Monday, Sept. 18, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Orchard Park, N.Y. —
The Raiders have run more plays out of “jumbo” packages with an extra offensive linemen taking the place of a tight end than any other team in the NFL since the start of last season.
That strategic inclination of second-year coach Josh McDaniels continued Sunday afternoon at Highmark Stadium against the Bills with reserve Thayer Munford frequently checking in to give the Raiders three tackles.
The extra size just had no tangible effect on Las Vegas’ ability to block Buffalo.
It often looked like the Raiders could have even checked in a seventh lineman to play with 12 men on the field, and still get overwhelmed by the Bills. Buffalo bullied Las Vegas up, the biggest reason for the home team’s blowout 38-10 victory.
“We never really got control of the line of scrimmage the entire day,” Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said in his postgame news conference. “When you don’t have control of the line of scrimmage, it becomes a very one-dimensional type of game. I don’t know how many carries (Josh Jacobs) ended up with but it couldn’t have been many because we were always in second-and-long.”
Jacobs, the NFL’s rushing-yards champion a year ago, finished with nine carries for a career-low -2 yards. He’s been among the best rushers after contact since his rookie year five seasons ago, but breaking one immediate tackle to gain extra yards is a lot different than needing to fight through multiple defenders.
McDaniels, the Raiders’ playcaller, was more naturally fixated on the offensive side of the ball but the problems were just as pronounced on defense. Bills quarterback Josh Allen feasted without the presence of any pressure, completing his first 13 throws and ultimately finishing with 274 yards through the air and three touchdowns on 31-for-37 passing.
“Just the technique on the d-line,” rookie edge rusher Tyree Wilson said when asked what the Raiders could have done better. “It starts with us up front.”
The success was fleeting but Las Vegas more than held its own over the first five minutes of the game. The Raiders operated so quickly on offense that it minimized what later was revealed as a massive disadvantage on the line.
They scored in less than five minutes on a five-play drive that ended with Davante Adams catching a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to go up 7-0. Adams shook opposing defensive backs all day, but Garoppolo rarely had the time or rhythm to find him after the early going.
Adams finished with six catches for 84 yards but took a hit to the head from Buffalo safety Taylor Rapp late that drew a personal foul penalty and landed the receiver in evaluation for a concussion.
The Raiders also got their closest thing to a sack in the opening stretch of the game. Linebacker Robert Spillane blitzed on a third-down and stuffed Allen as the quarterback attempted to escape, though it was later ruled a no-gain rushing attempt.
The Bills then punted for the first and only time of the game.
“I thought we created some momentum at the beginning of the game but momentum is just a word,” McDaniels said. “You have to play well, coach well for 60 minutes. You can’t just live off the momentum of a drive. We had five decent plays and then didn’t play well for the rest of the game.”
The Bills regularly committed an extra defender to the run game to stop Jacobs and employed a similar approach to slow down one particular player on defense — Pro Bowl edge rusher Maxx Crosby. Buffalo doubled Crosby on almost every play and challenged someone else on the line to serve as Las Vegas’ disruptor.
No one was capable, as the Bills marched down the field on seven straight possessions following their first. The only time they didn’t come away with points in those seven trips was when the Raiders made a goal-line stand from the 1-yard line with safety Tre’von Moehrig helping to stuff a third-down run and break up a fourth-down pass.
“We moved Maxx, Maxx wasn’t always in the same spot,” McDaniels said. “The other team gets a vote every play so they can choose to do something and try to limit one of your best players and then we’ve got to have other players step up when those things happen.”
The Raiders’ defensive line around Crosby looked much improved in training camp but it hasn’t translated to the regular season. The presumed starter on the other side of the line of Crosby, Chandler Jones, remains away from the team as he posts increasingly bizarre messages on social media.
That’s thrust Wilson, the No. 7 overall pick from this year’s draft, into a bigger role than the Raiders anticipated and he doesn’t appear ready. Wilson had one solo tackle and one assisted tackle against the Bills but made no impact as a pass rusher.
“It’s going better and better,” Wilson said of his progression. “All I can do is just come back each and every week to get better and help the team.”
The offensive line’s collapse against the Bills was probably more surprising than their counterparts’ struggles on defense. The Raiders excelled blocking a year ago, especially in the run game, and seemed to have improved in pass-blocking last week in a season-opening win at the Denver Broncos.
The Bills proved to be a bigger hurdle, one they couldn’t clear. Buffalo’s interior defensive tackle tandem of Daquan Jones and Ed Oliver continually blew center Andre James, left guard Dylan Parham and right guard Greg Van Roten off the ball.
Bills edge rusher Gregory Rousseau, a former first round pick, moved around to different spots like Crosby but regularly got home to either stuff Jacobs or fluster Garoppolo.
“Things started off well but there are things we have to respond to better,” left tackle Kolton Miller said. “Taking that to meetings, practice will be a huge emphasis. We have to take the next step. We have to do better.”
McDaniels repeatedly took responsibility for the loss as the Raiders looked unprepared despite spending the week secluded and practicing at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. Garoppolo followed his coach’s lead and put the loss on his shoulders after throwing two interceptions and managing only 185 yards on 16-for-24 passing.
“It starts with me,” Garoppolo said. “I made far too many mental mistakes today.”
But mental wasn’t what beat the Raiders on Sunday. It was more physical, as one team pushed the other around at the point of attack on both sides of the ball too much to expect anything less than a lopsided final score.
“We played the game backwards today,” McDaniels said. “After the first drive or first couple possessions there, they really controlled the game and controlled the line of scrimmage.”