In front of 73,097 at New Era Field, the Bills cruised to a 34-14 win which moves them to 5-2 for the first time since 2011, also the last time they defeated the Raiders. It also marks the first time Buffalo won their first four regular season games in Orchard Park since 1995.
The conditions dictated defensive prowess while limiting mistakes on the offensive side of the football. It’s a game plan Buffalo executed to near perfection on Sunday. While the Raiders outgained them, they also lost the turnover battle by a score of 4-0.
Seven games into the season, rumors of the Bills tanking appear to be grossly exaggerated. On the contrary, this is a team which week-by-week is beginning to have the look of a team that can contend for the playoffs. Though they’re still a game short of the halfway point, things are looking positive early on in the Sean McDermott era.
Here are the biggest takeaways from another triumphant performance at home from the Bills.
Run Game Methodically Grinds the Raiders Down
Heading into this game, perhaps the biggest key on offense for the Bills centered around outdoing Oakland on the ground. With Marshawn Lynch suspended and LeSean McCoy coming off his best game of the year, that fact became even more pronounced. Suffice it to say that in the wake of Sunday’s victory: mission accomplished. McCoy finished with 151 rushing yards and a touchdown, the first time he eclipsed the century mark this year.
One of the best weapons you can have with a fourth quarter lead is a run game that can wear a defense down. With a 27-14 advantage and Oakland looking for a stop after Derek Carr led them on a nine-play touchdown drive, the Bills put that on full display. Though the ensuing drive resulted in a punt, it did take 5:56 off the clock after they ran the ball on eight of nine plays.
It gave Carr less than five minutes to try and repeat his heroics from last week against the Kansas City Chiefs. But after five plays, the Raiders faced a fourth and three and his pass intended for Amari Cooper fell incomplete. One play later, McCoy took the ball, got a fantastic block from a pulling Vlad Ducasse, and was off to the races. His 48 yard scamper served as a case study on how to put a team away with a dominant ground attack.
Depleted Secondary Steps Up
The revamped Bills secondary has emerged as one of the great stories early on in the NFL season. It includes cornerback E.J. Gaines and safety Jordan Poyer, two players who’ve combined for three interceptions, 14 pass breakups and 40 tackles through six games. But both missed Sunday’s game due to injury which obviously elicited concern given the fact that Carr was on the other side of the field at quarterback.
But oftentimes in sports, the term “next man up” gets bandied about regarding the need for players to step up when their number is called. Two players stood out in that regard on Sunday: Trae Elston and Shareece Wright. Elston led the team with 11 tackles and, though the game was out of reach at that point, intercepted Carr on the Raiders final possession. Wright added four tackles and tied for the team lead with two pass breakups.
Simply put, injuries are a part of football. They have the potential to negatively impact different teams’ seasons in varying ways. Generally speaking, the more depth you have at certain positions, the better off you’ll be. With regard to the secondary, the Bills seem to be in good shape. Elston and Wright turning in reliable performances in relief of two players who’ve seen 681 snaps in 2017 is a prime example.
This Defense is Elite
Seven games is a fairly decent sample size when it comes to giving an evaluation of each team on both sides of the ball. And at this point in the season, it’s becoming pretty clear that the Bills defense as a whole is among the NFL’s best. Coming into Sunday’s tussle against the Raiders, Buffalo led the league in turnover margin. And with the game now in the books, that statistic will only improve in their favor.
The Bills forced a total of four turnovers on the day, including two interceptions of the league’s second highest paid player in addition to two fumble recoveries. One of them resulted in a touchdown when Raiders running back DeAndre Washington lost the ball and rookie linebacker Matt Milano took it the distance. That score made the Bills one of only three teams in the league with two fumble returns for touchdowns.
Not only that, but Micah Hyde is proving to be among the biggest off-season signings of the season. The fifth-year safety out of Iowa registered interception number five of 2017 early in the third quarter after the Bills made it 17-7. That puts him alone by himself for tops in the NFL. Overall, the Bills as a team now have 17 takeaways which is tied with the Baltimore Ravens for the best mark in the league.
Buffalo’s lengthy postseason drought is among the more depressing punchlines among NFL teams. But with the club at 5-2 for just the second time since their last playoff appearance, there is an air of optimism regarding it possibly coming to an end this year. What makes it even more promising? Of the last 19 teams to lead the league in turnover margin at season’s end, all of them made the playoffs.
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