Welcome to Week 14 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’ 13th game of the 2019 season will take place at New Era Field as they face the Baltimore Ravens. Here’s what you should know:
RAVENS WILL RUN, RUN AND RUN SOME MORE
The red-hot Baltimore Ravens are coming to town having won eight games in a row, the longest winning streak in franchise history and they have already set a franchise record for points scored in a season – something that fans of the team aren’t used to given the team’s long track record of merely good but never great attacks.
Before the 2019 season began, longtime head coach John Harbaugh promoted former Bills and 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman to replace the outgoing Marty Mornhinweg in order to maximize the talent at his disposal. He has more than done so, as he has turned second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson into the favorite to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award.
Jackson had a lot of questions going into last year’s draft but most of those concerns have been answered, and in a hurry. According to Bucky Brooks of nfl.com, “As a passer, Jackson has shown tremendous progress in his second season. He has significantly improved his completion rate and passer rating while displaying a better overall feel for the game from the pocket. He’s at his best throwing the ball down the seams or on in-breaking routes between the numbers on traditional dropbacks and play-action passes. Although he remains a work in progress on throws to the outside, the Ravens have built their offense around the strengths of his game and by allowing him to be himself.”
Passing-wise, the Ravens are aligned with the West Coast offense’s principles. A ball-control passing game that can eat up clock while stretching teams from sideline to sideline rather than vertically, this version of the system features mobile quarterbacks who can move within the pocket, especially on bootlegs, rollouts and play-action. It also will have its skill players line up anywhere on the line of scrimmage to try and get defenses to declare their coverages, and also aligns wide receivers close to the offensive line in order to give them more space to operate and to block on running plays. Their passing game makes excellent use of intertwining route combinations, especially ones involving posts, crossing patterns and flood concepts with pass options at the deep, short and intermediate levels.
Jackson isn’t quite at the level needed yet in order to execute some of these offensive designs though. Thus, the Ravens have created defined reads for him through clever usage of offensive sets and simple route concepts in order to give him confidence right off the bat. Those passes are typically thrown to wide receivers like rookie speedsters Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Miles Boykin, and veterans Willie Snead IV and Seth Roberts.
Used even more so than their receivers are tight ends Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle. Any combination of those three will be on the field at any given time, as the Ravens lead the league in usage of 12 (one back, two tight ends), 22 (two backs, two tight ends) and 13 (one back, three tight ends) personnel at a rate of 40 percent. But they aren’t just weapons in the passing game – they’re also utilized heavily on the ground as blockers for Jackson and running backs Mark Ingram II, Gus Edwards and Patrick Ricard.
Roman had experience working with mobile quarterbacks like Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo and Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco, and had previously installed successful concepts for both of his former signal-callers like jet sweeps, zone-read options, triple options and RPOs. Jackson has used those same ideas and taken them to another level, as he is just 63 yards away from breaking Michael Vick’s league record for rushing yards in a season by a quarterback and has also become the first passer in NFL history to run for more than 950 yards and throw for 25 touchdowns.
Baltimore’s offensive line is characterized by man-blocking, pulling guards and power runs, and its best players are stalwarts Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr.
BALTIMORE’S DEFENSE STILL A TOP-TEN UNIT
Traditionally the more-discussed unit on their team thanks to legendary coaches and players on that side of the ball, Baltimore’s defense is being overshadowed for once. Not to be outdone by their counterparts on offense, they continue to be one of the better defenses in football, as over their last eight games the Ravens have led the league in points allowed and have come away with 15 takeaways – five of them resulting in defensive touchdowns. They also blitz on 48 percent of their snaps (mostly on overload and fire zone rushes), the highest figure in the NFL.
Coordinated by Don “Wink” Martindale, Baltimore came into this season having lost a few familiar faces like Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith and Brent Urban to free agency, resulting in a little less depth in their front seven. First year general manager Eric DeCosta, who has succeeded the retiring Ozzie Newsome, decided to replace them from within and has gotten good results.
Defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce are solid run-stuffers and Matthew Judon and Jaylon Ferguson have stepped up in the pass-rush department, as evidenced by their combined eight sacks on the season. The underrated Patrick Onwuasor and Josh Bynes are their inside linebackers and can cover and stop the run with ease.
Baltimore’s secondary is as talented as ever. Future Hall of Fame safety Earl Thomas, imported from Seattle during the spring, is the team’s best option at that position since Ed Reed left (and that’s including last year’s starter Eric Weddle). Unlike with the Seahawks, where he typically lined up at centerfield in their fabled Cover Three scheme, his range is taken advantage of more here by being moved around in pre-snap disguises. Chuck Clark replaces the injured Tony Jefferson at the other safety position.
At cornerback, the Ravens are loaded. The trade for gambling ballhawk Marcus Peters has created an embarrassment of riches, where his presence has given Martindale options on how to deploy Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr (lately Humphrey and Carr have been used in the slot while Peters and Smith line up outside). All can execute man and zone coverages well.
The Ravens did have one issue show up last week – against San Francisco’s fabled outside zone scheme they made the 49ers’ running backs look dominant. While Buffalo doesn’t utilize as much outside zone as the 49ers, they do like to get the ball on the perimeter on pin-and-pull concepts and ‘G’ schemes (with man-blocking on one side and zone on the other) and have had success with it. How the Ravens’ linebackers deal with this remains to be seen.
BUFFALO’S DEFENSE HAS REGAINED FORM THE LAST THREE WEEKS
Against the Dolphins, Broncos and Cowboys over the last three weeks, Buffalo ended their recent trend of letting running backs do well against them on the ground by allowing just 211 yards on 49 carries. Buffalo has also increased their production in the pass rush department by racking up a combined 15 sacks on quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brandon Allen and Dak Prescott. The recent uptick in quarterback takedowns has vaulted the Bills up to sixth in the NFL in sacks with 37.
Schematically, the Bills’ third-ranked defense relies on basic zone coverages after the snap, but before the snap it is complex – safety rotations to disguise their coverages keep opposing quarterbacks guessing and selective pressure looks at the line of scrimmage are Sean McDermott’s calling card (those blitz looks are usually in the A-gaps from their linebackers – for more info on McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s defense, please read: https://fromthe300level.com/2018/08/pressure-package-how-the-late-buddy-ryan-has-influenced-the-buffalo-bills-defenses-for-over-20-years/?fbclid=IwAR3iYcnJ5qvl8shWHkZJVNO50VJXPeaEx8k0-Rk1VWV_Qx2OEfsAn2NY_ys).
This will be the Bills’ biggest test of the year so far on defense. Against a multiple, versatile offense like Baltimore’s, their gap integrity will be tested, as will their aptitude in coverage. Jackson has executed extremely well against Cover Zero and Cover One so far (and no defense should want to play man coverage much against the Ravens, given Jackson’s running abilities). Jackson’s also been stellar against Cover Two, but has been so-so against Cover Three, Tampa-Two and Cover Four – all forms of zone coverage (and the Bills like to use Cover Four quite a bit). Pittsburgh had some success against him earlier in the year by using a three-safety dime package, so perhaps Buffalo will swipe a page out of their playbook.
BILLS’ OFFENSE LOOKS TO CONTINUE STRONG SHOWING
Going into Week 11 the Bills’ offense was ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every major offensive category. To address this lack of production, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll decided to move from the field to the press box in order to call plays and get a bird’s eye view of what was happening on the field.
The decisions to go upstairs and use more of an up-tempo attack have paid off, as Buffalo has gotten significant contributions from players like Josh Allen, Devin Singletary, John Brown and Dawson Knox over the last two weeks. The Bills also increased their usage of 11 personnel (one back, one tight end, three receivers) – a change from weeks prior where the team heavily utilized 12 and 22 personnel – resulting in better production both through the air and on the ground, as evidenced by the Bills now employing the NFL’s fifth-best rushing offense.
The Bills’ offense is a Patriots-style system that’s built upon concepts involving option routes from the slot, downfield routes from the outside, designed quarterback runs to take advantage of Allen’s mobility, deep dropbacks and alignments that create favorable matchups (and some trick plays with jet motion and sweeps with Isaiah McKenzie).
- Allen has turned the ball over just once in the Bills’ last seven games – a mark of a young quarterback making some progress.
- The Bills’ defense allowed 426 yards against Dallas last week – ending a streak which saw them give up less than 400 yards of offense in 23 consecutive games dating to last year, the longest such streak in the NFL.
- Baltimore has rushed for 2,494 yards through 12 games – the most by a team through 12 games since the 1975 Bills.
- The Ravens are also projected to be the first team ever to average 200 rushing and passing yards per game in one season.
- According to nyupstate.com, Allen and Jackson have rushed for more than 1,400 yards this year – the highest ever total of any two opposing quarterbacks in one contest in NFL annals.
- Buffalo is currently ranked sixth in the NFL in red zone percentage.
- Ed Oliver is the first Bills rookie to pick up a sack in three straight games since Darryl Talley in 1983.
- Tre’Davious White is tied for second in the NFL in pass breakups and is third with four interceptions.
- Baltimore is first in the NFL in rushing attempts with an average of 37 runs per game while the Bills are third with 30 attempts per game.
- This will be the first time since December 22, 1991 when both the Bills and their opponent will have winning percentages above .733 (Bills-Lions).
- Not only do the Ravens use pre-snap motion frequently (they’ve used it on 34 percent of their plays – no one else has done it more than 20 percent) but they also lead the NFL in fourth-down conversion rate (they are 15-20 on the season).
- Punter Sam Koch is on pace for the fewest punts in a 16-game season in league annals (he’s kicked the ball to the opposition just 24 times so far).