The Baltimore Ravens will look to move to 11-2 on the 2019 season when they head to Orchard Park, New York to take on the 9-3 Buffalo Bills this Sunday at New Era Field.
The Ravens moved to 10-2 with a hotly contested 20-17 victory over the now 10-2 San Francisco 49ers this past Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. It was an ugly affair overall with a constant downpour limiting both passing offenses throughout the contest, but the Ravens emerged victorious on a Justin Tucker game winning 49 yard field goal:
Tucker is the best kicker in the NFL and perhaps in NFL history and the Ravens needed him on Sunday against a 49ers team that pushed the Ravens further than any team has since the Steelers in Week five. Tucker added this in the postgame:
Lamar Jackson struggled passing the ball on Sunday in the monsoon as he finished 14-23 for 105 yards and one touchdown. Jackson pitched in 16 carries for 101 yards and a rushing touchdown as he continued to push toward a potential MVP award.
The Ravens victory coupled with a New England loss finds the Ravens atop the AFC with just four weeks to play. If the Ravens can win out, the road to the Super Bowl will come through Baltimore for the first time in franchise history. The Ravens can also clinch the AFC North with a win over the Bills on Sunday and a Steelers loss to the Cardinals.
The Bills find themselves at 9-3 enjoying an abbreviated bye after a 26-15 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. They are currently the five seed in the AFC and will provide another tough to test for the Ravens on their road to the 2019 Playoffs.
Here’s what to watch for ahead of Sunday’s tilt with the Bills.
1) Does the rushing defense bounce back?
The Ravens have long been known for their dominance in their rushing defense but Sunday is a day that they’d like to forget.
The unit gave up 174 yards overall to the 49ers, including 146 yards and a touchdown to Raheem Mostert. Yes, the same Raheem Mostert whose career high in rushing yards prior to Sunday was 87 yards back in October of 2018. Mostert is having a nice year with 92 carries for 539 yards overall, but the way San Francisco was able to gash the Ravens is concerning.
It’s especially concerning when you consider the Bills boast the NFL’S fifth best rushing attack. They are led by rookie RB Devin Singletary, who has 98 carries for 553 yards and two touchdowns. They complement him with the NFL’S third all time leading rusher Frank Gore, who has 146 carries for 552 yards and a pair of touchdowns of his own. Lamar Jackson is familiar with Singletary:
Mix in QB Josh Allen, who has 93 carries for 430 yards and eight touchdowns and the Bills have a quite a trio of rushers to give the Ravens defense problems.
The Ravens are still sixth in the league in rushing defense despite Sunday’s mishap where they gave up the most yards on the ground that they have surrendered since the 193 the Browns racked up on them in Week four. Coach Harbaugh is aware of the issues:
The Ravens really struggled to set the edge on Sunday against the 49ers and they will need to clean that up to come away with a victory on Sunday.
2) Another tough passing defense awaits
Last week I discussed how dominant the San Francisco passing defense was in my Three Things to Watch for article. The 49ers stifled the Ravens throughout Sunday’s contest with a little help from the horrid weather conditions.
It will be no rest for the weary as the Ravens passing game will go up against the NFL’S third best passing defense in the Buffalo Bills. They are surrendering just 195.8 yards per game through the air and have given up just nine passing touchdowns on the season.
Their secondary is comprised of Tre’Davious White who is emerging as one of the top five corners in the NFL. White is joined by Levi Wallace at corner and one of the league’s best safety duos in Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. It has been a no fly zone throughout the year in the Bills secondary but there is something that can give the Ravens passing game some hope.
Contests against Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, and Tom Brady are notable. Other than that though, the Bills have played Sam Darnold, Eli Manning, Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota, Ryan Fitzpatrick(twice), Dwayne Haskins, Baker Mayfield, and Brandon Allen so far this season. So we have four games against guys having subpar seasons, three against QB’s who were later benched, and two against QB’s who came off the bench to replace bum/injured starters.
Another encouraging sign for the Baltimore offense is the Bills 14th ranked rushing defense. It is important to note though that since being gashed for 218, 127, and 147 between weeks 8-10, they have given up only 70 yards a game in the past three weeks.
But if the Ravens want to win on Sunday, they will need their running game to keep chugging along. Stop me if you’ve heard that before.
3) Third Down TEndencies
The Ravens boast the second best third down offense in the NFL, successfully converting on 48.9% of their third down opportunities. It has been a well balanced attack for Baltimore, converting 141 first downs with their rushing attack and 136 through the air. The Bills are eighth in the NFL in third down defense, giving up just a 35% conversion rate. They have conceded 65 conversions via the run and 132 via the pass so far this season.
Breaking that down further in the passing game, 59 of the Ravens conversions are from their tight end group with Mark Andrews leading the way with 36 first down receptions for the Baltimore offense. Buffalo has given up just 41 receptions for 379 yards and two touchdowns all season long.
Baltimore’s tight ends have combined for 101 catches, 1,187 yards, and nine touchdowns so far this season. They are the bread and butter of the Ravens offense, especially with wide receiver Hollywood Brown playing at 80% this season by his own admission.
It will be interesting to see how the Bills opt to defend the Ravens trio of tight ends. They could stick one of their talented safeties or corners on Andrews who is the biggest threat but his 6’4, 256 pound frame would likely be too much for White, Hyde, or Poyer, none of which go over 6’0, 197 lbs.
I would expect to see Bills 2018 first round pick Tremaine Edmunds covering Andrews throughout the day. Edmunds is 6’5, 250 lbs and ran a 4.5 in the 40-yard-dash at last year’s combine. The winner of that matchup could decide Sunday’s contest.
Jake McDonnell: Ravens 37 Bills 24
Nolan McGraw: Ravens 31 Bills 21
Isaiah Stumpf: Ravens 41 Bills 13
Ian Schultz: Ravens 23 Bills 17
I have picked against the Ravens in this game since the schedule was released several months ago. I felt a trip to Buffalo in December would bring some ugly weather along with it and that would be too much for a fumble prone Lamar Jackson. Jackson has done a complete 180 with his ball handling and the Ravens have the best offense in the NFL. The Bills are even better than I thought they were going to be but I still can’t bring myself to pick them in this one despite having 10 days to prep for the Ravens.