GO BIG OR GO HOME
The Buffalo defense suffered an uncharacteristic lapse in the loss at Oakland, especially when it comes to giving up big plays. The Raiders had two huge passing plays, a 50-yarder in the 1st quarter, and a 51-yard backbreaking play in the fourth. And they had five runs of 10-yards or more, including a pair of 25-yard runs.
The Bills had gone a good job of limiting big plays against them prior to the Oakland game. And afterwards, veteran DT Kyle Williams blamed poor tackling, not scheme.
"They made plays and when you give up big plays like that a lot of times it can lead to missed tackles," Williams said in the locker room. "I would hate to see the count we had today."
SACKS SLOWING DOWN
The Bills still lead the league in sacks headed into the final weekend. They have 50, and they're on pace to finish with 53, just four below last year's franchise record of 57.
But the pace of their sack production has slowed down in the last four games. After exploding for seven sacks in the win over the Jets in Detroit, Buffalo has a total of four sacks in the last four games. They never got to Denver's Peyton Manning, despite hurrying his throws and forcing him out of the pocket. They only sacked Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers once, the end zone fumble that resulted in the game-clinching safety. And they only sacked Oakland's Derek Carr one time.
Of course, sacks are only one measure of the effectiveness of a pass rush. As the Bills demonstrated against Rodgers and the Packers, hurried throws and throws off the spot can be very effective in disrupting the timing and efficiency of a passing attack.
FOURTH DOWN DECISIONS
Head coach Doug Marrone faced another interesting fourth down decision in Oakland, trailing by two points in the fourth quarter and looking at 4th-and-1 from his own 46. Marrone elected to punt with 8:22 left on the clock and all three of his time outs, prompting the "Always Go-for-It" crowd to pick up the torches and pitchforks.
Even if you disagree with Marrone's punt, his decision to punt is defensible. If the Bills offense, which had struggled to pick up yardage, fails on 4th-and-1, the Raiders get the ball back with ten yards to go before they put strong-legged kicker Sebastian Janikowski on the field for a makeable try, one that would put Oakland up by five points. In fact, the Buffalo defense looked like it was ready to make Marrone's decision pay off, getting Oakland into a 3rd-and-22 situation from their own 19. Derek Carr's heave resulted in a 51-yard pass play to Andre Holmes, an improbable third down conversion that was the play of the game.
The decision to punt was one of hundreds, if not thousands, that an NFL head coach is called upon to make during the course of a game. The idea is to get most of them right and win the game.
THIS IS THE NFL?
Buffalo's newly renovated Ralph Wilson Stadium is not quite the showplace of the NFL, but the venerable 41-year old venue has been updated and retro-fitted to make it one of the best fan experiences in the league.
The same cannot be said of Oakland's O.co Coliseum. It's only seven years older than the Ralph. It may as well be 70 years older.
Crumbling concrete, misaligned rows of seats and a dank, dark musty smell make the place a miserable experience for the fans. I spent the entire broadcast Sunday trying to dodge a slow, steady drop from the ceiling above our radio booth; water I hoped was coming from collected rainwater on the concourse above and not faulty plumbing.
There were comments from some NFL owners a few months ago about the need for an upgraded stadium for the Bills. Those owners should make a site survey of Oakland if they want to see a real stadium mess. They may want to visit San Diego and Washington while they're at it.
I know the future of the Raiders in Oakland is in doubt. But that stadium is an embarrassment. And no amount of fervor from black-costumed fans in the end zone can make it any better.