Welcome to Week One of the NFL season. Here at 300 Level Media, we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the Buffalo Bills’ upcoming opponent and what each team might do to emerge victorious.
The Bills’ first game of the 2017 season will take place in Baltimore as they take on the Ravens. Here’s what to watch for:
BOTH TEAMS WILL ESTABLISH THE RUNNING GAME EARLY
Since 2012, the Bills have ranked among the league’s top 10 rushing teams five times, and the team would like for that trend to continue. To do that, new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will likely return them to the gap and power schemes they had much success with in 2015 and ‘16. Watch for more man-blocking and guards pulling around the corner to spring LeSean McCoy for big gains.
Conversely, the Ravens lean on a zone-based scheme favored by offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Alex Collins will probably be featured on a heavy dose of inside and outside zone calls.
However, the presence of rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson behind veteran Joe Flacco throws a wildcard into the mix. With former Bills and Eagles assistant coaches Greg Roman and James Urban on staff – who have had success with mobile signal callers in the past (Tyrod Taylor, Colin Kaepernick, Michael Vick) – the Ravens might be inclined to utilize Jackson in short yardage plays with sweeps, read-options and RPOs (run-pass options).
PASSING GAME A STUDY IN DIFFERING PHILOSOPHIES
Mornhinweg has a background in the West Coast offense, which he has utilized everyone he’s been to varying degrees of success. His greatest achievements, however, when his system became more vertical rather than horizontal with the likes of Steve Young, Donovan McNabb and Vick pulling the trigger.
Flacco is typically at his best when relying on his strong right arm and testing defenses downfield. But in the NFL, you cannot have sustained success by consistently relying on deep throws. You must have a passing attack based on rhythmic, quick throws, and that’s an area in which Flacco has struggled in recent years.
The Bills, on the other hand, are transitioning from a similar system under Rick Dennison to one that resembles the New England Patriots’ offense. Daboll, a longtime Pats assistant, is bringing what is commonly known as the Erhardt/Perkins system to Buffalo, and it is based off of concepts rather than individual routes. This way, skill players learn multiple positions so they can line up in different spots and take advantage of matchups (for more on this particular system, read the excellent piece http://grantland.com/features/how-terminology-erhardt-perkins-system-helped-maintain-dominance-tom-brady-patriots/ by Chris B. Brown of SmartFootball.com)
Look for the Bills to try and get the Ravens’ linebackers out in space to try and cover players like LeSean McCoy and Kelvin Benjamin – an obvious mismatch in favor of Buffalo.
RAVENS DEFENSE ADJUSTING TO NEW SHOT CALLER
New Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale has a tall task ahead of him. Given the team’s long history of success on that side of the ball – the numerous All-Pros and successful coaches they’ve employed have made strong defenses a franchise tradition – Martindale inherits a strong unit that finished within the top 10 in most statistical categories and anything less than that would be a failure by Baltimore’s standards.
Martindale has spent just one year as the general of a defensive unit – in 2010 for the Denver Broncos – but don’t let his lack of experience fool you. He will disguise coverages and blitzes just as much as his predecessors, and then some. Relying on versatile defenders like Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Brandon Williams, Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, Martindale can mix and match with both zone and man-press coverage.
BILLS DEFENSE WILL STAY TRUE TO ITSELF
The Bills’ defense won’t try to out-scheme the Ravens at the line of scrimmage – except in the form of double A-gap blitzes and subtle coverage rotations pre-snap. To confuse Flacco and his offensive line, the Bills will align linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano opposite each shoulder of the center to show a blitz. The Ravens’ offensive line will then have to adjust their pass protection scheme in order to accommodate the mere threat of them coming.
Whether or not the Bills actually blitz one – or both – of those linebackers, only they will know. The whole point is to create confusion at the line of scrimmage and to get the opposing offense to declare what they will do in protection. Then Buffalo can attack what they do accordingly, by either rushing those linebackers or dropping them into coverage. (For more info on the Bills’ defensive approach, please read https://fromthe300level.com/2018/08/pressure-package-how-the-late-buddy-ryan-has-influenced-the-buffalo-bills-defenses-for-over-20-years/.)
SPECIAL TEAMS WILL PLAY A CRUCIAL ROLE
Sunday will mark the debut of rookie Bills punter Corey Bojorquez, claimed off waivers from the New England Patriots and replacing veteran Colton Schmidt. Bojorquez, who had a strong college career at New Mexico, will be under the microscope immediately in Buffalo, where success on special teams has become expected over the last few decades.
The Ravens under head coach John Harbaugh and special teams coach Jerry Rosburg have been one of the NFL’s strongest advocates of good special teams play since the former’s hiring in 2008. Justin Tucker and Sam Koch make up one of the best kicker-punter duos in football, and their return game has been good for several years.