The Baltimore Ravens faced off against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Many analysts, including myself, picked Baltimore to win. While I cannot define the factors others took into account, I will elaborate on the reasons I thought that Baltimore would win. Nathan Peterman is a below average quarterback, with a history of throwing interceptions, while Baltimore’s defense specializes in creating turnovers. The Ravens also rebuilt the offense, and I expected a strong showing from the unit against a mediocre Bills defense. While I projected a win for Baltimore, I only saw the score being 27-10. I was pleasantly surprised that the Ravens were able to drop 47 points on the Bills, while also holding Buffalo to just three points.
The Ravens were able to win this game for the reasons listed above, but to truly understand the win, it is necessary to break down the performances by both sides of the ball. Looking at individual and small group performances will give an insight into where Baltimore is strong, and where the team is weak. There are many different players and groups one can start the examination process at. For the examination of this game, however, it is only appropriate, to begin with, the game’s most valuable player, Joe Flacco.
Joe Flacco entered this season on the hot seat. He has a young new talent behind him, eager to usurp his position at any given minute. That extra motivation, along with new receivers and the prospect of being healthy, gives Flacco a greater chance of performing well this season. As if to prove this hypothesis, Flacco set out to destroy the Bills secondary on Sunday. Flacco tore apart the secondary, from start to finish of the game. Despite the heavy rain, Flacco sliced through the defense with accurate, and smart throws. The version of Flacco seen on Sunday, I dare say, has not been missing since the 2014 season. Flacco finished the day with three touchdowns and zero interceptions, along with 236 passing yards.
The outstanding performance by quarterback Joe Flacco was the most important facet of the offense on Sunday. His steady command of the offense, however, was interrupted by unproductive trick plays, featuring Lamar Jackson. Lamar Jackson is the new shiny quarterback referenced above, looking to take Flacco’s job. His play on Sunday did little to solidify his role as a contender, but it is unfair to pin the failure all on him. The Ravens intentionally inserted Jackson into an offense in a rhythm without him. The unsurprising result was that of disappointment. By the time Lamar Jackson hit the field again, as the main quarterback to relieve Joe Flacco, he looked better.
Perhaps one of the greatest results of the game is the revelation that Joe Flacco has new targets he can depend upon. The greatest deficiency that the offense suffered from in the previous few years concerned wide receivers. The entire starting unit got a makeover this year. Out are Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, and Breshad Perriman, and in are Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead. These new receivers are a major upgrade from the lowly regiment of last year. Aside from Mike Wallace, the Ravens had no true playmakers in the wide receiver department. This year, it seems that Crabtree, Brown, and Snead will all be counted as playmakers for Flacco and the offense. Dependability mixed with athletic ability creates a dynamic option for the Ravens offense, which Flacco exploited heavily in the game against Buffalo.
Another key note regarding the wide receivers in the game against Buffalo needs to be taken into account. Joe Flacco and the Ravens offensive coaches aimed to spread the ball out well, but also include hot streaks for specific receivers. For instance, Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead all caught between three and four passes for an average of 43.7 receiving yards each. The distribution was not even, but close to it. One can also include tight ends in the mix. Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, and Maxx Williams all caught three passes each. The most yards of the group came from Boyle, with 40. The least was from Andrews, who caught for 31 yards total. The near even distribution was also coupled with hot streaks as mentioned above. Receivers seemed to be intentionally targeted on specific drives. For example, on the first drive, Nick Boyle caught the ball three times. On another drive, John Brown caught it twice. On another, Crabtree twice.
The one facet of the offense that did not impress was the run department. Baltimore’s starting running back, Alex Collins, was inconsistent in his runs. On the first drive, the young back scored a touchdown by forcing his way through a pile of bodies. On another, he carelessly fumbled. One may be able to write off such struggles as a product of the rain. That may be partially the case, as LeSean McCoy also had a tough day in the weather. When isolating Collins from the rest of the Ravens rushers, however, a different picture is painted. Collins averaged 1.9 yards per carry, while the rest of the rushers combined averaged 3.85 yards per carry. The situation is not of the utmost concern heading into Cincinnati, but the Ravens will need Collins to perform at a higher caliber for Thursday.
The Ravens obviously did not win because of the running game. To be fair though, the Ravens did not win because of the offense either. The win was a team effort, and the defense played just as much of a role as the offense. While the offense was scoring a gluttonous amount of points, the defense prevented even just one touchdown. The unit was able to keep Buffalo out of the end zone for the entirety of the game but did give up one field goal.
Unlike the offense, most expected to see the Ravens defense be a dominant force on the field this season. The entire unit worked in harmony to devastate the Bills offense on Sunday. LeSean McCoy, public enemy number one, was thwarted throughout the game. Normally, McCoy would provide the Bills with a great number of yards and points, but this was not the case on Sunday. McCoy was unable to get going. This was undoubtedly partly influenced by the heavy rain, but more so by the defense. The linebackers and defensive line worked together to prevent McCoy from running all over the defense. Inside linebackers C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, and Kenny Young prevented McCoy from gaining much in the middle of the field.
The defensive line also was able to get involved in the run stuffing business. The usual suspects of Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce clogged the middle of the line, players like Brent Urban hugged the outside. The neutralization of LeSean McCoy eventually gave way to the decision to give Marcus Murphy chances to run. This increased the efficiency of the Bills rushing attack, but by the time the change was made, it was useless to fight the uphill battle.
The most unsurprising storyline on the Bills offense was that Nathan Peterman struggled. It has taken the Buffalo Bills an obscene amount of time to determine this. Peterman in his first NFL start threw five interceptions. Against the Ravens on Sunday, he threw two, and could not move the ball at all. The second-year quarterback finished the day completing just five of eighteen passes, for 24 yards. Perhaps the most telling statistic is the 0.0 passer rating that Peterman finished the game with. I am not sure how many quarterbacks can claim to have played a 0.0 rating game, but Peterman is among them.
One of the reasons that Peterman was unable to perform well, besides his inherent ineptness, was the insane amount of pressure the Ravens placed on him. Peterman was under constant pressure and had to escape the pocket many times. Peterman was unable to escape and was taken down in three cases. Tavon Young accounted for the first two sacks and the ageless Terrell Suggs for the third and final one. When the Bills substituted Peterman for the rookie, Josh Allen, the assault continued. Allen also suffered from constant pressure and was also sacked three times. Allen was brought to the ground by Za’Darius Smith, Kenny Young, and Tim Williams. These three sacks were very important, not just for the win, but for what each entails.
Allen was sacked three times by developing players on the Ravens roster. Za’Darius Smith, now in his fourth year with the Ravens, has at times excelled as a pass rusher. The Ravens hope the young outside linebacker can develop into a reliable option for the team. This is especially important as Terrell Suggs is aging. Although no one can replace Terrell Suggs, the Ravens do not want to lose the playmaking ability he brings. Second-year pass rusher Tim Williams is also seen as a developmental player by the Ravens. Last year’s third-round pick underwhelmed in his rookie season, but Baltimore held confidence that he would improve in year two. Williams is off to a good start with his sack against Allen. His development may be accelerated, as the Ravens strictly want to specialize him as a pass rusher, his main role at Alabama. Last year, the team tried to give Williams the responsibility of covering the run as well, and as a result, he struggled to be implemented into the defense.
Kenny Young also recorded a sack against Allen. His game performance, unlike the previous two linebackers, is not defined by this single sack. Young in the time he did receive passed the eye test. He did not give up many plays and was able to record four tackles, including the sack. Young also pressured the quarterback twice with two hits. The Ravens seem to like him as a pass rusher and want to continue his development as a coverage linebacker. Again, Kenny Young’s performance was very encouraging.
The final piece of the defense that must be discussed is the secondary. The secondary proved against the Bills that the unit can still play well, nay, excellently, without Jimmy Smith. Peterman’s terrible statistics, already mentioned above, were just as much a product of the secondary as it was the pass rush. His two interceptions were very costly. The first went to Tony Jefferson, who honestly was in the right place at the right time. The pass sailed far above the receiver’s head and fell into the hands of Jefferson. The second interception was more of a noteworthy play, not to diminish Jefferson’s interception. Carr’s interception was more athletic and impressive. He contested the pass with Kelvin Benjamin, but ultimately came away with the pick, and returned it to the two-yard line.
Jefferson and Carr were not the only members of the secondary to have created plays. Others, such as Marlon Humphrey, let their presence be known on the field. Humphrey contested multiple passes, preventing completions. His highlight of the day though, came while he was covering Kelvin Benjamin near the sideline. Benjamin made a jumping catch, but on his way down, Humphrey forced the ball loose, causing an incompletion. Humphrey’s teammate at Alabama, Anthony Averett, also got involved in the pass deflection game. Averett nearly lost coverage on a receiver, but at the last minute was able to prevent a completion.
The entire team was called in to achieve this win against Buffalo. This includes the special teams unit. Many teams around the league often ignore special teams as the other function of football. The Ravens, however, consider it to be a vital part of the team and take careful consideration when making decisions regarding it. The addition of Janarion Grant seems to have been a smart one. Grant played well as the return specialist, even returning one punt fifty yards. Grant did muff a punt at one point, but this can be forgiven as a result of heavy rain. Aside from that one slip up, Grant performed well for the Ravens in his debut game. Justin Tucker, as usual, was perfect on two field goals and five extra points, and Sam Koch averaged a very high 51.4 yards per punt.
Against the Buffalo Bills, the Baltimore Ravens played better than any other game in recent memory. The 47-3 margin of victory is the team’s highest since the Ravens defeated the Lions 48-3 in 2009. The team won because of the much improved passing attack, and always stout defense. The overall impact of this game will be felt for weeks to come. It not only gives the Ravens great confidence that the team can amount to great things, but it solidifies them as playoff contenders early. The Ravens will now prepare to face the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night. A crucial game in the race for the AFC North title comes early in the season.