After a thrilling 31-30 come from behind victory versus the division leading Kansas City Chiefs last Thursday the Oakland Raiders season has been saved, for now. The team’s core 3 star players Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Khalil Mack all played like they were the best players on the field. Carr bounced back from 3 dreadful performances and a back injury that cost him a game and a half to post 417 yards in the air, 3 TD’s including the game winner with zero time on the clock and no interceptions. Amari Cooper finally broke out of his year long slump posting 11 catches for 210 yards and 2 TD’s and it could have been more, he drew a pass interference call on another bomb from Carr that was good for 47 yards and he dropped a tough catch in the second quarter on another long toss from Carr.
For the first time this season offensive coordinator Todd Downing moved Cooper all over the field rather than just lining him up on the outside and it paid dividends. Cooper was a nightmare in the slot for opposing defenders on Thursday night where he caught 6 balls for 98 yards. Going forward Downing would be wise to continue moving number 89 around to create favorable mismatches Cooper can exploit. Mack of course was his usual Mack self, Macking pressure on the QB, Macking down any runs coming his way, and sharing in a key 3rd down Mack sack with Denico Autry that helped get Carr the ball back for his late game heroics. Mack has been Macking it up all year long, and continues to be the best player wearing silver and black game in and game out.
If the Raiders can get on a roll and carry that momentum into the next 2 road games this victory over division rival Kansas city may prove to be a signature win in what has been to date an up and down season. Make no mistake Oakland has a real challenge on their hands this coming week. Coming from first hand experience Buffalo is a tough place for the opposing team to play, its the one stadium I’ve been to more than any other in the league and I can tell you the rabid Bills fans make it extremely difficult on visiting teams. In addition to the noise of raucous Bill’s fans the Raiders will have to deal with the elements, New Era Stadium (formerly Ralph Wilson Stadium) is situated just outside of Buffalo on a plain in Orchard Park, and although it’s unlikely the Raiders will have to handle the cold temperatures normally associated with Buffalo they will have to deal with the swirling winds so often found there.
With Marshawn Lynch suspended for this game after leaving the bench and making contact with an official during a scrum between his cousin KC cornerback and Oakland native Marcus Peters and the Raiders offensive line after Peters delivered a late hit on Derek Carr the Raiders may have to rely on the passing game where Carr may have trouble with his deep passes, if you watched the game you saw how high he was chucking the ball on some of those bombs to Cooper, you’re not going to get away with those throws in Buffalo. Not only do the Raiders have to deal with a hostile crowd and difficult elements, they also have to face a Buffalo Bills (4-2) team that is ranked 4th in points allowed this year giving up a meager 16.8 points per game. Can the Raiders pull off a second straight win? Here are a couple of key matchups to look out for.
NaVorro Bowman vs. LeSean McCoy
It was a whirlwind week for the former four time All-Pro NaVarro Bowman, on Friday the 13th he was cut by the 49ers, on Monday he signs across the Bay in Oakland, and just 3 short days later he is the Raiders starting middle linebacker and wearing the green dot as designated play caller on defense. As noted by commentator Tony Romo and later confirmed by coach Jack Del Rio, assigning the green dot to the veteran actually helped in him getting the plays faster and having DC Ken Norton Junior in his ear the entire game
Bowman was up for the task, he led the team in tackles with 11, was especially solid in the run game and had a key pressure late in the fourth quarter where QB Alex Smith was forced to rush his pass which sailed wide to avoid a sack. Bowman and the entire rush defense will have a stiff test in ‘Shady’ McCoy, the five time pro-bowler is off to a bit of a slow start this year averaging only 3.4 yards per carry down from his career average of 4.6 yards per carry. He had a solid week last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he rushed for 92 yards and 2 scores, also adding 31yards on 5 receptions. Bowman is going to have to keep an eye on Shady all game as he is a threat in the run and pass catching game.
Jared Cook vs. Buffalo Secondary
TE Jared Cook had his first big game while wearing the silver and black last week as he made 6 catches for 106 yards, including a huge 4th and 11 grab on the final drive of the game and a 25 yard TD catch that after review the replay officials deemed he was down at the one which set up Carr’s “no time remaining” winning TD. The Carr to Cook connection could actually prove to be the mismatch of the game. Cook stands 6’5 and weighs 255lbs, and he runs routes like a WR while the Bills starting secondary’s average height is just under 6′ and slightly under 195 lbs. No one on the Bills secondary can match up to Cook physically, and with 4.49 speed Buffalo doesn’t have a linebacker they can line up against the big speedy tight end. If the offensive line gives Carr time in the pocket look for Cook to have another big game possibly hitting 100+yards receiving again, only this time maybe he gets a score.
Defensively if Oakland is able to contain dual threat QB Tyrod Taylor in a similar fashion they did week 1 with Marcus Mariota where they limited the Titans mobile QB to just 3 rushes for 24 yards the Raiders will be in good shape. If they can keep Shady to under 100 yards on the ground and less than 50 in receiving, they should do even better. I’m predicting last week was the start of something special on the offense where the Raiders figure out it is their passing game that sets up the run, that doesn’t mean Carr has to throw those 50+ yard bombs to win. Key will be to get the ball in his playmakers hand and let the combination of Cooper, Cook, Patterson, and Crabtree do their thing after the catch.
PREDICTION Raiders 24 Bills 20