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Monday, September 25, 2023

Buffalo Bills aim to strengthen run defense against Raiders

The Buffalo Bills know not to be deceived by the numbers that Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs put up in Week 1.

As the Bills gear up for the home opener Sunday against the Raiders, defensive players hope to prove their Week 1 run defense numbers were also misleading.

“They’ve got a great running back,” defensive end Shaq Lawson said. “That guy can move. They’ve got a great offense, great receivers on the outside. So, we’ve just gotta come and be ready to play.”

Jacobs had just 48 yards on 19 carries, but told Vegas reporters that he was still working his way back from sitting out the offseason and training camp while waiting for a new contract.

Last season, Jacobs led the NFL in rushing yards (1,653) and carries (393). If he looks like his typical self, he could pose a problem for the Bills, who are addressing their run defense after Monday’s loss to the New York Jets.

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The Bills allowed 172 rushing yards on 28 carries – 6.1 yards per carry – to the Jets. It was the fourth most allowed in the NFL for Week 1.

Still, two of the 28 runs accounted for nearly two-thirds of the total: an 83-yard carry by Jets running back Breece Hall in the second quarter, and a 26-yard run by Hall in the first quarter.

“That’s really out of character for our defense,” assistant head coach and defensive line coach Eric Washington said.

Washington tried to balance those plays as he assessed the team’s performance.

“Outside of the two explosive runs, I thought the guys played physical. They played hard. We got downhill, we addressed the point of attack,” Washington said Thursday. “It’s just on those two particular plays, when you’re not exactly where you need to be, those things can happen.”

Here is how News sports reporters see the Bills-Raiders game on Sunday.

Only one other run went for 10 yards or more. Minus the two big runs, the Jets ran for 62 yards on 26 carries, or 2.42 per carry.

As the Bills reset this week, coach Sean McDermott said the team has been “intentional about it and purposeful” about making corrections to the run defense. He noted how when a game rolls around, letting up for even one second can allow a defense to get shredded.

“It’s got to be all-day affair,” he said.

Considering the run defense has popped up as an issue before, McDermott had some particular areas of focus.

“Physicality at the point of attack is important for us as we continue to try to take another step here this week as we move forward,” McDermott said earlier in the week. “Use of our hands to get off blocks and defeat blocks and then tackling overall, I think that’s going to be important as we continue to move throughout the season here.”

The punt return ruined what had been an otherwise good night for the special teams, including a 50-yard field goal by Tyler Bass that got the game to overtime.

The defense has responded well, Lawson said, knowing what’s at stake.

“Energy and focus have been there,” Lawson said about practice this week. “Whatever the runs we had problems with last week, we’re going to see them this year, because the NFL’s a copycat league. We’ve just gotta be able to start upfront.”

The Raiders also present their own wrinkles. Bills defensive end Greg Rousseau attributes some of that to their offensive line.

“They do a lot under center to change it up,” he said. “Mix it up, play action and running, giving the ball to Jacobs, and also to (receiver Davante) Adams on the outside. So, they’ve got a nice offense.”

Rousseau said being in gaps and being disciplined would be the main keys to the Bills cleaning up their run defense. Safety Micah Hyde added a couple of other areas of attention as the Bills get ready for the Raiders.

Kincaid started in his first career game and played 55 of the team’s 69 offensive snaps – 80%. He ran 38 pass routes, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus, and averaged 0.68 yards per route run.

“We did some good things, and then just the big plays that we gave up, there’s a few things that we did wrong, whether it was tackling or alignment wise or anything like that, that we could have done better,” Hyde said. “So, any game that you play in the league, you’re gonna look back and be like “woulda, coulda, shoulda” type situations, and those really did hurt us on a few big key plays.”

Injury report

The Friday injury report for the Bills listed just center Mitch Morse (finger), who has been a full participant in practice all week. There were no injury designations for Buffalo.

The Raiders ruled out two players: wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (concussion) and defensive end Chandler Jones (personal reasons). All other Raiders were full participants in Friday’s practice and did not have any injury designations.

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