It’s kind of a blah game.
With each teams’ recent pedigree being our guide, all signs point to a Ravens’ win. However, there are plotlines to this game that could alter that prognostication.
Here are the plotlines for the Baltimore Ravens at the Buffalo Bills.
On the one hand, you could make the argument that the Ravens should pound the ball against the porous run defense of the Bills. They are giving up 155 yards per game and 4.3 yards per rush.
On the other hand, the Bills were torched last week by the New York Jets’ rookie quarterback Geno Smith to the tune of 331 yards and a stellar 11.4 yards per attempt. Jets’ receivers Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill both got loose against the Bills secondary for long touchdowns. The Bills’ cornerbacks, Aaron Williams, Justin Rogers, and Da’Norris Searcy have really struggled this year.
So, the Ravens are sitting pretty, right? Not so fast. Both offensive strategies are predicated upon decent play from the offensive line. The Ravens can’t really say they have a decent playing offensive line.
Can the Ravens’ offensive line exploit the deficiencies in the Bills’ run game? Can the Ravens’ offensive line hold their blocks long enough to give quarterback Joe Flacco time to throw downfield? Of course, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell could always attack both Bills’ weaknesses by being a balanced offense. We shall see tomorrow which direction the Ravens choose.
If it was up to me, I would pound the rock relentlessly and use play action to stretch the field. Pick your moments with the pass, and be patient and stick with the run—2.6 yards per carry be damned.
Will the Bills’ Potentially Potent Ground Game Stay Grounded?
Fantasy football fans have been salivating for years over the potential of C.J. Spiller, he of the incredible breakaway speed and electric athleticism in the open field. Couple him with a mobile quarterback like rookie EJ Manual, with read-option potential, and Spiller was a consensus top running back.
This was the year Spiller was suppose to supplant Fred Jackson as the full-time starting running back for the Bills, and be the man that the Bills thought they drafted number nine overall in 2010—a true dual-threat running back.
Hasn’t happened. Spiller has struggled. He has averaged 3.6 yards per carry, but he has only had success in one game—week two against Carolina—while struggling against the Jets and New England. He has a measly nine receptions for 29 yards. In fact, he relinquished 30 percent of his carries to Fred Jackson last week against the Jets.
However, this is the same running back that has averaged 5.7 yards per carry and 46 receiving yards per game over the last two years. Spiller has the breakout, game changing potential that puts fear in opponents.
The Ravens need to corral the traditional running game, and limit the read-option that will surely be a part of the Buffalo attack. Put the game in Manual’s hands. The Ravens have historically fared well against rookie quarterbacks.
In the NFL, not many road games can ever be labeled a “trap” game. Sure, there are some home underdogs (Buffalo is + 3.5) on the schedule each and every week in the NFL. But with the current salary cap and overall talent being spread out throughout the league causing league-wide parity, are home ‘dogs beating a “favored” team really a surprise?
That being said, this game has the makings of a trap game. After the Bills, the Ravens face the following teams: at Miami, home against Green Bay, at Pittsburgh, followed by their bye week. Miami is undefeated. Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers, a potent offense, and is tough anywhere they play. Pittsburgh versus Baltimore is always a battle no matter what each teams’ records are. That is a brutal stretch of games.
The game against the Bills is the last game of the first quarter of the season. With a win, the Ravens would conclude that first quarter with three wins and one loss as they enter the difficult second quarter mentioned above.
Let’s hope the Ravens do not overlook the Bills like they overlooked the Titans, Jaguars, and Seahawks in 2011.
Unsung Player to Watch, aka the “Corey Graham 2012 Postseason Award”
In lieu of a prediction of the score of the game, I will pick a Raven player each week that I think will have an impact on the game. I won’t pick an obvious player (like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs, etc.), but a player that flies a bit under the radar. Think of this as the “Corey Graham 2012 Postseason Award.” Who would have predicted that Graham would have been last year’s postseason-player-of-the-game in Denver?
Well, I have stuck out with each of my picks for this prediction. The silver lining is that I have been a week early:
Week 1: Daryl Smith. Stunk against Denver, has been a stud since.
Week 2: Tandon Doss. A non-factor against Cleveland, but a game-changer last week against Houston with his 82 yard punt returen touchdown.
Week 3: Brandon Stokley. He played well last week, but Dallas Clark assumed Stokley’s third down role with more regularity.
Conventional wisdom says I should select Stokley. But I will eschew conventionality and select Matt Elam. I think Elam renews his rivalry with Manual (Elam from Florida and Manual from Florida State) and he gets the better of his fellow rookie, like he did last year when Elam intercepted Manual in the Florida Gators’ win over the Florida State Seminoles. Elam records his first professional turnover this week.