The 3-0 Buffalo Bills travels to Nevada to take on the 2-1 Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. Both teams have been playing well, so it should be one of the most interesting matchups in this week 4 of the 2020 NFL season. Here is my look at the matchups between these two AFC playoff contenders:
Bills Offense vs. Raiders Defense
Despite some concerns with John Brown’s status after leaving last week’s game early with a calf problem, he practiced without any limitations on Friday and should be good to go on Sunday. With Dion Dawkins (shoulder) and Dawson Knox (concussion) also available, the Bills’ offense will be close to 100% on Sunday. The only question mark is rookie RB Zack Moss’s availability. Regardless, Devin Singletary has proven to be the more dynamic option and T.J. Yeldon did a nice job in limited snaps last week, providing Singletary a break.
Devin Singletary made the LB touch the turf 😲
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 27, 2020
They’re going to face a Las Vegas defense that has been struggling so far this year. It’s a unit that isn’t particularly good against the pass or run, and that hasn’t been getting the boost expected by its most valuable free agent signings, DT Maliek Collins and LB Cory Littleton. Both have been mediocre this year, and this unit is struggling to keep opposing offenses out of the endzone.
To make things even worse, rookie CB Damon Arnette will be out with a wrist injury. The Raiders have a capable pair of corners in Trayvon Mullen and Lamarcus Joyner. The former has been lights-out in press coverage this year, tallying three breakups and allowing just one completion on five passes thrown his way in this situation. The latter has been a good slot CB for a long time and could cause some problems for Cole Beasley.
The good news for the Raiders is the possible return of linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski. He only played in week one and has been out with a pectoral issue. He was a full participant yesterday, though, and is listed as questionable. Kwiatkowski is an important piece of the Raiders’ run defense.
By my count Nicholas Morrow and Nick Kwiatkoski are tied with 4 run stops a piece (3 yards or less OR short to gain on 3rd down). Kwiatkoski did that in 1 game. Safe to say Raiders run defense needs him back. pic.twitter.com/cUi6j2p5iq
— BD Williams (@BDWilliams18) September 29, 2020
Las Vegas’s defense doesn’t stand out in any department, and the same can be said about the pass rush. Former fourth overall pick Clelin Ferrell has improved but still isn’t near the level expected by a player drafted at this spot.
Clelin Ferrell is having a solid start to his sophomore NFL season. Through Week 3, here is where he ranks among all EDGE defenders:
– 74.7 overall grade (t-14th)
– 75.5 run defense grade (14th)
On the #Raiders:
– 5 pressures leads team
– 5 defensive stops tied for 3rd pic.twitter.com/For3y9uQsk
— PFF Las Vegas Raiders (@PFF_Raiders) October 2, 2020
Maxx Crosby is an interesting case. He seems like the opposite of Jerry Hughes. If Hughes’ sack numbers don’t tell you how good of a pass rusher he is, Crosby’s can fool you pretty easily, too.
Of course Maxx Crosby gets 2 sacks on 2 pressures 😅.
He now has 3 Pressures on 75 Pass Rush Snaps (4%), the least among any EDGE player with at least 70 Rush Snaps.
But is Tied for 14th In the league in Sacks.
— Marcus Whitman (@TFG_Football) September 29, 2020
After struggling against Aaron Donald and company last week, this should be a good opportunity for the Bills’ offensive line to rebound. It’ll be interesting to see if Brian Winters is kept in the starting lineup after a rough first game.
In general, the Raiders’ defense doesn’t seem like a group that can slow down Josh Allen the Bills’ offense. The reigning AFC player of the month will have a good opportunity to continue his MVP-like 2020 season, and Brian Daboll’s unit should be able to put up a lot of numbers on the board.
Biggest advantage: Talent level across the board
Reason for concern: Beating themselves against weaker competition
Bills Defense vs. Raiders Offense
The Bills’ defense hasn’t been the same in 2020. Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds’ injuries and one poor showing stopping the run/play action game against the talented and well-schemed Rams offense put Buffalo outside the top 15 defensive units in the league through three weeks. This is definitely far below Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier’s standards.
— Adam Hill (@AdamHillLVRJ) October 2, 2020
That’s why I expect a sound game by this unit on Sunday. It’s a group too well-coached and adapted to the schemes to struggle for long periods. They’re relatively healthy with the pair of linebackers fully recovered and CB Josh Norman, activated from the three-week IR, ready to make his debut as a Bill.
Norman’s presence should allow McDermott and Frazier to get creative with their coverage schemes. Despite not being an All-Pro anymore, the former Panther and Redskin knows this scheme inside and out.
The Raiders will be without their top two WRs, rookies Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards, injured. Former Buffalo Bill Zay Jones will try to prove his former team wrong on giving up, on him and the other primary receiver should be Hunter Renfrow, a guy more suited to play in the slot. These aren’t guys who will draw double teams, which will allow Buffalo to focus on TE Darren Waller.
Waller is the most dangerous weapon in Las Vegas’s passing game. He’s a total mismatch inside with his size and speed, and we saw how difficult it was for Buffalo to deal with Dolphins TE Mike Gesicki in week two. However, with Milano, Edmunds, and Norman healthy, McDermott and Frazier have several options to minimize Waller’s impact tomorrow. I could even see Tre’Davious White moving inside on clear passing situations to cover the athletic TE. Norman and Wallace should be able to deal with the uninspiring outside receivers in this scenario.
If Buffalo can put the Derek Carr-led Raiders on several third-and-long situations, then I really expect this to be the best defensive game by Buffalo this year. That’s been one area where Carr has struggled mightily, being extremely conservative in those situations. He isn’t afraid of throwing a check-down and needing to leave the field, and that plays directly into what Buffalo does best on defense: keeping things in front of them and then making the tackle.
John Gruden’s strategy to win this game should be based on what the Rams did so well last week: run the ball, open play action opportunities, and give Carr more manageable second and third-down situations. With Josh Jacobs in the backfield and a solid offensive line in his front, there’s no way Gruden starts this game airing it out.
Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson are two good and experienced interior offensive linemen, and Kolton Miller, a very good pass blocker, is a former first round pick at left tackle. Those are quality starters, but there holes in this unit. Rookie John Simpson has struggled so far, and Trent Brown, another good veteran, is listed as doubtful with a calf issue. Former Buffalo Bill Sam Young should start in his place and become another liability to be exploited.
It’ll be interesting to see how McDermott and Frazier adjust this defense to avoid the struggles against the run. They avoided playing base 4-3 versus the Rams, instead staying in nickel all game, and it didn’t work very well. Not allowing the Raiders running game to get going should be the key to winning this matchup.
Biggest adavantage: Bills DBs against Raiders WRs
Reason for concern: Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller combo
A lot of people are expecting a high-scoring game based on what these two teams have shown so far in 2020. I’m not so sure, though. I think Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense will have another good showing, but after a poor showing a week ago, I believe this Buffalo defense will come ready to make a statement. Jacobs has the ability to make things tougher, but I have Buffalo containing him and the Raiders’ offense, and the Bills’ offense guaranteeing the win away from home.
Prediction: Bills win 34-20