RT: Khalil Mack is a player that Bills fans are very familiar with due to his time at UB. By all accounts, he's a front runner for DROY. What are his greatest strengths and weaknesses to date?
CM: Rookie linebacker Khalil Mack has been every bit as advertised before the draft, and the Raiders are lucky that he fell to them at five-overall. He is technically sounds, so much so that he was the only rookie named to the 2014 USA Football All-Fundamentals Team.
He has been very strong against the run this year, leading 3-4 outside linebackers in overall run defense rating, run stop percentage, according to Pro Football Focus, and total number of defensive stops in run defense with 38. On top of that, the young linebacker also has 11 tackles for a loss against the run.
Despite just having three sacks on the season, he has used that strong bull rush of his to apply pressure to the quarterback According to Pro Football Focus, of all outside linebackers in 3-4 defenses, Mack is tied for third in QB hurries with 35 (tied with Dwight Freeney), following Justin Houston (51) and Ryan Kerrigan (38).
He does become too dependent on the bull rush, but more pass-rushing moves will develop with more time in the league. He will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come in the NFL.
RT: In the NFL, having a quality NFL starter at quarterback is a must for continuous success. How is Derek Carr playing in his rookie season?
CM: Derek Carr’s numbers aren’t always the best, but he has shown the ability to be a franchise quarterback for the Raiders. He is completing just under 60 percent of his pass attempts on the season, throwing for 2,898 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
He has a very strong arm, and lets the ball go quickly with his snappy release. The problem is sometimes he will trust his arm a little too much, looking to squeeze the ball into a tough spot. He is a very confident player.
Carr is also a hard-worker, often the first one in the facility and the last one out. He keeps notebooks on every defensive coordinator he plays against, that way he can learn from mistakes in the future.
Another weakness of his is when he gets pressured in the pocket, he tends to backpedal away from the line of scrimmage and then throw it off of his back foot. This is part of his technique that he and coaches have been working on to fix.
The main problem for Carr this year is the lack of offensive weapons, which will only help the young quarterback in the future. It’s actually pretty incredible to think about the success he has had this season, given the lack of weapons and ineptness of the running game.
RT: Oakland is ranked 32nd in rush yards per game, but Latavius Murray has emerged in Oakland. Why wasn't Murray given a chance earlier in the season and how many touches do you expect him to get against the Bills?
CM: This is a question that many of us have wondered while covering this team. It’s not like they really knew what they had in Murray, given he was on IR last year and received little work in training camp and preseason this year.
He did have a little bit of trouble with pass protection at times, but there’s no doubt that the offense looks more explosive with him in it this season, as opposed to Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Murray runs hard and has deceiving speed for how big of a back he is. He is similar to the other backs in the sense that he can catch the ball out of the backfield too, so there’s no great excuse for him not being on the field sooner.
RT: Defensively, the Raiders are having trouble stopping the run. Buffalo hasn't had a running back go over 100 yards in a game this season, but feature three backs on average (Fred Jackson, Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown). C.J. Spiller could also return this week. Is there a certain type of back that has more success against Oakland?
CM: It really depends on which Raiders defense shows up on Sunday. They have a lot of trouble defending against bruising backs, as we saw with Rams running back Tre Mason.
The Raiders defenders can get lackadaisical in tackling, which allows the bigger running backs to break their arm tackles and extend the drive.
If you look at the running backs that have found success against the Silver & Black this year, a lot of them have decent size. On the other hand, the Raiders have done a decent job containing speedy backs like Jamaal Charles.
RT: Khalif Barnes will have to go against Mario Williams on Sunday. What can you tell me about Barnes as a blocker?
CM: Tony Sparano might be having nightmares about this matchup, especially after the way Khalif Barnes played last week against the Chiefs.
Barnes tends to get on the bad side of Raider Nation, much because of the pre-snap penalties he commits.
The fact is, Barnes is a decent blocker and brings versatility to the Raiders offensive line where they need it. He has lined up as a guard and the right tackle this season.
The Raiders will have to use some quick drops, delayed handoffs and screens in order to try and slow down Williams and the Bills pass rush. If not, it could be a long day for Barnes.