For one week, the quarterbacking gauntlet the Buffalo Bills have faced will be on hold.
There won’t be a Hall-of-Famer-in-waiting on the other side of the line when the Bills’ defense takes the field Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. That challenge resumes on Dec. 28, when the Bills close the regular season against New England’s Tom Brady.
In between, they get to deal with a rookie, Derek Carr, who is performing the way most first-time starters in the NFL perform. He ranks near the bottom of the league with a passer rating of 76.9, well below the 111.2 of last week’s opponent, top-ranked Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay, and the 106.4 of the legend the Bills faced the previous week, third-ranked Peyton Manning of Denver.
Yet, even after doing plenty to make life miserable for Manning and Rodgers, Buffalo’s defenders know they cannot afford to take Carr lightly.
“You definitely can’t sleep on him,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “Carr is a good quarterback. He’s hot and he’s going to be a great quarterback in this league. He’s learning. He’s a young guy and, of course, he made some mistakes – rookie mistakes like we all do. So you have a guy like that back there who has potential, you never know what you’re going to get.”
The Bills’ goal will be the same against Oakland as it has been against every quarterback they’ve faced this season: force the offense to rely heavily on passing, thus increasing the chances for their ferocious pass rush to get to the quarterback.
They realize it’s vital to do everything they can to take him out of his comfort zone.
“He’s actually made a few checks at the line of scrimmage to where he reads the defense pretty well,” safety Aaron Williams said. “We have to mix up our disguises and the coverage and mess around with him pre-snap.”
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett points out that, when it comes to the Raiders’ defense, no one should be fooled by Oakland’s 2-12 record.
“It’s funny, we’ve had eight games against top-10 defenses,” Hackett said. “So then, obviously, with the Oakland Raiders, with their record, you’re like, ‘OK, hey, we’ll be fine.’ Then you put the tape on and you’re like, ‘Oh, wait, they’re still in that top half,’ ” eighth against the pass, “and they’ve got this Khalil Mack guy.
“He’s been awesome. He’s fast, he’s quick, he plays multiple areas. He’ll play linebacker, he’s rushing all the time to create a five-man rush, so there’s going to be a lot of one-on-one blocks. He’s very disruptive.”
The Bills on Friday activated running back C.J. Spiller, making him eligible to play Sunday for the first time since he suffered a broken collarbone against Minnesota on Oct. 19.
“We’ve missed him,” Hackett said of Spiller.
Although coach Doug Marrone stopped short of committing to make Spiller active to face the Raiders, he was encouraged by what he saw from him through the week of practice.
“Just basically the conditioning factor, the football conditioning factor,” the coach said. “Just where he is and giving him the reps and seeing if he has a good feel for what’s going on. We’ll have to make a decision, obviously, the health is there and then we’ll have to make a decision whether he gives us the best chance to win.”
Spiller is listed as probable for the Raiders’ game, along with safeties Duke Williams (concussion) and Da’Norris Searcy (hamstring), running back Anthony Dixon (chest), kicker Dan Carpenter (groin), returner Marcus Thigpen (foot), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (shoulder), and defensive end Jarius Wynn (knee).
Tight end Chris Gragg (knee) is questionable.