The overwhelming sentiment that I have been hearing from Bills fans over the last two weeks is nervousness that this thrilling, record-breaking, and straight-up fun season of Buffalo Bills football could come to an end at any moment. Fans have latched onto this team, the family, and the comradery of the guys and they don’t want to let go. Tomorrow night in primetime, the Bills will face their biggest threat to this storybook season that they have had. This has to be the game of the weekend; both teams have been on fire since November. The Bills are currently on a seven-game win streak, tied for the best in the league. The second-best win streak belongs to the Ravens, at six games. One of the hottest teams in the league will see their season come to an end this weekend; let’s dive in and breakdown the first Divisional game in Orchard Park since 1994.
The Last Five
Ravens 24 Bills 17 (2019)
Ravens 47 Bills 3 (2018)
Ravens 13 Bills 7 (2016)
Bills 23 Ravens 20 (2013)
Ravens 37 Bills 34 (2010)
Obviously, last year’s game between these two teams is getting a lot of attention this week. In that game, the Bills did an excellent job of containing the eventual MVP Lamar Jackson and had a chance to tie the game late with the ball right outside the 10-yard line. Josh Allen’s NFL career started against the Baltimore Ravens as well. He saw second-half action after Nathan Peterman was pulled early. Allen’s first two games against the Ravens were not what he wanted, and while last year was closer, he has a chance to knock off Baltimore now, which would instantly become the best win of his career.
What To Watch For: Bills
Winning the Line of Scrimmage – After the Wild Card win against the Colts, Cole Beasley said that the Colts defense was the best that the Bills had played all year. Many agree with that statement, as it was clear that the Bills’ offense struggled at times to win the battle at the line of scrimmage against the Colts. After taking a look back at the game it was obvious that the struggles started where many often do: the line of scrimmage. The Bills will have to do a much better job of controlling the line of scrimmage this week, both offensively and defensively. If they cannot hold contain and stay in their gaps (“gap integrity”, as Sean McDermott calls it) then it will be a long evening for the Bills. Early in the season, the run defense was the weak spot for this team. A midseason surge caused fans to forget about the struggles stopping the run, but with the team only one win away from the AFC Championship game and some issues starting to creep up again, the run defense is front and center with the pressure mounting. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, the struggles from the offensive line last week surprised me a bit. It seemed like Josh Allen was on the run much more than in previous weeks. Check this stat I heard from Matthew Fairburn of The Athletic: when Josh Allen had more than three seconds to throw against the Colts he was 13/18 204 and 2 TD’s. Now, anyone who watched the game knows that the plays where Allen had more than three seconds to throw speaks more to Allen’s ability to extend the play and roll out of the pocket than it does of the protection that he was receiving. Allen has been spectacular while rolling out this year, especially to his right, but it would be best if the Bills could design some rollout plays for him instead of it being a survival tactic because the protection couldn’t hold up.
Who’s on Lamar duty? – If the Bills can mitigate Lamar Jackson’s rushing attack, just like they did last year, then they will have an excellent opportunity to win this football game. While the Bills will keep quiet about their specific game plan for slowing down Jackson, it will be the job of the year for the player, or players, that are tasked with it. While watching the tape from last year’s matchup, many have noted that Shaq Lawson was the star of the game, consistently setting the edge and not breaking contain. Shaq Lawson is enjoying his offseason as a member of the Miami Dolphins, so the Bills will have to count on their current defensive ends to replicate Lawson’s performance from last year. This week, Leslie Frazier said that both Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano are very important in their game plan this week, hinting that they will play a big part in slowing down Jackson. He pointed to their ability to tackle in the open field as a key trait of theirs that will be helpful this week. The Bills could also bring a member of their secondary down to act as a spy for Lamar, challenging Jackson to beat them through the air instead.
Fast Start – It is rare for a team in the divisional round of the playoffs to also be ranked 32nd in the league in passing, but yet… that’s where the Ravens are. Of course, a freak athlete like Lamar Jackson does enough to cancel out the passing game woes. For Buffalo, getting off to a fast start tomorrow will be much more important than it is has been in previous weeks. Last week against the Titans was Lamar Jackson’s first career win when falling down by 10 or more points. If the Bills jump out to an early lead and force Jackson to win the game through the air, they should feel confident about their chances in this one.
What To Watch For: Ravens
Pressure! – Nobody puts more pressure on quarterbacks than the Baltimore Ravens. This will be an interesting aspect to watch this week, a game within the game, in my mind. The topic of blitzing received a lot of airtime this week because both teams have stats to brag out on the topic. The Ravens are the leagues’ number one blitzing defense. It turns out that the Bills have been blitzed more than any other team this year. The problem? It doesn’t seem to impact Josh Allen. When blitzed, Allen is still completing 66% of his passes, has 1,850 yards, 19 TDs, and just two INTs. Needless to say, Josh Allen ranks 1st in those categories when blitzed. The Ravens will be forced to make a decision on how they want to handle Josh Allen this week. Do they sacrifice what has been working for them and drop defenders back in coverage? Or should they continue trying to make quarterbacks uncomfortable, attempting to force Allen into some mistakes? Given the numbers above, I would be skeptical to bring pressure if I were the Ravens, but I doubt they will abandon a defensive philosophy 18 games into a season. This will be an interesting aspect to watch live and then again on film after the game.
Turnovers – Every time the Ravens defense is on the field, they have one thing on their mind: turnovers. Baltimore led the league with 25 forced fumbles this year, and you can bet they will be gunning for a few more on Saturday night. Allen spoke about it this week, and he understands that the Ravens will be coming for the ball regardless of who is carrying it. With the fumbling struggles that Josh Allen has had in the past, as well as Devin Singletary’s early last year, you can bet “see ball, get ball” has been a point of emphasis for the Ravens this week. In a game that is going to be as close as this one, that one extra possession could make all the difference. If the Ravens can get that ball on the ground and turn in some extra possessions, they will most likely come away with a victory.
Let it snow! – I am never one to make a big deal about the “Buffalo weather.” I think it is overblown and a lazy take that analysts use because all they know about Buffalo is that it snows a lot. The truth is, outside of a game every few years, weather does not factor into many Bills games. Remember the game against the Seahawks this November? It was 70 degrees that day. All of this notwithstanding, the forecast for Saturday night is starting to gain some steam. Right now, there is an 80% chance of snow in Orchard Park on Saturday night. Lamar Jackson indicated this week that he has never played in snow before, causing the ears to perk up on Bills Mafia members everywhere. Anything that the Bills can do to disrupt Jackson will benefit them, even if it is an assist from mother nature. Lamar Jackson had a difficult time keeping upright in Cleveland earlier this year with a slippery playing surface, although he did finish with 78 yards rushing and two TDs on the ground. If it ends up snowing and Jackson is unable to get the necessary traction on the turf that he needs, then the “Buffalo weather” will have actually played a role in the outcome of this game.
Bills 36 Ravens 24 As we move closer to game day, I am increasingly confident that the Bills can get the job done this week. Plus, in many ways, this year’s Bills team seems like a team of destiny, so I shouldn’t stop picking against them now. I think the Bills will use a similar approach to what they used last year against the Ravens, which will slow down Jackson’s impact. Jackson will still get his highlight-reel plays, but in the end, Josh Allen will prove to be too much for the Ravens defense. After striking out on the stat sheet last week, I bet we see a redemption game from John Brown and that T.J. Yeldon makes a bigger than expected impact in place of Zach Moss.