Top players to watch in Raiders' Week 8 matchup vs Bills
Who to watch
BUFFALO – The Raiders snapped a four-game losing streak against Kansas City with a performance that recalled last season’s magic touch. A crazy fourth-quarter comeback can be remembered two ways: 1. As a fun Thursday night in Oakland, or 2. The start of something special. We’ll know soon enough, especially by how they play Sunday at Buffalo.
The Bills are surprisingly good, with a rock solid defense and just enough offense to make victories stand. The Raiders are the opposite, which should make for an interesting Week 8 matchup. Here are 10 guys vital to the outcome.
10. OLB Lorenzo Alexander
Alexander wasn’t a Raider long. The Oakland native and Cal alum played just one season in silver and black but made a huge impact – on special teams. Alexander reinvented himself in Buffalo, transforming from kick coverage ace to pass-rush demon with 12.5 sacks last year. He’s back on the hunt in 2017, and the Raiders must be mindful of him flying off the edge opposite Jerry Hughes. Offensive tackles must be on point to keep Derek Carr clean.
9. NT Justin Ellis
The Louisiana Tech alum is playing a larger role than before. Ellis slimmed down this offseason and became a more agile run defender capable of playing longer productive stretches. He has been solid in the middle this year, and must hold the point of attack and shroud the interior against a feisty Bills run game featuring LeSeasn McCoy. Ellis has proven capable of that in recent weeks.
8. MLB NaVorro Bowman
We all know about Bowman’s surprising performance against Kansas City, when he had a team-high 11 tackles just three days after signing with the Raiders. He did all that without intimate knowledge of the Raiders scheme. His comfort has grown with another practice week, meaning Bowman could provide a key presence against the run. While many say he’s lost a step due to injury, Bowman remains a smart, sure tackler excellent between the tackles. He played most every snap last week. Expect him to do it again in Buffalo.
7. CB Shareece Wright
The Bills ruled quality cornerback E.J. Gaines out of Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. That’s a big deal for Buffalo’s defense. Reserve Shareece Wright should see significant snaps despite giving up 15 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown on 20 targets this season. The Bills secondary is stout, with Micah Hyde’s NFL-best four interceptions and rookie cornerback Tre-Davious Wright’s ball skills. Having Wright on the field could create a juicy matchup against Amari Cooper or Michael Crabtree the Raiders could exploit.
6. WR Amari Cooper
The Alabama snapped an early-season funk with 11 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns against the Chiefs. He ran excellent routes, caught important passes and gained significant yards after the catch. In other words, he was vintage Cooper. Now the reigning AFC offensive player of the week must flash again. Cooper is the team’s best skill player, hands down. The Raiders offense hits high gear when he’s going strong. A few early Derek Carr-Cooper connections could set the tone for another offensive explosion.
5. RBs Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington
Marshawn Lynch won’t play the team a Bills team that drafted him back in 2007. He’s suspended one game for unsportsmanlike conduct. That leaves Richard and Washington to pick up the slack. It’s well documented they have similar size, stature and running style, but both guys consider themselves complete back. Washington can smash some inside, and Richard has another gear. Head coach Jack Del Rio says the give the offense extra juice, especially in spread formations where the Raiders thrived last week. Lynch’s power presence is gone. It’ll be key for these two (and fullback Jamize Olawale) to keep the run game going strong.
4. QB Tyrod Taylor
Taylor’s passing stats won’t wow, but his speed certainly does. The agile quarterback is the team’s second-leading rusher, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. He’s a real danger throwing on the run, biding time for receivers to make big play. He doesn’t throw much but completes a high percentage, handles pressure well and doesn’t give the ball away. He has seven touchdowns and just two interceptions this year. Putting him under heavy pressure inside and out can force bad decisions and possibly give the Raiders their first interception this year.
3. Khalil Mack
Mack played college football at the University of Buffalo. He hasn’t been interested in discussing a return to his college town, the site where he trained so much as a pro. He’s focused on playing well for his team, something that must happen for the Raiders to emerge victorious. He gave Taylor hits in last year’s meeting, with a sack and six other pressures. Mack also ranks high among the NFL’s best edge run defenders, and must do well driving McCoy back into traffic.
2. LeSean McCoy
McCoy’s rushing stats aren’t great. He’s averaging 3.4 yards per carry and has just two touchdowns all year. Don’t let the numbers fool you. He’s as slippery and dangerous as ever. He killed the Raiders last season, though the Raiders ultimately won, with 130 yards on 17 carries and seven receptions for 61 more. He’s versatile and excellent in the open field, with an elusive style than troubles the Raiders run defense. The Silver and Black will put significant effort toward slowing McCoy, the Buffalo’s offensive MVP. The Raiders must hinder his efficiency and stay away from explosive runs to have a good day on defense.
1. QB Derek Carr
The Raiders franchise quarterback was at his MVP-caliber best against Kansas City, with 417 yards, three touchdowns a vital fourth-quarter comeback. Carr is this team’s unquestioned leader, and his play gives the entire squad confidence. He carried a different vibe against Kansas City, slinging the ball downfield and taking yards in chunks. He let playmakers do their thing, even when covered. That has to continue against Buffalo. The offense seemed timid during a four-game losing streak, where Carr didn’t throw downfield much before or after injuring his back. He looked great taking calculated risks against K.C., and must play that way again in Buffalo for the Raiders offense to stay hot.