1. I've liked Tyrod Taylor since he first became the starter in Buffalo. How much would you say the Bills' inability to get over the hump has been on him and how much of their success this year is due to something he is doing?
The qualities and flaws of Tyrod have been debated almost constantly since he became the starter in 2015. While both have strong points, everybody would agree that the issues facing the team have gone well beyond the man under center. In the last couple seasons the Bills have been held back by a vastly underperforming defense while the offense had been playing effectively. This year, the defense is on point but the offense has fallen off from last season, largely due to the loss of Sammy Watkins and the (at times) questionable play calling of new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. Tyrod has his share of problems, but he's not the only one responsible for the Bills' lack of playoff appearances over the last two years..
On that same note, while he's been a better quarterback this year than he was last year, he's not alone in helping the Bills win four of their first six games for the second year in a row. The Bills' receiving corps is less than ideal when they're at 100%, and the loss of Charles Clay (knee) and the limitation of Jordan Matthews (thumb) haven't helped at all, nor has the ineffective run game (more on that in a bit). Tyrod still has a tendency to try and do too much with his legs at times, which is great when it works but awful when it doesn't, and his short-range accuracy can still go away at inopportune times.
To sum it up: Tyrod's not that bad, but he's not the reason the Bills are where they are right now.
2. Who among the Bills players on the injury report seem like they could miss the game Sunday and which losses would hurt the most?
Five players have missed practice over the last two days for the Bills. Clay (who missed the game last year for the birth of his child) and linebacker Ramon Humber are both still recovering from surgery and will again be replaced by Nick O'Leary and Matt Milano, respectively. Richie Incognito hurt his ankle in the win over the Buccaneers and missed a handful of plays, but it sounds like he's just being held out as a precautionary measure and should play on Sunday.
The other two are the two that worry me. Cornerback E.J. Gaines and safety Jordan Poyer have both been playing very well this year, and if either player sits it'll be trouble for the Bills. Gaines has left every game this year due to injury, but he's only been forced to miss one entirely, and his replacement (Shareece Wright) is a marginal talent at best. Poyer has been a revelation after signing as a free agent this year, and he's played in every snap through the first six games. Whether it's UDFA Trae Elston or former Steeler Shamarko Thomas filling in for him, there'll be a drop-off in talent.
3. Prior to the season there seemed to be some optimism the Bills pass rush was going to be improved this season. Has it?
While the defense as a whole is playing better, the pass rush hasn't improved to the same extent. Defensive end Jerry Hughes is certainly having a better season, and reserve end Eddie Yarbrough has been solid in playing about a third of the team's snaps per game. The Bills have had stretches where they're disrupting the passing game, and many of those stretches ended with an interception. Other times, however (especially over the last two games), the pass rush tends to either disappear or show up a second or two late.
Most noticeable is the lack of pressure coming from the middle of the line. Kyle Williams is 34 years old, and Marcell Dareus has been dealing with everything from injuries to an apparent loss of confidence from the coaching staff. Both players have one sack this year and haven't been getting to the quarterback with the same frequency that they have in years past. That could be the difference.
4. What's going on with LeSean McCoy? Why is he averaging just 3.4 yards per carry? And have the Bills been able to make up for that?
While there are a number of factors at play, the biggest has been the issues with the offensive line. It was one of the better units in football last year, but it's been derailed by injuries and the coaching staff shift. Most notably, left tackle Cordy Glenn has only played more than 17 snaps in a game twice this year (not coincidentally, those were the two best running days by far for the Bills this year) and incumbent starting right guard John Miller has been benched for journeyman Vlad Ducasse over the last two games, which is frustrating not because Miller has been good but because Ducasse is not.
Shady McCoy is still a game-breaking talent, and he's been an effective part of the passing game this year (220 yards on a team-high 32 catches). He finally made it into the end zone last week for his first two scores of the year, and the run offense as a whole looked better than it has all season. Part of that was their use of tackle-eligible blocking (six times against the Bucs after one play all year before that), and it didn't hurt that Tyrod saw some designed runs for the first time in a long time.
As for whether the Bills have been able to make up for it ... well, they're 4-2, so it's hard for me to really say no. That said, they've had one of the worst offenses in the NFL this year and owe a lot to the defense and kicker Stephen Hauschka. They're coming off their best performance since the opener, though, so things might finally be looking up.
5. What is the biggest difference between the Bills team the Raiders faced last season and this Bills team? Do you expect a similar result or will the tables turn?
There are two guys who weren't with the Bills last year that have been emblematic of what could finally be a turnaround moving forward: head coach Sean McDermott and rookie corner Tre'Davious White.
While most coaches talk a big game about culture change, McDermott really seems to be making it happen. McDermott and new general manager Brandon Beane weren't afraid to make big moves during the offseason, and the roster they've built is geared towards the style that McDermott has the team playing (especially on the defense). A big part of that was the selection of White with the 27th pick after trading down from 10 with the Chiefs. White's given up some big plays over the last couple games, but he's a top-notch character with a high motor who more or less won the game for the Bills last week with his fourth-quarter strip and fumble recovery to set up the game-winning field goal.
That said, the injuries to Gaines and Poyer have me very worried about what Derek Carr and company could do to this secondary that just gave up 384 yards to Jameis Winston. The key to the game is going to be turnovers; if the Bills can force some and get the home crowd going, they can win. If not, the road is going to be tougher. I'm gonna go with my gut and say the Raiders will win 28-17, but I'll hope my gut was wrong the way it was when I thought the Bills would lose to the Broncos and Falcons a few weeks ago.
To see my answers to his questions, click here.