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Weekend Look Ahead

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7 things to watch for in Bills at Raiders | Week 4

Josh Allen (top right) has a chance to join Steve Young (top left) and Peyton Manning (top middle) as the only players to start a season with four consecutive 300-yard/two touchdown games. Devin Singletary (bottom left), Raiders coach Jon Gruden (bottom middle) and Raider TE Darren Waller (bottom right) will all play a key role in Sunday's game.
Josh Allen (top right) has a chance to join Steve Young (top left) and Peyton Manning (top middle) as the only players to start a season with four consecutive 300-yard/two touchdown games. Devin Singletary (bottom left), Raiders coach Jon Gruden (bottom middle) and Raider TE Darren Waller (bottom right) will all play a key role in Sunday's game.

1. Points aplenty

Much like last week's game against the Rams, this week's matchup features a pair of teams big on putting up points. The Bills (31 ppg) are one of six NFL clubs averaging 30 points per game or more through the first three weeks of the 2020 season.

The other are the Packers (40.7), Seahawks (37), Ravens (30.3), Chiefs (30.3) and Falcons (30). That's tied for the fourth-most teams in a single season through Week 3.

The Raiders are no slouches either as they rank eighth in the league in scoring with a 29.3 points per game average.

It stands to reason that Sunday's game could again be a high-scoring affair in Las Vegas.

A final note on the league's point production thus far this season. In only two NFL seasons have there been six teams that have averaged at least 30 points through their first four games of a season, and 2020 has a chance to join or surpass them.

2. The quest for 300

This is not about the battle of Thermopylae in the movie with Leonidas and the gang, unless you want to put Josh Allen in the leading role. If Allen can throw for at least 300 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns on Sunday at Las Vegas, he'll become just the third player in NFL history with at least 300 passing yards and two touchdown passes in each of his team's first four games.

The other members of that group? Hall of Famer Steve Young (six games in 1998) and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning (five games in 2013).

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has stated multiple times that he implicitly trusts Josh with his decision making, but is quick to remind outside observers that Allen's production is a function of the quarterback being in sync with his receiving corps.

"Offensively, I think he has a good grasp of what we do," said Daboll of Allen. "We try to tailor things to his strengths as best we can, as a coaching staff. But he's got other pieces that are helping. It's a group effort."

This Sunday, Allen, with at least 300 passing yards and a passer rating of 100-or-higher, can additionally become the second quarterback in NFL history to accomplish that in each of his team's first four games of a season joining Peyton Manning. Manning did it in five season-opening games in 2013.

3. A run game opportunity?

Buffalo's rushing attack looked as though it took another step last week against the Rams as Devin Singletary averaged 5.5 yards per carry and as a team the Bills managed 4.8 yards per rush.

Thus far this season, the Raiders defense has found it difficult to stop any opponent's rushing attack. In fact, Las Vegas' run defense has only gotten worse with each passing week.

They gave up 4.3 yards per carry to Carolina in Week 1, 5.9 yards per carry to New Orleans in Week 2 and a disturbing 6.6 yards per carry to New England in Week 3.

The Patriots rolled up 250 yards on the ground against the Raiders last week.

Part of the problem is their starting middle linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski has been out of the lineup the last two weeks with a pectoral injury and weak side linebacker Cory Littleton has been slowed by a knee injury.

Whether those two starting linebackers will both be healthy enough to start on Sunday remains to be seen, but the Raiders have given up twice as many rushing touchdowns this season as passing touchdowns, and on average they're giving up almost 164 rushing yards per game.

4. Raiders a nicked up bunch

Las Vegas has had a tough time reducing their numbers on their injured list. Ten players on their injury report were either limited or non-participants this week with six others working their way back from injury, seven of whom are starters.

Notable players on the Raiders' injury list, who are unlikely to play on Sunday include starting wide receivers Bryan Edwards (foot/ankle) and Henry Ruggs (knee/hamstring) and starting CB Damon Arnette (thumb/wrist).

"It's unfortunate that we're so early in the season and we've seen so many injuries, but NFL clubs have had to use the first month of the season to get their teams in football shape," said Raiders radio color commentator Lincoln Kennedy, who made an appearance on ‘One Bills Live’ this week.

"The reason why they got Edwards and Ruggs in the draft was to help take the top off of defenses to create more space for Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow underneath," Kennedy said. "It's a big advantage for the Bills defense if they can't play. The Raiders have to find a way to right the ship and do something different."

Starting RT Trent Brown is also a question mark with a calf injury and four other players including starting LG Richie Incognito (Achilles) are on injured reserve. Missing two starting linemen hurt the effectiveness of the Las Vegas offense last week in New England in both the pass and run game.

"The Raiders are having such issues with their offensive line that there were times against the Patriots last week where a three-man rush or a four-man rush got pressure on Derek Carr and he was under duress," said Kennedy.

Their run game, led by Josh Jacobs has also been hurt, not only by the absence of Incognito and Brown, but by some nagging hip and knee ailments that Jacobs has been dealing with due to a heavy workload.

"Jacobs has been banged up himself," Kennedy said. "The thing the Raiders have to learn how to do is he's a young man who loves to run, but they have to do a better job of managing his workload and with the team's offensive line issues and playing with two backups they have to find a way to adjust what they do in the run game and it hasn't been as easy as people thought it would be."

5. Plastering Waller

Talented Las Vegas TE Darren Waller very quietly caught 90 passes last season for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns last season. He's an elite athlete at the tight end position despite being 6-6 and 255 pounds. He accounted for almost a quarter of the Raiders' receptions last season and close to 30 percent of their receiving yards in 2019.

This year, he's pacing ahead of his reception share at 27 percent, though his receiving yardage represents 20 percent of their current total.

But with speed receiver Henry Ruggs not playing last week, and fellow rookie starting WR Bryan Edwards exiting last week's game due to injury, it allowed New England's defense to key on Waller and hold him to just two receptions for nine yards.

"He's got size, an ability to run routes with speed," said Bills safety Jordan Poyer. "His catch radius makes him a game changer so he's definitely a guy we're going to have to keep an eye on."

Edwards has already been declared out for Sunday by head coach Jon Gruden. If Ruggs cannot play as well, it affords Buffalo the opportunity to key heavily on Waller without as much concern that someone else can hurt them on a big play.  

Buffalo can also take a long look at what worked so well for New England in taking Waller out of the game last week and perhaps apply some of what was successful for them provided the Bills feel they have similar personnel defensively in terms of skill set.

6. Big play potential

Through the first three games of the season, Buffalo's offense has demonstrated an ability to hit on big plays. They're currently tied for the league lead in pass plays of 20 yards or more with 18 over the first three weeks of the season.

The Las Vegas defense doesn't give up many big plays as they've surrendered just 10 to this point, which is even fewer than Buffalo's defense (13). But with Josh Allen's ability to make plays off schedule and an offensive line that has held up in pass protection for the most part, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden is wary of Buffalo's ability to strike on shot plays. He commented on Allen's ability to deliver consistent play as well as big plays.

"I think he's experienced now and he's caught up to the speed of the game," said Gruden of Josh Allen. "They've surrounded him with a pretty darn good football team. He's picked up the system and the speed of the game and he's in a zone. Unfortunately we're on their schedule and we've got to do everything we can to disrupt that rhythm."

7. Hopefully no hiccups

Earlier this week it was learned that several Raiders players attended a charity event for their teammate Darren Waller's foundation on Monday night. And while their willingness to support his foundation was admirable, the event took place indoors with upwards of 100 people, which violated the municipal laws which set indoor gathering limits at 50.

In addition, there was video evidence of most of the players not wearing masks and not social distancing.

While QB Derek Carr and several of his teammates were apologetic for their lapse in judgment, the hope is that none of the Raiders players turn up with positive tests at the end of the week, which would not only compromise their availability for Sunday's game, but could additionally put the game itself against the Bills in question.

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