Three things to watch for ahead of the Ravens season opener

The Baltimore Ravens will take the field this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium against the Buffalo Bills in the 2018 regular season opener.

The Ravens and the Bills were the story of the last week of the regular season in 2017 when the Bills took the last playoff spot from the Ravens as a result of the Ravens heartbreaking week 17 loss against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Expectations are high in Baltimore this year with a reloaded offense and a defense that will look to continue its rise to the elite ranks. This is a make-or-break year for the Ravens as they will be looking to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

It is important for the Ravens to get off to a great start Sunday with a hopefully convincing win over the Bills.  Here’s what to watch for heading into the season opener.

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Michael Crabtree will be looking to get his Ravens career started off on the right foot.            Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

1) How does the Ravens passing game match up with the Bills secondary?

The Ravens have a new look receiving corps this year with the offseason additions of free agents Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead.  The Ravens also drafted tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews to help bolster a passing attack that ranked 29th in the NFL last season.

The group will be tested early against a Buffalo secondary that is the Bills strongest position group. The Bills finished second in the NFL last season in passing touchdowns allowed with 14, just one off the league lead held by the Minnesota Vikings. The Bills boast quite possibly the best starting safety tandem in the league in 2017 2nd team All-Pro Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. The two combined for 10 interceptions last year.

At the cornerback position, the Bills also have second-year cornerback Tre’Davious White who recorded four interceptions of his own in his rookie year and was named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team. The Bills also brought in nine-year veteran corner Vontae Davis in free agency this offseason and he will start opposite White.

Davis figures to be the weak link of this group. It is likely that the Bills will match White up against Crabtree in efforts to neutralize the Ravens number one wide receiver. This should give the Ravens an advantage with Davis likely being matched up with the speedy Brown.

Hurst won’t play Sunday due to injury and Andrews is currently listed last on the tight end depth chart so it will be up to the new receivers and holdovers Chris Moore, Maxx Williams, and Nick Boyle to get the Ravens off on the right foot in the passing game.

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Image Credit: USA Today

2) If the passing game struggles, will the running game step up?

The Ravens’ offensive line should be able to push around a Bills defense that ranked 29th in rushing defense and dead last in rushing touchdowns allowed last season. The Bills did bring in former Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei to help out their rushing defense, but it remains to be seen how much he improves the group.

The Ravens projected starting offensive line is Ronnie Stanley at left tackle, Alex Lewis at left guard, Matt Skura at center, Marshal Yanda at right guard, and James Hurst at right tackle. The story here is Hurst, who many believe would find himself on the bench at the onset of the season in favor of rookie offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr.

The line will be blocking for the biggest surprise of last season in running back Alex Collins. Collins finished 11th in the NFL last season in total rushing yards despite not taking the starting job until week three. Collins only totaled 212 rushing attempts last season which ranked him 15th among NFL running backs.

Collins was also running behind a patchwork offensive line last season with the Ravens dealing with injuries to Yanda and Lewis. Both players are healthy heading into this season and even though Yanda hasn’t played a snap in the preseason, Coach Harbaugh is confident he’ll be ready.

With the Bills’ vulnerability against the run, Collins could be the star of Sunday’s season opener. Book Collins for 80+ yards and a touchdown this Sunday.

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3) How will the Bills handle the Ravens pass push

The Ravens finished last season with 41 sacks ranking them tied for 11th in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Bills offensive line allowed the seventh-most sacks in the NFL last season surrendering 47 to their opponents.

The Bills have a new-look offensive line this season having lost their top three starters on the unit. They traded veteran left tackle Cordy Glenn to the Bengals and saw fellow veterans Eric Wood and Richie Incognito retire. Second-year left tackle Dion Dawkins will be the new starter and will be joined on the by former Raven Vlad Ducasse, center Ryan Groy, right guard John Miller, and right tackle Jordan Mills.

If this unit does not strike fear in you as a Ravens fan, then rightfully so. The unit was ranked 29th in Pro Football Focus rankings of the offensive line units in the NFL earlier this offseason.

The Ravens boast one of the NFL’s most promising pass rush groups in Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Tim Williams, Za’Darius Smith, and Tyus Bowser. Suggs is fresh off of his seventh 10+ sack season. Judon appears to be a budding star in the NFL and is coming off of a season where recorded eight sacks. Williams, Bowser, and Smith have all flashed in the preseason and appear ready to take the next step this year.

This is another matchup that screams mismatch.

Prediction: Ravens 27 Bills 17

The Details:

  • When: Sunday, September 9, 1:00pm
  • Where: M&T Bank Stadium Baltimore,MD
  • Radio: 98 Rock/WBAL 1090 AM
  • TV: CBS
  • Commentary: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon

Image Credit: USA Today

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