The Las Vegas Raiders, fresh off of a dog fight in Denver, now go into Highmark Stadium Sunday to face an angry Buffalo Bills squad, who lost in overtime to the New York Jets in overtime in primetime. The Raiders now take on the daunting challenge of slowing down Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and that dynamic Bills offense, who sputtered all night this past Monday, committing four turnovers. On offense, the Raiders will face another stout defense, with Bills head coach Sean McDermott filling the role of Defensive Coordinator this season. They are led on the field by edge rushers Greg Rousseau and Leonard Floyd, Linebacker Matt Milano, and cornerback Tre’Davious White, who look to make a statement on defense Sunday. The Raiders (+8) have a tall task ahead of them and must play sound, mistake free football in order to ruin the party in Buffalo. Here’s how they do that:
DEFENSIVE LINE MUST STOP THE RUN
The Raiders’ glaring weakness on defense is at the defensive line– and it is not even close. According to PFF, defensive lineman Bilal Nichols, Jerry Tillery, John Jenkins, Adam Butler, and Byron Young earned a rush defense grade of 53.7, 44.3, 48.9, 60.9, and 53.2 respectively– nothing to write home to, to say the least. Additionally, outside of Maxx Crosby, the defensive line’s presence as a whole was virtually non-existent when it came to disrupting the offense.
Second year running back James Cook is coming off a pedestrian 46-yard game on 12 carries against that stout New York Jets defense, with defensive tackle Quinnen Williams plugging the interior– to state the obvious bluntly, the Raiders defense is not on the same level as the Jets’ defense. Take into consideration that James Cook had a burst run of 13 yards on Monday Night, and rookie offensive guard O’Cyrus Torrence earned a PFF run grade of 66.3, going primarily against Williams, this presents a huge problem for the Raiders interior, who were thrown around for the majority of the game vs. the Broncos.
If the Raiders’ defensive line does not tighten up, particularly with defending the run, James Cook can have a career day. Add on the potential of Josh Allen taking off on the ground, and this has the potential to be a disaster on Sunday, if not cleaned up.
MAXX CROSBY vs. SPENCER BROWN
One matchup where the Raiders have overwhelming advantage is at the edge vs. the Bills’ right tackle. Bills Mafia have lost sleep and sweat profusely while blurting expletives watching the performance of right tackle Spencer Brown for quite some time now. Expect it to continue Sunday, as he will match up primarily across Maxx Crosby for the entire game. Brown, in 66 snaps played vs. the Jets, earned an overall PFF grade of 55.7, and gave up a sack with five total pressures allowed– stats that should sound lucrative to Maxx Crosby. Moreover, in 2022, Brown earned an overall PFF grade of 51.4 while giving up 4 sacks and a whopping 42 pressures. Look for the Bills to stack that right side with two tight ends to slow down Crosby in obvious passing downs and throw screens to take advantage of Crosby, possibly being overly aggressive with the pass rush.
JOSH JACOBS EARLY AND OFTEN
To keep things short and sweet: The Raiders must establish the run game on Sunday, and the task lies solely on Josh Jacobs. Jacobs finished with a pedestrian 48 rushing yards on 19 carries, which will not be nearly enough for the Raiders to sustain drives and be effective with play action. Look for the Raiders to set the tone on offense, and hand the ball off to Jacobs 20-25 times in an effort to sustain long drives and keep the Bills’ dynamic offense off the field.
THE DOWN AND DIRTY
If the Raiders can stymie the Bills run game and put their offense in obvious passing downs, look for the Raiders to be aggressive with blitz packages to get Josh Allen rattled and make errant throws that can potentially lead to turnovers. Defensively, the Raiders should place a spy on Allen, who looks to take off with his feet often, rather than sitting in a shaky pocket with Spencer Brown on his right side.
Offensively, the Raiders should dial up Josh Jacobs early and often to keep the clock and chains moving– the least amount of possessions the Bills have on offense, the better. Bully Ball should be the objective for the Raiders, with Jimmy Garoppolo targeting the tight ends a lot more than last week. Play action and going vertical will be the end goal for the Raiders’ passing strategy.
I expect the Raiders to meet these expectations enough to steal a victory on the road Sunday. RAIDERS WIN 27-24.