bills in 2014, finished Sunday’s game with four catches for 107 yards. It marked the second highest yardage total of his career and just the second time in six years as a pro that he eclipsed the century mark in a single game. Though he didn’t finish with a touchdown catch, the big gains he played a part in set the Bills up to find pay dirt later on in drives.
Much like the Bills, Oakland’s secondary is dealing with myriad injuries leading up to Sunday’s clash. Cornerbacks David Amerson and Gareon Conley are already listed as out, while strong safety Karl Joseph‘s participation remains up in the air. And as mentioned in the “winning the turnover battle” key above, the Raiders are still without a single interception in 2017, the only NFL team in such a situation.
Now you could say that they’re due for a reversal of that trend. But at the same time, the Bills passing game needs to attack this contest with confidence against a clearly suspect secondary. As long as they can contain the Raiders’ pass rush that includes All-Pro edge defender Khalil Mack, they’ll be in good shape. This is especially true with Taylor behind center, who has the fifth best passer rating in the NFL against blitzes.
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