Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills' game against the Oakland Raiders Sunday at New Era Field:
1. Find a way to pressure Derek Carr.
The Raiders have allowed only 13 sacks in seven games. They do a good job of minimizing hits on Carr. Therefore, the Bills, who rank 23rd in the league in sacks per pass play and have produced only 13 sacks on the season, need to do something to get Carr on the ground with the ball and generally make him uncomfortable in the pocket.
Jerry Hughes, Kyle Williams and Shaq Lawson have to be at the absolute top of their game.
The Bills sacked Jameis Winston only once in last Sunday's 30-27 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and had only six quarterback hits. For the most part, they were sending four rushers after him while keeping as many defenders in coverage as possible in hopes of forcing him to throw into tighter windows. The strategy did result in one interception and nearly two others, but Winston still managed to throw for 384 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bills can't afford to use a similar strategy against Carr, because he's more than capable of doing even more damage. They need to be aggressive about pressuring him while doing their best to confuse him by disguising coverages. The Raiders' lack of a running game should only enhance the Bills' ability to focus on rushing the passer.
2. Keep the deep completions by the Raiders to a minimum.
They're going to make them. It's what they do.
Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Jared Cook lead the Raiders with 29, 28 and 27 receptions, respectively, for a combined 1,000 yards.
The Bills enter the game with a banged-up secondary. Safety Jordan Poyer, arguably their most talented defensive back, suffered a knee injury last Sunday and could be sidelined for the Oakland game. Ditto for cornerback E.J. Gaines, who sustained a hamstring injury against Tampa Bay.
Picking up the slack won't be easy. Safety Micah Hyde will carry the brunt of the responsibility of providing help over the top to the cornerbacks. Tre'Davious White, who keeps beating himself up publicly for allowing big touchdown passes, has to put those plays behind him and focus on keeping Cooper in check as best he can.
3. Take advantage of another team with a vulnerable secondary.
The Bucs are awful when it comes to defending the pass, ranking 30th in the league. The Raiders aren't much better at 23th.
The Bills found an immediate difference-maker in newly acquired wide receiver Deonte Thompson, who seemingly could build on his strong start last Sunday because he has greater familiarity with the offense and will have better timing with Tyrod Taylor. Nick O'Leary and Logan Thomas showed they're more than capable of picking up the slack at tight end against the Bucs. Tight ends tend to find a good deal of room to operate in the middle of the Raiders' secondary.
Taylor had his best game of the season and one of the better ones of his career by completing 20 of 33 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown against Tampa Bay. He also did a good job of keeping the Bucs' defense off-balance by running six times for 53 yards, and should have plenty of opportunities to be effective using his legs against the over-pursuing Raiders' defensive front.
Ranked 25th in the league in sacks per pass play and with 12 sacks on the season, the Raiders haven't applied all that much heat on opponents.
4. Show that last Sunday's success running the ball was no fluke.
After making bye-week adjustments and with the return of Cordy Glenn at left tackle, the Bills showed impressive versatility with their run-blocking schemes against Tampa Bay. Besides the zone-blocking that offensive coordinator Rick Dennison incorporated this season, the Bills also had LeSean McCoy run some power plays that helped him rush for 91 yards, his highest total since he had 110 in the season-opener against the New York Jets.
Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, Vlad Ducasse and Jordan Mills all managed to win most of their one-on-one battles against the Buccaneers. That won't be as easy against defensive ends Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, as well as middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman. However, the Bills should still be able to open enough holes for McCoy and Mike Tolbert to be reasonably effective.
The Raiders rank 19th in the NFL against the run, so Bills have a chance to show that their 173-yard effort on the ground last Sunday is the beginning of a trend. And they'll need to do that in order to help open up their passing attack and also to slow down the tempo and help keep Carr and the Raiders' offense on the sidelines as much as possible.
5. Avoid an emotional letdown.
The Bills have a painful history of following a big, emotional win with a loss. It happened as recently as Week 5, when seven days after winning at Atlanta, they squandered a chance to build on it at Cincinnati.
In 2014, the Bills knocked off the Green Bay Packers at home, only to throw away whatever boost it might have provided by losing at Oakland a week later.