Both teams are 0-1 after three point losses on opening day. The Buffalo Bills lost to Jacksonville 13-10 while the Oakland Raiders fell to Pittsburgh 24-21. Here's a closer look at Sunday‘s matchup in Oakland:
Bills on offense: The Raiders' pass rush, a big problem area in recent years, generated very little pressure on Pittsburgh's Tommy Maddox, whose mobility will never be confused with Donovan McNabb. Buffalo's Drew Bledsoe still has a strong arm but has all the mobility of a statue. Oakland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's scheme features more blitzing than his predecessor, Chuck Bresnahan.
The Bills' line has underachieved despite the presence of 6-6, 370-pound tackle Mike Williams. That's all the more reason to blitz Bledsoe, otherwise he'll have ample time to find WR Eric Moulds and RB Travis Henry. Speaking of Henry, he will test the retooled Oakland defense in another aspect, run defense. The Raiders run defense, a massive problem last season, showed some progress against Pittsburgh, who has a fine running back in Duce Staley. Henry, however, is a much better player and continues to improve as a blocker and receiver but he has a tendency to fumble.
Raiders on offense: Oakland welcomes prized rookie offensive tackle Robert Gallery, who takes over for Langston Walker on the right side. Gallery showed last week that he is ready to start so why put off the inevitable? Oakland's effort to re-establish the ground-game did not get off to a good start. Granted, some of that had to do with falling behind 14-0 but 61 yards on 23 carries won't get it done. Running the ball will not be any easier this week as Buffalo's defensive line features DTs Sam Adams, a former Raider, and Pat Williams, two outstanding run-stuffers. The Bills boast a strong pair of LBs in London Fletcher (inside) and Takeo Spikes (outside).
Fletcher might not be in the category as say Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher but he's pretty solid while Spikes is a first-rate outside linebacker. The Raiders do not need a huge day running the ball but they need just enough production to take pressure off QB Rich Gannon, who silenced critics who insist he cannot throw the deep pass. Gannon connected with Doug Gabriel and Alvis Whitted for 58 and 38 yard scoring passes. The Bills feel that the acquisition of CB Troy Vincent gives them a strong set of cornerbacks to go along with Nate Clements.
Special teams: Very few teams can match or surpass the Raiders kicker-punter combination of Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler. Oakland also has an exciting return game in Phillip Buchanon on punts and potentially rookie Carlos Francis on kickoffs. The Raiders coverage units, a monumental problem last season, didn't make big plays against the Steelers but it didn't give up any either. For the Bills, Brian Moorman is not hugely behind Lechler and is a bright spot on special teams. K Rian Lindell is decent, however, missed a 42-yard field goal against Jacksonville.
Bottom line: These are two talented teams that can be tough to figure. The Bills have enough talent to squeeze out a wild-card berth or win the AFC East if Super Bowl champ New England slips. The Raiders also have enough talent to contend for a playoff spot. Oakland, however, made a lot of offseason moves that are gambles. One of these teams will fall to 0-2, not an impossible task to rebound from, but a challenging one nonetheless. Therefore, making Sunday a must-win for both clubs.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at email@example.com