A Matchup by Matchup Look at the Oakland Raiders vs. Buffalo Bills
In just three short years however, both teams have experienced radical changes to their roster and coaching staff. A few losing seasons can do that.
The biggest difference in the game is probably the emergence of Darren McFadden. In that game, DMC ran for 42 yards on 14 carries while splitting time with Michael Bush.
As we saw in the season opener, McFadden is capable of putting the entire offense on his back and leading them to victory.
Let's take a look at both squads and see how they match up against each other. I'll give my prediction in the final slide.
Jason Campbell and the Receiving Corps vs. the Bills' Secondary
It starts with quarterback, Jason Campbell and his passing attack. The good news for Campbell is that he will most likely be getting Kevin Boss back from injury.
Boss injured his knee during the preseason but he returned to practice this week and is hopeful to face the Bills. Campbell loves throwing to tight ends and having Boss in there in place of Brandon Myers will be a tremendous upgrade.
The bad news, however, is that he may be without wideout Jacoby Ford. Already without Louis Murphy, the wide receiver depth chart against the Bills may just be four deep if Derek Hagan is once again kept inactive.
That leaves Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Chaz Schilens and Nick Miller as the only healthy bodies.
With all of their players healthy, I can easily see the Raiders exploiting the Bills' secondary somewhere to the tune of 250 yards or so. With so many players out, It's hard to see from where the big chunks of yards are going to come.
The Bills' secondary can be exploited, but only by teams with superior passing attacks. The Raiders aren't there just yet. Look for them to employ the same game plan they did against Denver, using the ground game to set up the pass.
Consistency and rhythm are they keys here. If they can maintain that in their aerial attack, they will be just fine.
Look for Boss to be Campbell's go-to target early in the game until he feels more comfortable. Expect at least five catches for the big tight end.
The Raiders' Three Headed Monster vs. the Bills' Front Seven
Yes, I said three headed. In addition to Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, put Marcel Reece in that discussion, as he is probably the best kept secret in the league. He is a versatile fullback and a truly unique weapon for any offense.
We all know the running game is the Raiders' bread and butter. This is how the Raiders dictate their bully mentality and control the flow of the game.
By grinding it out on the ground, the Raiders wear down their opponents and leave them susceptible to big plays. The success of their offense hinges on the running backs.
That said, if we know this, you can be sure the Buffalo Bills know it as well.
They will do all in their power to use their speed at the linebacker position to quickly fill in the running lanes. Sure, the Broncos had Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil to throw at the Raiders, but the Bills have five very capable linebackers that are all fast, experienced and skilled.
All the defensive line will be asked to do is to clog up blockers; the linebackers will take care of the tough part.
The key to beating the Bills' front seven will be to mix up the running backs as much as possible. Bush had 30 yards on nine carries against Denver, most of it coming with under four minutes to go in the game.
The Raiders can try and wear down the Bills' defense by using Darren McFadden to complement Bush's running style. Both will have to be used in conjunction for the Raiders to move the ball effectively on the ground.
While I expect McFadden to have fewer yards than he put up against Denver, I still expect him to eclipse the century mark by a hair on about the same number of carries. However, I expect Bush's yard total to nearly double.
The Trenches: Raiders' O-Line vs. Bills' Defensive Front
It almost goes without saying that the Raiders' offensive line is the key for both components of the offense to get off of the ground.
Without solid blocking, Campbell will be on his back more often than not, so the passing game will sputter. McFadden and Bush, as good as they are, are not magicians and will not be able to find running room if there are no holes.
I was thoroughly impressed with the job the front five did against Denver. I expected Miller and Dumervil to have their way on the edges, but Jared Veldheer had one of his best games as a pro and Khalif Barnes did an admirable job.
Yet, the most success came from the interior line, specifically the left side.
What rookie Stefen Wisniewski and center Samson Satele were able to do against the Broncos was just good old fashioned power blocking, probably the best we have seen since Wisniewski's uncle donned the silver and black.
The Bills present a different set of challenges. Many times, Satele struggles against larger nose tackles, which the Bills have in Kyle Williams.
Satele's short and squatty frame won't be enough to handle Williams on the point of attack. I expect a few double teams that will free up the linebackers, who include a face familiar to the Raiders, Shawne Merriman.
I expect the Bills to be able to generate more pressure on Campbell than the Broncos did. I also expect them to come out firing against the Raiders' vaunted rushing attack as they did against the Kansas City Chiefs last week.
To counter the aggressive Bills defense, look for the Raiders to run one or two screens to either McFadden or Reece early on as a way of softening that pressure and allowing their offensive line to get to the next level and overpower the Bills' linebackers.
With a few successful screen passes, Buffalo will be kept off balance and the Raiders can revert back to a more conventional means of attacking. Expect more pulls and traps from the Raiders.
The Raiders' Defensive Scheme vs. Fred Jackson
I am not alone in my sentiment that Fred Jackson is one of the most underrated running backs in the NFL. Besides, we have seen a wide variety of running backs gash the Raiders' defense for big yardage on the ground.
Because of this alone, no running back should ever be taken lightly. However, I was really encouraged by what I saw Monday night.
The discipline by the outside linebackers Quentin Groves and Kamerion Wimbley were pivotal to Oakland's success stopping Knowshon Moreno in his tracks.
This was probably Groves' most technically sound game as a Raider. He is probably the weakest link in Oakland's front seven, but if he can consistently provide performances like the one on Monday night, you won't hear a peep from anyone.
Rolando McClain looked vastly improved as well, doing a great job of shedding blockers and being able to get from sideline to sideline. I've said it many times, his emergence is crucial to the Raiders' hopes of stopping the run.
It also helps tremendously when your front four is getting as much penetration as they did last week. The Raiders have a solid eight man rotation up front that allows everyone to stay fresh.
The biggest problem is when teams use the pass to set up the run against the Raiders.
When teams can consistently move the ball on the Raiders through the air, the front seven becomes undisciplined, allowing wide running lanes to form. When the Raiders are on the ropes, they are highly susceptible to draw plays.
The Bills will try to exploit that. Look for Ryan Fitzpatrick to try and get going early. The key is for the Raiders to keep their focus and not allow anything to the outside.
It is on Groves and Wimbley to keep the contain on the edges and for the front four to get constant penetration. The man I'll be keeping an eye on is Groves.
His success or failure is extremely indicative of how the Raiders' defense is doing as a whole.
Why so Serious? Raiders' Secondary Can't Take Bills' Passing Attack Lightly
We all know Nnamdi Asomugha is gone. Yet, from the looks of it, Oakland was able to do a formidable job against the Broncos. The problem is, Buffalo is not Denver.
Last year, Ryan Fitzpatrick was quietly compiling monster stats. Now, after last week's game against the Chiefs, the secret is out. The Raiders should take notice.
Last game, Stanford Routt looked as if he was worth the millions that the Raiders invested in him. Many times throughout the game, he received "Nnamdi" treatment in that he was largely ignored and avoided by Kyle Orton.
Routt only had one pass completed his way in addition to one penalty he committed. Overall, it was a solid performance and you can be sure defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan will try to lock him onto Bills' wideout Steve Johnson.
On the other side, things didn't bode so well for Chris Johnson. While Routt only had one pass completed in his direction, Johnson had six.
However, many of those came when he was matched up against Brandon Lloyd, a clear mismatch in Denver's favor.
By putting him against the second-best receiver or, better yet, dropping him into a zone where he can play to his strengths and make a play on the ball, the Raiders will likely see more production out of him.
Complicating matters is the injury to Michael Huff. His status is still unknown for Sunday's game and if he can't go, expect Matt Giordano to take his place at free safety. Giordano had a monster game against Denver; he has very good range and is solid coming off of a blitz.
Where the Raiders may miss Huff the most is in nickel packages. Huff is the Raiders' nickel corner and if he can't go, rookie DeMarcus Van Dyke jumps into that spot.
It is so imperative for the Raiders' front seven to get consistent pressure on Fitzpatrick.
Look for Bresnahan to mix in blitzes, especially from safeties Tyvon Branch and Giordano in order to compensate for a clear advantage the Bills have in this contest.
The Raiders' Defensive Line vs. Jet Lag
This isn't some clever pun, I mean actual jet lag. If you take a look at the games last year in which Oakland had to travel east and play at 1 p.m., the outlook wasn't pretty.
Sure, the Raiders almost pulled off a victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings both ran for over 100 yards. After awhile, the defense, especially the defensive line, looked tired and sluggish.
To combat that, Hue Jackson has had morning practices all week to get his players' bodies accustomed to the shift in time when they travel to Buffalo.
We'll see whether that works or not.
The fact that Oakland has eight men they can substitute in and out of the defensive lineup sure helps. What Oakland needs to do is bring the heat early and often.
The energy level for this squad needs to be through the roof for an entire 60 minutes; there can't be any lapses in concentration. It all starts with the coaching staff.
The Special Teams Battle
Have you heard that Sebastian Janikowski tied an NFL record by making a 63-yard field goal?
I'm pretty sure Oakland has the advantage in this one, though the coverage team is liable to have a breakdown in lane responsibilities from time to time, as they did against Denver.
Players need to stay disciplined and not over-pursue on returns. I expect that to have been an emphasis in practice all week.
This game will be closer than people realize since both teams are both up-and-coming squads. They will try and play to their strengths, but in the end, the Raiders' physicality will be too much for Buffalo to handle.
Though the Chiefs have one of the best running games in the league, the Raiders have the most physical one, both in the way the offensive line blocks and in the way the running backs run. Buffalo simply isn't used to that.
The game will be relatively low scoring compared to what people are expecting. I feel as if there will be a similar outcome to the game these two teams played in 1999 at Buffalo, when they were both borderline playoff contenders.
An interception in the closing seconds by the late Eric Turner capped that game, so I see a late interception by the Raiders to thwart a Bills comeback sealing it.
Oakland Raiders 21, Buffalo Bills 16