For Bills LB Alexander, Raiders' success no surprise
FILE - In this Nov. 27, 2016, file photo, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) celebrates after throwing for a two-point conversion against the Carolina Panthers during the second half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif. The (9-2) Raiders take on the (6-5) Buffalo Bills on Sunday in Oakland. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Spending just a year around players like Derek Carr and Khalil Mack was enough for Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander to see that the Raiders were on the verge of turning things around in coach Jack Del Rio's second season in Oakland.
''That was one of the main reasons why I wanted to sign back because I knew they were going to be a Super Bowl contender with all the young talent they had just based on last year,'' Alexander said.
He'll get an up-close look at the resurgent Raiders (9-2) on Sunday when the Buffalo Bills (6-5) visit Oakland.
While the Raiders' success comes as little surprise to Alexander, the production Alexander has provided the Bills has been a stunner. Known as mostly a special teams standout during his first nine seasons in the NFL, Alexander has emerged as a big-time pass rusher in Buffalo.
He has 10 sacks on the season for coach Rex Ryan – one more than he had in his first nine years in the league.
''We did not see that in him or we wouldn't have let Rex get him,'' Del Rio said ''I'm really happy for a guy like Lorenzo. He's a consummate professional. This is a guy that busts his butt, does everything he can, every day to be a true professional. We had him around thinking that's what we were getting is that, the leadership part of it and, honestly, we missed on this part where he's getting 10 sacks.''
Adding to that total against the Raiders won't be easy. Oakland has allowed a league-low 12 sacks thanks to a powerful line and Carr's ability to get rid of the ball quickly.
''You go into a game thinking you'll be lucky to get one sack,'' Ryan said. ''It's a combination of that offensive line, but another thing is you have a quarterback that's not going to take sacks. He'll get rid of it if he has to.''
Here are some other things to watch:
STOP THE RUN: The Raiders have had issues stopping the run, allowing 4.6 yards per carry and holding just two of the past 10 opponents under 100 yards. They will face an especially tough test against LeSean McCoy and Buffalo. The Bills are averaging 5.3 yards per carry – the most in the league in four years – and are seeking their first five-game streak of 150-yard rushing games since 1975. Even if the Raiders manage to keep McCoy under control, quarterback Tyrod Taylor is also dangerous with 423 yards rushing and a 6.3 average.
''It's like they have two running backs in the backfield,'' Mack said.
PROTECT THE BALL: No team has avoided turnovers as well as the Bills. Buffalo's six turnovers are the fewest through 11 games in NFL history. The previous low over that span was eight shared by five teams, most recently Kansas City last year. The single-season record is 10, set by New England in 2010 and matched by San Francisco the following season. Taylor has four INTs and one lost fumble and rookie RB Jonathan Williams lost a fumble for the other turnover.
''It's my job to take calculated risks, but at the same time be smart with where I'm going with the football,'' Taylor said. ''Turnovers definitely don't lead to good things in this league.''
BIG TARGET: The one part of the Raiders' offense that hasn't been clicking all year is the tight end in the passing game. That's what made Clive Walford's big game last week so important. Walford had three catches for 43 yards against Carolina, including a 14-yard catch on third-and-11, followed by a 12-yard TD on the tying drive in the fourth quarter.
''It shows that Derek still believes in me and has a lot of faith in me,'' Walford said. ''I'm just grateful that I can be there for him to make a play for him like that.''
OAKLAND DROUGHT: Oakland has not been kind to the Bills in their history. Buffalo has not won a game there since Jack Kemp led them to a 31-10 victory there in 1966 . The Bills have lost all eight meetings, although they did beat the Raiders in overtime in 1991 in Los Angeles.
''Fifty years ago? Phew,'' Ryan said. ''That's amazing. Woof. You talk about a drought.''
REUNION: Del Rio and Ryan have a long history, having served as defensive assistants together in Baltimore when the Ravens won the Super Bowl following the 2000 season. Both credited former Ravens coach Brian Billick for their success and remembered fondly the days in Baltimore together when they would pretend to be draft experts Mel Kiper and Joel Buchsbaum and try to predict picks in advance.
''It was fun for us,'' Ryan said. ''We got fired up for the draft. We'd have our notes and be going back and forth. It was a good time.''
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report
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