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1) Pound cake: Buffaloâ€™s defense is built on speed. The front seven is made up of blue-collar, high-energy defenders who look to split gaps and penetrate into the backfield. However, if it has to play on its heels, the front is not nearly as effective.
The Ravens will need to play smash-mouth football against a quicker, yet lighter Buffalo defense which will look to fly around and create turnovers on Sunday.
It will be up to the offensive line, especially the interior trio of Jason Brown, Mike Flynn and Keydrick Vincent, to get a push up front and create some inside lanes for Jamal Lewis and Mike Anderson to gash through. In order to create space, look for the lineman to allow the inside tackle duo of Kyle Williams and Larry Tripplett get up the field, only to run a play right past them using a delay run. Employing this strategy would also allow one of the lineman to peel off of an initial double-team block, and get to the second level to block a linebacker.
In general, the middle has to be controlled by Baltimore. If they have to run plays off the edges, the Bills linebackers will be able to play sideline-to-sideline in open space, as opposed to having to take on blocks and squaring up to the ball-carrier, which is not necessarily their forte.
2) Influencing the safeties: Against Pittsburgh, the Ravens were able to create favorable match-ups in the passing game, lining up their receivers against safety Troy Polamalu out of their base formation. The Ravens used tight-end Todd Heap to occupy a cornerback on the outside, which forced Polamalu to cover a receiver, and he was burned twice for touchdown strikes downfield.
The Bills safeties are tough, physical and versatile. The rookie safety duo of Ko Simpson and Donte Whitner has the potential to be among the best in the NFL. Although they have made some exciting plays at various times this season, the two have also made some key mistakes. Especially in coverage, either player can be baited out of position.
The Ravens will need to continue their approach of trying to force the safety to move from their landmark, by using play-action, and switching their receivers into the slot when they spread their formation or use motion. With either Clayton or Williams matched up against Whitner or Simpson downfield, Steve McNair will have the chance to deliver a big strike or two in a passing situation.
1) Protecting against the big play: Since a week eight matchup against the New Orleans Saints, the Ravens have done a much better job of defending the pass. After giving up vertical passes against the Panthers and Saints in back-to-back games, the Ravens have protected the outside better. The safeties have stayed true to their assignments and the corners have played with better technique.
Still, against Buffalo, there is one more major test left for the secondary to face before it prepares to play in the playoffs. The Bills are just as capable as any offense in the league of hitting on a backbreaking strike or two to score quickly. Receivers Lee Evans, Roscoe Parrish and Peerless Price possess the speed to get behind a corner, especially if they are able to get past the initial bump at the line-of-scrimmage.
Against these wideouts, the corners will need help from their safeties. Evans should be double covered, while the other receivers should be redirected to the middle of the field as opposed to the perimeter. If the Ravens give up any yardage in the passing game, it should be of the 10-to-20 yard variety in small chunks, but not the air strikes that the Bills are accustomed to hitting on from time to time.
2) Outside pressure: When facing J.P. Losman, the Ravens will need to turn the third-year quarterback into more of a pocket passer. When he gets the chance to roll out of the pocket and throw on the run, he is harder to contain. Losman has remarkable arm strength, and he has mastered the ability to throw the ball accurately on the move.
The emphasis of the Ravensâ€™ pass-rush should be to generate a great outside rush that forces Losman to step up in the pocket. Using this type of attack will make Losman use his footwork more inside the pocket, as opposed to having the chance to roll to his left or right side off tackle to complete a pass or run with the ball.
3) Plugging the outlets: Another facet of Losmanâ€™s game features his ability to turn to his safety valves in times of duress. His backs and tight-end (Robert Royal) have been in position to bail him out at times, when he has been forced to make plays outside of the pocket. The linebackers will need to be aware, and play with great instincts when Losman is able to escape the rush, so they donâ€™t leave any of these safety valves uncovered because they are concentrating so intently on stopping Losman.
One-on-one Matchup to Watch: Nate Clements versus Mark Clayton: Clements has been playing well in a contract year, and has been the Billsâ€™ most consistent defender over the past four seasons. Although he lacks great speed, the former Buckeye is tough, physical and effective in man-to-man coverage. Clayton has emerged as the Ravensâ€™ go-to player in the passing game, especially on inside routes. He has perfected his route running skills over the last two seasons. The Ravens will need to get him involved in the passing game on Sunday, especially if Buffalo leaves their corners on islands so they can play more aggressively up front.