In Flacco We Trust
The Ravens have struggled to establish a first half rhythm in their last two games, as they were shut out against Cleveland and only mustered a field goal drive against Houston. Without defensive and special teams help, they would have been in a bigger hole.
In the second half of these games, it was a totally different story, as the team had more of a pass-first mentality and put the ball in Joe Flacco’s hands. The Ravens had an easier time moving the ball in those instances as the Super Bowl MVP manipulated the pocket, stood tall against the rush, and made clutch throws to beat the third down blitz.
A similar scenario could develop in Ralph Wilson Stadium against Buffalo. The Bills play an aggressive, downhill style of defense. To counter that attack, Flacco should be entrusted to run a no-huddle attack in which he can quicken the pace and keep the Bills from showing exotic fronts.
Overall, Flacco should be given the green light to throw on first down and the offense needs to get off to a much quicker start, especially on the road.
Run the Ball from Passing Sets and Hit the Edges
In order to get the running game going, the Ravens have to stop being so predictable with their personnel groupings and play calling. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell needs to diversify the rushing attack by bouncing the ball outside more often, getting the run blockers in space, and widening their formations. In particular, the Ravens should try some sweeps and toss plays to get the backs in space.
Moreover, running the ball from predominant pass sets—three wide and four wide formations—will open up inside lanes for Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice. When the Ravens have had any success at all, it has been on quick traps and draws going away from the center. The Ravens should look to hit these plays on second down after they set up the pass on first down.
Playing King Koopa to Sack Mario
Right now, the Bills’ pass rush consists of Super Mario Williams and little else. The dynamic rush end had 4.5 sacks against Carolina and continues to wreck pass protection schemes. In defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense, he has absolutely thrived as a hybrid defensive end who primarily plays with his hand down but can also stand up.
The Ravens have to keep two blockers on him at all times. Neither Bryant McKinnie nor Michael Oher has the ability to check him without help. The Ravens have gotten away without giving help to their tackles at times but Williams will make them pay on passing downs.
The Roving Safety
Last Sunday against Houston, the Ravens decided to jump out of their seven-man fronts and kept their safeties active to defend the run. The “roving” safety would crash hard to the play-side and help keep contain against Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Given the tackling ability of both James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam, the strategy helped bottle up a Houston running game that is always lethal. Ihedigbo in particular was all over the field and was a human cruise missile in open space.
The “rover” will need to be in effect against Buffalo’s dynamic duo of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson this coming Sunday. The safety should come into the box late to give rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel the look that the front is more open than it really is, distorting the QB’s ability to make an audible before the snap.
Keep the Thriller Inside
In Spiller, the Bills have a dynamic game-breaker who can take any play to the house. He is especially explosive on the edges and in open space.
However, he has had a tougher time making his mark in those areas of the field this season. Defenses have done a nice job of playing contain and forcing Spiller to stay inside. Thus far, whenever the former Clemson Tiger has had to get the tougher yards, he hasn’t been able to power through. He’s also lacked the patience to hit the hole and get what he can.
The Baltimore front has to continue to test Spiller’s patience and make sure that they force him to run up the gut. In Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw, the Ravens have two of the best edge defenders to keep Buffalo’s biggest weapon under wraps.
Make the Rookie Earn It
While Manuel has certainly responded well as the first-year signal caller for Buffalo, he’s also had his fair share of mistakes. Last week’s performance against the Jets illustrated that when he’s pressed to deliver tight throws under pressure, he can be exposed. Manuel’s passing accuracy on deep balls was especially bad.
Similarly, the Ravens need to play aggressive man-to-man coverage against the former Florida State Seminole. However, they also need to mix up their coverages and keep Manuel from getting comfortable.
One-on-One Battle of the Week
Lardarius Webb vs. Stevie Johnson
If the Ravens play press coverage, this is going to be a really fun matchup to watch. Johnson is one of the best in the game at getting a release at the line of scrimmage. He does a great job of avoiding contact and is a crafty route runner. Webb has the footwork and change of direction skills to stay with Johnson. He’ll need to play physical all game to keep the brash receiver in check.