After an intense week of questions and reflection, the Buffalo Bills will look to turn the tide against one of the top teams in the AFC. Another important early-season game for the Bills this week as they head to Baltimore to take on the 2-1 Ravens. Let’s take a look at the match up.
The Last Five
Bills 17 Ravens 3 (2020 Playoffs)
Ravens 24 Bills 17 (2019)
Ravens 47 Bills 3 (2018)
Ravens 13 Bills 7 (2016)
Bills 23 Ravens 20 (2013)
These two teams have not played as often as you would think over the past decade. Recent regular season history has not been kind to the Bills. The biggest game between these two was the during the 2020 postseason, where the Bills knocked off the Ravens 17-3 in the AFC Divisional Round. Sunday will be the first time meeting since that game in front of a COVID-restricted crowd in Orchard Park.
What To Watch For: Buffalo Bills
Trouble Closing? – Which side of the narrative are you on? It seems as if every member of the fanbase has taken a side on the issue of one-score games over the past week. As we all know, the Buffalo Bills are 0-7 in their last seven one score games. Are Sean McDermott and the coaching staff to blame for late-game failures? Or are people just cherry picking recent games to create an issue that isn’t there? The truth is, the Bills either blow out their opponents or they are in close games with them. They rarely get blown out themselves. I pointed out a stat this week that I found noteworthy:
Point me to another team that has a chance to win 95% of the games they play in. I will sign up for those odds any day. Embedded in that 95% are the games that the Bills win soundly. The tide will turn on this eventually. But, until it does, people will continue to question if the team can close out close games.
Fixing 3rd and Short – There are many aspects of the game that fans will be watching with a close eye tomorrow. One in particular will be their performance in short yardage situations. The Bills have struggled on 3rd and 4th and short so far in the young season. We have not seen Ken Dorsey call a Josh Allen QB sneak, despite the success rate of that play.
As we know, the Bills turned the ball over on downs late in last week’s game because they were unable to get into the end zone despite having 1st and goal from the 2. That is unacceptable for a team that has Josh Allen lining up under center. McDermott and Allen have talked about improving short yardage situations this week and the importance of capitalizing in the red zone, so I expect that we will see better success in both of those areas tomorrow.
Injuries – The Buffalo Bills could fill an entire hospital with their injury report from the past two weeks. Despite its length, the Bills are set to have more starters return to their lineup. Ed Oliver, Jordan Poyer, and Mitch Morse are all on pace to return to the lineup this week. Dane Jackson is listed as questionable. While his return would be huge for the secondary, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bills held him out an additional week.
Last week, the secondary held up phonomally against the Dolphins but the team lost rookie CB Christian Benford for a few weeks with a broken hand. To replace him, the team signed formed All-Pro CB Xavier Rhodes this week. In something that can truly be described as “this only happens in Buffalo”, in his very first practice, Rhodes injured his hamstring and he will be out this week. While the team may return a handful of starters, they may not have Dawson Knox and Gabe Davis for this game. Both were limited in practice throughout the week.
What To Watch For: Baltimore Ravens
Lamar – In my opinion, we will be watching the two most electric players in the league on Sunday in Allen and Jackson. Lamar Jackson is playing for a record-breaking contract and, so far, his gamble to wait on signing has paid off. Jackson is off to a blazing start this year. Through three games, he has 749 passing yards, 10 TDs, 2 INTs, 243 rushing yards, and 2 rushing touchdowns. The past two weeks, Lamar has had 119 and 107 yards on the ground with a touchdown in each game. The Bills have 337 rushing yards as a team through three games, while Lamar has 243 by himself.
After taking on some criticism last season for his inability to pick apart defenses through the air, Jackson looks improved this season as he has sliced through the Jets, Dolphins, and Patriots defenses. He will look to take advantage of an injured Bills secondary, as he finishes his early season tour through the AFC East.
Unrecognizable Defense – Traditionally, the Baltimore Ravens have been a tough team to play against because of their stout and stingy defense. Those days appear to be over in Baltimore as they officially have a defensive crisis on their hands. The team ranks last in total defense so far this year. They are the only team to allow a 300-yard passer in every game and their secondary also ranks last in downfield throws against. That could be a recipe for disaster against the current leader in passing yards. However, turnovers have been the great equalizer so far for the Ravens. They have eight takeaways in three games, allowing them to find success despite their putrid defensive stats.
O-Line Has to Hold – The Buffalo Bills currently have the second-best pressure rate in the league… and that is with minimal blitzing. The Bills front four has been trouble for opposing quarterbacks this year. Stafford, Tannehill, and Tagovailoa all had trouble finding success against the Bills defense. Besides being on a different level than each of those aforementioned quarterbacks, Jackson can extend plays with his legs. Even if protection breaks down, the Ravens still have plenty of opportunities for success using Jackson’s legs and his incredible improvisational skills. Make no mistake, Jackson would love to stand in a clean pocket and wait for Mark Andrews to expose a depleted secondary, something the offensive line will look to provide him often on Sunday.
Ravens 30 Bills 24 Close your eyes if you don’t want to see the Bills lose another close game. This one was difficult to predict and I rarely pick against the Bills anymore. However, the unprecedented amount of injuries this early in the season has me concerned for a matchup against Lamar Jackson.
The Bills’ problems really have not been on the defensive side of the ball. It is the injuries on the offense that has me concerned in this one. With Gabe Davis and Dawson Knox not 100% and Mitch Morse possibly coming back from injury, I am still not sure the Bills have the offensive firepower that they did just a few weeks ago against the Rams and Titans. Their run game and run blocking success rate have been one of the worst in the league through three weeks and, with sloppy weather likely for this week, I think the Bills might be in for another “perfect storm” loss and more questions.
Featured Image: Associated Press