A super-quick release and a protective offensive scheme make it hard to force Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr into big mistakes.
Carr was the least-sacked quarterback in the NFL last season, even though the Raiders attempted the ninth most passes in the league. Carr's career sack rate is sixth lowest in NFL history. He gets taken down just 3.99 percent of his pass attempts.
Carr also is great at avoiding interceptions. Granted, he's only four years into his career. But his INT rate is tied for second best among active passers, just behind Drew Brees and tied with Tom Brady.
The Buffalo Bills' defense, which has thrived on big plays this season, has a challenge Sunday in trying to rush the Raiders' franchise QB into making mistakes.
Take note of Carr's throwing motion, the way his wrist snaps as he releases the ball, at New Era Field. It's impressive. And he embraces the value of his quick release.
"If I can get the ball out of my hands, it’s easier on the line," Carr said before the season. "They don’t have to work as hard, even though they work their tail off. They don’t have to work as long. Running backs don’t have to hold up in protection as long. Tight ends, same thing. The more that we can be around each other, just the better. The better the little things get. Like getting the ball out quicker."
The Raiders' offensive tackles are big and not especially light-footed. It rarely matters. Most of the time the Raiders are using a spread formation, Carr is taking three-step drops and getting rid of the ball.
When Carr takes deeper drops, Oakland often is keeping an extra player in to protect.
Great Middle Three: The Dallas Cowboys are widely viewed as having the best offensive line in the NFL. The Raiders' group just might be No. 2. The middle three of left guard Kelechi Osemele, center Rodney Hudson and right guard Gabe Jackson is great. Osemele is a nasty finisher. He's Oakland's best lineman.
The defenses that have had the best success against the Raiders (Washington and San Diego, in particular) have been able to get a little push up the middle. Jackson can be bull-rushed at times.
The Bills need good performances from defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.
AFC scouts we talked to say you want to get the feet of those beefy linemen moving. That means running some stunts and twists and some zone pressures in which they have to adjust to who's rushing.
Osmele and Hudson both made the Pro Bowl last season, and so did left tackle Donald Penn. (It was the first time the Raiders had three Pro Bowl linemen since 1977, when Art Shell, Gene Upshaw and Dave Dalby all made it.)
The weak link on the O-line is at right tackle, where Marshall Newhouse has struggled with speed rushers. He missed the last game with a foot injury and was replaced by Vadal Alexander, also a liability. The Bills may want to move Jerry Hughes over the that side of the line.
The 30,000-foot view: The Raiders will relocate to Las Vegas in either 2019 or 2020. Construction on a $1.9 billion stadium in Las Vegas is set to begin in two weeks. The Raiders are getting $750 million in public money in Nevada, and the new dome will be ready in 2020. Whether the team plays in a college stadium in Las Vegas in 2019 remains uncertain.
Despite the move, Raiders owner Mark Davis so far is not facing a bitter, angry, lame-duck fan base in the Bay Area. The team sold out all of its 53,250 season tickets in May. Pro Football Talk reported that only about 1,000 fans requested refunds after the move was announced. It helps that the Raiders are a title contender. The atmosphere for last Thursday's home win vs. Kansas City was electric in the 52-year-old Oakland coliseum. Davis doesn't deserve that kind of blind loyalty. But he's getting it.
Game-breaker: Khalil Mack. The pride of the University at Buffalo is even better than Denver's Von Miller because he plays with even more force against the run. Forget about trying to run outside zone stretch plays in Mack's direction. He just blows it up. You'd think teams would be able to hit some screen passes in his direction, but that's dangerous too. He intercepted a screen against Carolina last year and took it for a touchdown. Mack's bull rush is just as frightening as his ability to win with a NASCAR speed move. Against the Chiefs, he pushed the right tackle back into the quarterback with a right-arm-only bull rush. In the past two-plus seasons Mack has 30.5 sacks and is averaging 5.36 pressures a game (from Profootballfocus). Miller has 31.5 sacks and averages 5.16 pressures a game.
Weak link: Coverage linebackers. San Francisco benched four-time All-Pro Navorro Bowman in Week 5 and then released him. He was signed by Oakland and played 60 snaps against Kansas City on just three days of practice. That tells you the state of the Raiders' inside linebacking corps. Bowman, 29, is a smart run defender who's range has slipped. Next to him at right inside backer will be either Cory James or Nicholas Morrow. Tight ends for Denver and San Diego had some success against the Raiders. The Bills need to use the tight ends and backs out of the backfield to get the inside backers in space.
Checkdown or touchdown: Here's another illustration of how Carr gets the ball out of his hands. He stands 27th among active passers in yards per completion at 10.6. He's eighth among active passers in touchdown percentage.
Stat for the road: Raiders back Jalen Richard took his first carry as a rookie last year 75 yards for a TD, the longest first career rushing attempt in NFL history. The Raiders won't miss Marshawn Lynch, suspended for this game. Richard, 5-foot-8 and 207, has looked better than Lynch. Richard was undrafted out of Southern Mississippi despite rushing for 1,098 yards and 14 TDs as a senior. None of the national draftniks had him rated among the top 35 backs in the 2016 draft. He's averaging 4.5 yards a carry this season.