Both the Buffalo Bills and the Oakland Raiders put on a pair of dominating performances in Week 1. Both teams opened the 2011 campaign with important road victories and neither team could’ve asked for a better start to the sesaon. But around 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, there will only be room for one team to run their record to 2-0 and you can believe both teams are aiming to squash any lingering good vibes and feeling that may be left over from last week.
Buffalo is coming off maybe the biggest surprise win of the entire weekend. The Bills entered rough and tough territory in Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Armed the league’s 32nd ranked run defense, the faced an uphill battle against the NFL’s reigning top ranked rushing offense. All the Bills did was limit the Chiefs to only 18 carries, hold top rusher Jamaal Charles to 56 yards and put the Chiefs in chase mode on the opening kick off with the end result being a 41-7 thrashing of the Chiefs. Buffalo forced a turnover on the kickoff and it was all gravy after that. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for a career-high four touchdowns. Fred Jackson outshined Charles with 112 rushing yards and the beleagured offensive line kept Fitzpatrick’s jersey relatively clean. The Bills forced three turnovers and even got production from the tight end position for the first time in nearly two years.
The challenge for Buffalo is to duplicate a similar game plan and effort in their home opener inside Ralph Wilson Stadium. But that won’t be the only challenge on Sunday afternoon.
Making his first ever NFL start on opening day, Fitzpatrick made it a memorable outing, finishing 17-of-25 for 208 yards and four touchdown passes to Scott Chandler (2), Steve Johnson and Donald Jones. Fitzpatrick’s partner in crime in the Buffalo backfield, Fred Jackson, made quite a statement. During the preseason there were rumblings and grumblings about the potential of C.J. Spiller becoming the starter and whether or not Jackson would hang around in Buffalo much longer. But Jackson showed why he’s the team’s starting tailback. Fueled by heart, hustle and determination Jackson went for 112 yards on 20 carries balancing out the Buffalo offensive attack and collecting his eighth 100-yard rushing game.
For just the second time in the last 17 games, the Buffalo defense held an opponent to under 10 points. The Bills did it once in 2010 holding the Cleveland Browns to just six points in their Week 14 victory. Buffalo’s offense did a great job supporting their defense. By jumping out to leads of 14-0 and 20-0, the Bills took the Chiefs completely out of their comfort zone and had to rely on trying to attack the Bills through the air. Case in point: Jamaal Charles didn’t have his ninth carry of the game until the fourth quarter and had just three rushes after halftime. The Bills’ safeties were the top three tackles for Buffalo in the game led by Bryan Scott’s nine tackles and one sack.
So the Bills jumped out to a big lead, choked off the Chiefs’ rushing attack, converted 7-of-14 third downs and won the turnover margin 3-0. If they can generate that type of formula for 15 more Sundays, it’ll be a pretty special season. But staying even keel and remaining level headed, this is the NFL we’re talking about and you’re relevant one week and banished to obscurity the next, and the Oakland Raiders aren’t stepping off the plan in Western New York with any plans of laying down or rolling over.
Oakland kicked off their season in pretty much the same fashion they did in 2010: by beating up on their division. The Raiders went 6-0 versus the rest of the AFC West and they made it seven in a row on Monday Night Football outlasting Denver 23-20. Now, the Raiders invade Buffalo in search of their first 2-0 start in nine seasons. The last time Oakland began the season with two straight wins was 2002. Ironically that was the last time the Raiders made the playoffs, going all the way to the Super Bowl.
Since 2002, the lid has been on the box for the Raiders with a influx of five head coaches and a plethora of head scratching decisions from owner Al Davis over the past nine seasons. Raiders head coach Hue Jackson has stated he wants the Raiders to get back to being the bullies on the block and that proclamation rang true this past Monday night. Oakland dominated both lines of scrimmage. They ran the football down the throats of the Broncos for a total of 190 yards, thanks largely to Darren McFadden. The Broncos had no answers for McFadden, who rushed for 150 yards on 22 carries with a whopping 6.8 yards per carry average. Oakland’s defense constricted Denver’s running game allowing just 38 yards on 13 carries and limited Denver to just two rushing first downs, a huge step forward for a team that finished the NFL 29th in rushing defense in 2010 allowing 148.7 yards per game on the ground.
The Raiders finished with four sacks, two from defensive tackle Richard Seymour. Oakland’s defensive front seven will be a big test for Buffalo’s offensive line. Literally. Defensive ends Lamarr Houston, Jarvis Moss and Matt Shaughnessy stand at least 6′ 3″ with Moss leading the way at 6′ 7″. Oakland’s trio of defensive tackles Seymour, Tommy Kelly and John Henderson stand 6′ 6″, 6′ 6″ and 6′ 7″ respectively and average 315 pounds. Linebackers Rolando McClain and Kamerion Wimbley provide the backbone of the Raiders’ front seven. Not exactly light matchups for the Bills’ offensive line that impressed a week ago against Kansas City’s defense and sack specialist Tamba Hali, limiting Hali to just one sack and a relatively uneventful afternoon.
The Bills passing offense needs to be sharp and take advantage of a Nnamdi Asomugha-less secondary for the first time in years in Oakland, while the Raiders will continue to stick to their bread and butter of ground and pound, pound and ground with emerging star tailback Darren McFadden. Buffalo will look to do exactly what they did a week ago in Kansas City: take advantage and create turnovers, build up a lead and force the Raiders to beat you with the pass and abandon the run.
At the end of the day, there’s only room for one team to begin to shred the loser label and jump off to a 2-0 start in 2011.