Surging Bills try to bully Raiders in home opener
Fresh off their most impressive performance in quite some undefeated Oakland Raiders, who'll be making the long trip to Ralph Wilson Stadium in search of their best beginning to a season in nine years.
With just one winning season over the past 11 years and a playoff drought that's gone on since 1999, Bills fans haven't had a whole lot to cheer about as of late. That wasn't the case in the team's first outing of the 2011 campaign, however, with Buffalo putting forth a dominating display that resulted in a 41-7 dismantling of defending AFC West champion Kansas City this past Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Bills excelled in nearly every phase in delivering their most lopsided victory since routing San Francisco by the same score near the end of the 2004 season. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw four touchdown passes in an almost- flawless showing under center, while a much-maligned defense limited the sputtering Chiefs to 213 total yards and forced three turnovers which were converted into 17 points.
The easy win was the strongest sign yet that Buffalo appears to be turning the corner under Chan Gailey. After losing the first eight games of the second- year head coach's initial season at the helm, the Bills have gone 5-4 since ending that skid.
Oakland is also on a bit of an upswing after several years of frustrating outcomes. The Raiders ended a string of seven straight seasons of double-digit defeats with an 8-8 finish a year ago, then gave the Hue Jackson era a positive start by coming through with Monday's 23-20 triumph over longtime rival Denver.
A win this weekend would give Oakland its first 2-0 record out of the chute since the Silver and Black ripped off four straight victories to begin the 2002 season, a year in which the Raiders advanced to Super Bowl XXXVII and stands as the last time the franchise reached the playoffs.
"It would mean a ton to this football team, so that's the plan," said Jackson, who served as Oakland's offensive coordinator in 2010 before taking over for the fired Tom Cable in January. "We're not going with any other plan other than that. We understand what the situation is. We know we have to travel, we know we're going back East, we know we're playing a team that is 1-0 also, and a team that played very well in Kansas City."
The Raiders had their moments as well in Monday's disposing of the Broncos, with running back Darren McFadden and kicker Sebastian Janikowski providing most of the highlights.
McFadden headed up a potent Oakland ground game by ripping off 150 yards on 22 carries against Denver, while Janikowski booted three first-half field goals that included an NFL record-tying 63-yarder just prior to intermission.
The Raiders will now try to maintain that momentum on a short week and having to make a cross-country voyage in the hopes of reversing their recent run of misfortune when stepping outside of AFC West play. Monday's besting of the Broncos was Oakland's eighth consecutive win over a divisional opponent, but the team has lost 11 of its last 13 matchups against all other foes.
The Raiders hold a 19-16 lead in their all-time set with Buffalo, though the Bills halted a string of four straight defeat to Oakland by rallying for a 24-23 triumph at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008, with kicker Rian Lindell's last-second field goal providing the winning margin. The Raiders hadn't lost to the Bills since 1998 prior to that defeat, and left Buffalo with victories in both 1999 and 2002 over the course of their above-noted series win streak.
Buffalo does own an advantage on the Raiders in postseason play, having taken both previous playoff matchups between the clubs. The most notable of the pair was the Bills' 51-3 shellacking at Ralph Wilson Stadium in the 1990 AFC Championship, and Buffalo also produced a 29-23 home win over Oakland in a 1993 AFC Divisional tilt.
Gailey is 0-1 lifetime against Oakland, having lost to the Raiders in 1998 while then at the helm of the Dallas Cowboys. Jackson will be opposing both Buffalo and Gailey for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
One of the NFL's top rushing teams in 2010, the Raiders used a ball-control approach that proved to be effective against the Broncos, and that could very well be the plan again on Sunday. Buffalo was the league's worst in defending the run last season, plus Oakland will come into the contest rather banged up in the receiving department, with speedster Jacoby Ford (3 receptions last week) doubtful to play after straining his hamstring on Monday and fellow wideout Louis Murphy to miss a second straight week with a groin injury. Tight end Kevin Boss also sat out Monday's win with a sprained knee and is questionable to return against the Bills, while wide receiver Darrius-Heyward Bey's (4 receptions) status is also uncertain after he hurt his knee in Thursday's practice. Luckily, Oakland does have a healthy McFadden, who racked up 150 of the team's 190 rushing yards versus Denver and doubles as a dangerous outlet out of the backfield for quarterback Jason Campbell, who played more of a caretaker role in Week 1 by attempting just 22 passes and managing 105 yards with one touchdown and no turnovers. The Raiders averaged 155.9 yards per game on the ground last year, behind only Kansas City for tops in the league.
Stopping the opposition from running at will was a major problem for the 2010 Bills, with the defense permitting a porous 169.6 rushing yards per game over the 16-game schedule. Buffalo was able to hold the Chiefs' potent ground attack to a respectable 108 yards last week, however, though that low figure was in part due to Kansas City playing from behind most of the way while faced with a sizeable deficit. Still, the additions of talented rookie end Marcell Dareus and free-agent linebacker Nick Barnett (4 tackles, 1 PD) were viewed as upgrades to the front seven, while strong safety George Wilson (5 tackles) is a physical player who can also be an asset in run support. The Bills are better equipped to shut down the pass, with cornerbacks Drayton Florence (2 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PD) and Leodis McKelvin (3 tackles, 1 PD) spearheading an effort that held the punchless Chiefs to a paltry 105 net yards through the air in the opener. The secondary will be without veteran corner Terrence McGee for a few weeks after he injured his hamstring last Sunday, which will offer an extended opportunity for 2011 second-round pick Aaron Williams (3 tackles) as a slot defender in nickel situations.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Buffalo showed very good balance on offense during its Week 1 rout of the Chiefs, with Fitzpatrick hitting on a sharp 17-of-25 passes for 208 yards in addition to his four scoring strikes and unheralded running back Fred Jackson weaving his way to a 20-carry, 112-yard day on the ground. Even the offensive line, considered a real area of concern heading into the season after undergoing a lot of tinkering during training camp, did its part, yielding just one sack and consistently keeping Kansas City's pass rushers at bay. The Bills' receiving corps offers few recognizable names other than 2010 standout Steve Johnson, who hauled in four Fitzpatrick throws for 66 yards and a touchdown in the opener, but second-year pro David Nelson (4 receptions, 66 yards) had a productive afternoon out of the slot last week and tight end Scott Chandler -- who came into the season with one reception in 13 career games -- finished with a team-high five grabs for 63 yards and two touchdowns. Fitzpatrick's 133.0 passer rating for the game was a career best and topped all NFL quarterbacks in Week 1.
Oakland's defense played extremely well in Monday's victory, stifling Denver's attempts to establish a running game all throughout the evening while relentlessly harassing quarterback Kyle Orton, who was sacked five times and forced into several errant throws under the Raiders' heavy rush. Six-time Pro Bowl tackle Richard Seymour (3 tackles) led the onslaught by registering a pair of sacks, while fellow interior plugger Tommy Kelly (2 tackles, 1 sack) and playmaking linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (3 tackles) were routinely in Orton's face as well. Perhaps more encouraging, however, was the 38 rushing yards on 13 attempts Oakland allowed over the course of the game, as the team has ranked 29th or worse in run defense in each of the last four seasons. A secondary that lost perennial All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency during the offseason did give up 272 net passing yards to the Broncos and will likely be without versatile free safety Michael Huff (3 tackles) this week after the former first-round pick injured his groin on Monday. Journeyman Matt Giordano (3 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PD) did come up with an interception of Orton after taking over, but isn't as proficient in coverage.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Running the football. There's little question that Oakland wants to play smash-mouth and get the dynamic McFadden as many touches as possible, and a Buffalo defense that was terrible in that department last season still needs to show it can prevent the Raiders from having their way on the ground. Oakland rushed for 173 yards or more six times in 2010, and won every one of those contests. On the other side, the Bills have been a much more formidable team when Fred Jackson puts up big numbers, having amassed a 7-1 record whenever the running back eclipses the 100-yard mark.
Neutralizing the Raiders' pass rush. If Oakland is able to keep Buffalo's running game in check like it did to Denver's last week, the defense could have a field day against the Bills' still-unproven front line when Fitzpatrick drops back to pass. Buffalo protected the quarterback very well in the opener, but the Raiders' rushers are a considerably tougher group than that of Kansas City's, making it all the more important that Fred Jackson can do some damage carrying the ball.
Special teams. If this game is close near the end, Oakland could have a big advantage in Janikowski, a legitimate threat from well beyond 50 yards out and a far more consistent kicker than he was earlier in his career, while eight- time All-Pro punter Shane Lechler is always a weapon in the field-position battle with his booming kicks. The Raiders' coverage units need to be better, though, after giving up a 90-yard punt return touchdown to Denver's Eric Decker last week, as Buffalo has several dangerous returners on the roster in Brad Smith, C.J. Spiller and Roscoe Parrish.
This could be a tough spot for the Raiders, who'll be flying some 2,300 miles- plus with one less day of preparation and recovery after playing their opener on Monday, and the Bills certainly appear to be in good form right now judging by their Week 1 result. However, it's still up for debate as to whether two of Buffalo's most prominent weaknesses from last season -- an inability to stop the run or adequately protect the passer -- have yet to be truly resolved. Running the football and pressuring the quarterback just happen to be two of Oakland's greatest areas of strength, and those inherent advantages could provide the difference in what figures to be a close game that will likely come down to a handful of key plays.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Raiders 19, Bills 17