The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum should be rocking Sunday afternoon when the Oakland Raiders take on the Buffalo Bills.
However, before Rex Ryan and Co. square off against the Silver and Black, you had some questions, and now we have answers.
Here is this week's Raiders.com Mailbag presented by BART.
From Manuel S: How are the Raiders preparing defensively to stop McCoy and the Bills run game to ensure a win against them this weekend?
EP:Well, Manuel, as you guys know, Head Coach Jack Del Rio doesn't like to talk specifics about the game plan, and you can't really blame him, but there's no doubt that slowing down the Bills run game will be paramount if the Raiders want to come out of Sunday's game with a W. The Bills don't pull any punches, they want to run the ball consistently, and so far this season they've done that at an incredibly high clip; in fact, through 12 weeks, no team in the NFL has run the ball better than Buffalo, as they're averaging an impressive 157.4 yards per game on the ground. LeSean McCoy is the bell cow back for the Bills running game, but don't forget about quarterback Tyrod Taylor who currently ranks second on the team in both carries (70) and yards (439). So what's the key to slowing down the Bills run game? Well, defensive tackle Justin Ellis told me earlier this week that Sunday's game is a "will game" and whichever group – the Raiders defensive line or the Bills offensive line – can establish their dominance, will likely go home with a win. It sounds pretty straightforward, but I think his comments run true; Sunday's game will be won in the trenches, and I'm excited to watch it play out.
From Ricky H: Is TE Clive Walford gonna have a break out rest of the season after his game against Carolina?
EP: **That remains to be seen, but I'm certain that Derek Carr and the rest of the offense is definitely hoping that's the case over the final five games of the regular season. Walford's three-catch, 43-yard performance against the Panthers was indeed one of his best games of 2016, and was first time the big tight end has found the end zone since Week 2, so keeping his positive momentum rolling going forward would be a big plus for the Raider offense. The former Miami Hurricane has the measurables to be the prototypical dual-threat tight end – he's big enough to be a solid blocker, but also athletic enough to get out and run routes – so we'll see if Carr starts to utilize No. 88 a little more over the final quarter of the season. Walford did tell me earlier this week that he and Carr are starting to rekindle the on-field chemistry they had with each other towards the end of last year, so let's hope that renewed comfort leads to more production for the Raiders athletic tight end.
From Moo P: Is our team ready to play in the cold weather?
EP:Head Coach Del Rio said last week, it's a little easier to adjust going into cold weather, than it is going into hot weather. While December and beyond typically brings adverse weather, it's nothing that Del Rio and his staff won't have the players ready for. The Raiders have had a handful of days this season where they've practiced in the elements, so if the Silver and Black do find themselves playing in a rain game, it won't be anything that Derek Carr and Co. will be surprised by. No, the Bay Area doesn't get nearly as cold as say Kansas City or Denver do, but that doesn't mean that the Raiders will be thrown off their game when they're forced into playing in the cold. Del Rio and his staff have had a plan in place for every challenge the regular season presents, and I'm sure they have one at the ready if the team has to play in the cold.
From Chad B: What is the plan for replacing DJ Hayden? What did he bring most to the secondary?
EP:Well, I think first of all we can expect to see a lot more TJ Carrie going forward in Hayden's absence. Carrie started 14 games last season for the Raiders, and while he's been primarily used in a reserve role in 2016, that experience will serve him well, as he'll likely see an increase in his snaps going forward. Hayden's absence will also mean an increase in responsibility for rookie cornerback Antonio Hamilton. The former undrafted free agent has appeared in just four games so far in 2016, but with the secondary's depth taking a shot, it wouldn't surprise me if Hamilton sees some more time between the hash marks going over the final five games of the regular season. As far as what Hayden brought most to the secondary, the fourth-year defensive back was the team's primary Nickel cornerback, and in his new role, 2016 had served as likely his most-impressive season in Silver and Black. Hayden was a sure tackler, and had the athleticism to fill the Nickel role admirably, so his loss will be a big one for the Raiders secondary. As they say though, it's time for the next man up.
**From Amanda B: The cleats the players are wearing this week that I've seen are really cool. Which players' are your favorite?
An exclusive look at the Oakland Raiders receiving their custom cleats that will be worn this weekend for the My Cause, My Cleats initiative.
EP:Tremendous question, because you're absolutely right Amanda; the cleats are really cool. If I was fulfilling my childhood dream and playing cornerback in the NFL, I'd be pretty stoked to wear any of them, but there are a few cleats that definitely stand out a little to me. Khalil Mack is supporting Lupus awareness with his cleats this weekend, and the purple cleats with his aunt's name etched on the side are pretty cool. The other ones that I really like are DeAndré Washington's cleats supporting childhood education. Not only are they impressive works of art, but they were also done in-house, as the Raiders longtime equipment manager Bobby Romanski designed them specifically for Washington. All the causes that the players are supporting through the My Cause, My Cleats program are admirable, but if I had to choose, those two are probably my favorite.
From Vutavius: Do you expect three quarterbacks to be active this Sunday or just the normal Carr and McGloin?
EP:Another strong question, but I expect just the usual tandem of Derek Carr and Matt McGloin to be active for Sunday's game against the Bills. Derek Carr did indeed give all of Raider Nation a collective scare last weekend when he was forced to miss a series dealing with a finger ailment, but by the end of this week, No. 4 wasn't even listed on the team's injury report. Now in his fourth season with the Silver and Black, McGloin has shown time and time again that he's a more-than-serviceable signal-caller should the need arise, and I don't expect Del Rio and his staff to deviate from their plan of dressing just two quarterbacks for a game. Rookie quarterback Connor Cook hasn't dressed for a game this year, and I very much think that's by design; the staff wants him to grow comfortable in the scheme, so barring some type of injury to the guys in front of him, I don't see Cook being active in a regular season game this year. That's no indictment on the former Michigan State Spartan, more than anything, I think it's a number's game.
From Allan Y: Do you see the Bills as a trap game before Kansas City?**
EP:Nope. While the Raiders have a huge divisional game against the Chiefs Thursday night, the Bills are a hungry football team, owning a 6-5 record, and still squarely in the thick of things in the AFC playoff conversation. Head Coach Del Rio has done a stellar job this season of keeping his team's focus on the task at hand, and paying each opponent the necessary respect, and to be honest, I think that's a big reason why the Raiders have jumped out to a 9-2 start. Regardless of record, or who's on the field, the Silver and Black haven't taken any team lightly, and I know that they're not taking Rex Ryan and the Bills lightly either. Yes, Thursday night's matchup at Arrowhead Stadium is one that fans have had circled on their calendars for quite some time, but before we even start thinking about that one, we have to get through Sunday's game in Oakland.
From Vince M: Do you expect the Bills to dare Carr to throw this week?
EP:If there's one thing we know about Rex Ryan and his defense, it's to expect the unexpected. Through the first 12 weeks of the regular season, the Bills have shown to be much tougher against the pass than they have been against the run, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're going to dare Carr to throw against them Sunday afternoon. What we do know though is that the Raiders are typically the most effective when they're balanced in their attack; not being one-dimensional either just throwing, or just running the football. Rex Ryan is one of the premier defensive minds in the NFL, so I'll be interested to see what kind of looks and schemes he throws at Carr and the Raiders offense Sunday afternoon.