Gutierrez: Raiders vs. Bills -- Matchups to watch

Gutierrez: Raiders vs. Bills -- Matchups to watch
September 17, 2011, 12:40 am
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Sept. 16, 2011

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Paul Gutierrez
CSNCalifornia.com

ALAMEDA -- It has all the classic makings of a trap game for the Raiders -- short week after opening on Monday Night Football, on the road in Denver, a cross country trip to face an East Coast team on East Coast time, in their home opener, against a team that came into 2011 with little or no respect.

The Raiders might have been wise to simply travel to Buffalo after opening in Denver rather than come back home to Oakland to prepare for the jaunt.

But the Bills' 41-7 demolition of Kansas City in Kansas City eliminated one possible road bump for the Raiders -- overconfidence won't be an issue. Not when they got a look at the tape. A look, then, at some key matchups to watch Sunday morning:

Matchup to watch
Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston (99) vs. Bills right tackle Erik Pears (79)

TALE OF THE TAPE
Houston: 6-3, 305, Texas, second season
Pears: 6-8, 314, Colorado State, sixth season

Following in the none-too-glorious footsteps of Raiders-linemen-turned-Bills-right tackle Langston Walker and Cornell Green, the versatile Pears has also seemingly found a home in Buffalo.

Now he finds a somewhat familiar face lining up across from him in Houston.

The two were brief teammates in Oakland in 2010, before Pears was released for good in late September, just as Houston was assuming his role on the defensive line.

Houston's relative lack of stats has belied his flashes of his ferocity as only one of his five sacks as a rookie came in the season's first five weeks. In this season's opener at Denver, Houston was credited with just two tackles. But he had a huge fumble recovery early in the fourth quarter when Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton simply dropped the ball at the Oakland 34-yard line.

On a fearsome front four with Matt Schaughnessy, Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly , with John Henderson thrown in for good measure on certain packages, Houston is often the overlooked man.

RELATED: Boss, Seymour, Huff questionable for Raiders

But this weekend in Buffalo, Houston has a chance to shine. Against a guy in Pears who, in 2009, appeared in 12 games for the Raiders and started four, two each at left guard and right tackle.

It's also a chance for Pears to show the Raiders they gave up on him too soon, as they cut him for good on Sept. 26, 2010 and he wandered from Jacksonville to Buffalo.

The battle between Houston and Pears will be renewed in front of Buffalo right-handed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had a passer rating of 133.0 with four touchdown passes in the Bills' opener. Houston needs to force pressure on Fitzpatrick's front side to keep him from getting too comfortable.

Other matchups worth watching:
Raiders running back Darren McFadden (20) vs. Bills inside linebacker Shawne Merriman (56) -- A pair of players on seemingly totally different career trajectories. McFadden, who flirted dangerously with bustdom his first two seasons, followed up his breakout 2010 season by rushing for 150 yards at Denver on Monday. Merriman, one of the brightest stars in the NFL galaxy with 39 12 sacks his first three seasons before injuries and rumors of steroid use dogged him, was credited with one tackle in his Bills debut last week.

Still, Merriman has had some of the biggest games of his career against the Raiders, as evidenced by eight career sacks coming against Oakland. And at 6-foot-4, 264 pounds, the former San DIego standout is still a physical presence, but is he still athletic enough to bird-dog the ultra-quick 6-2, 210-pound McFadden coming out of the backfield? Keep an eye on a sore shoulder suffered by McFadden in the opener.

"We've got to get this man blocked," Raiders coach Hue Jackson said of Merriman.

Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt (26) vs. Bills receiver Steve Johnson (13) -- Johnson is probably best known for his epic Blame God Tweet last November, when he wrote, "I PRAISE YOU 247!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO" in the wake of his dropping a sure touchdown pass in the end zone that would have given the Bills an overtime victory against Pittsburgh. But the former seventh-round draft pick who had 1,073 receiving yards and 10 TDs last season is quickly being recognized for his game-breaking pass-catching skills, even if he is bereft of world-class speed. And the speedy 6-1, 195-pound Routt, who looked more than comfortable as the Raiders' No. 1 cornerback with Nnamdi Asomugha gone, should recognize. Even as the 6-2, 210-pound Johnson, a product of Rodriguez High School in Fairfield, has been slowed with a groin injury.

"With this team we just saw on film," Johnson said of the Raiders defense, "we saw a lot of height and depth at the position (cornerback). Of course they got the speed. They have guys who run 4.3 and 4.2's and what not. I think it will be a competitive matchup. I think it will be fun and entertaining, actually. We're going to make it entertaining."