Offense Needs To Step Up: Ravens vs Bills

Baltimore Ravens What to Look For
Joe Flacco

With a dominant performance last week, the Ravens’ defense carried the team to a 30-9 victory over the Houston Texans, giving the Ravens a 2-1 record. In both of the Ravens’ victories, the defense has led the team allowing a total of 15 points and against the Texans, they scored the Ravens first points of the game with Daryl Smith’s interception returned for a touchdown. This week, the Ravens head to Buffalo to take on the 1-2 Bills.

1.  Fast Start For Offense
Over the last two weeks, the Ravens offense has scored just three first half points on 10 first-half drives. In week two, the Ravens were down 6-0 at half time because of this and last week the Ravens were up 17-9, only due to touchdowns from the defense and from special teams.

If the Ravens want to have a chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions, then they are going to need to score touchdowns in the first half. The defense isn’t going to be able to carry the team through the first half of every single game, it just isn’t possible.

Coming out of halftime, the offense has scored three touchdowns over the last two games so there are clearly some adjustments being made, but three touchdowns is still a little weak.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Fixing this problem is double-sided. There needs to be a better gameplan in place and there needs to be better execution of this gameplan. Yes, the offense has a lack of weapons at the moment but they still need to step it up. Quarterback Joe Flacco has played like a game-manager the last few games. The Ravens were able to win the game, but they aren’t playing Flacco $120.6 million to be a game-manager.

Against a weaker opponent like the Bills, the Ravens’ offense will need to come out strong in order to not allow the Bills to hang around. If the Bills are able to hang around, then the Ravens could get upset. If the Ravens are able have a fast start on offense, then the Bills will be in an early hole, which will be tough to climb out of with the way the Ravens’ defense has been playing recently.

2.  Run Game
In order for the offense to start fast, the run game needs to actually function for the Ravens. So far this season, the Ravens are averaging a meager 2.6 yards per carry, tied for second worst in the NFL.

For years, the Ravens’ offense has been based off the run game and that has become the Ravens’ brand of football: suffocating defense and a physical run game.

Despite having two quality running back — Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce — the Ravens haven’t been able to get the ground game going. The offensive line has been getting little push and hasn’t been creating any good holes for the two backs to run though. When there have been holes, the backs have had good gains and this was evident last week. When Pierce finally got a decent hole, he gained 25 yards.

Last week, Rice was out with a hip injury and he is questionable for this week. Unlike last week, he has actually participated in practice — albeit limited — but at least he is getting some work done. Expect him to play this week but on a limited basis. He will probably be limited to 10-15 carries as he is eased back into his role.

One thing going for the Ravens is that they have faced the first, seventh, and ninth best run defenses in the league based on yards per game and the first, second, and fifth best run defenses if you go by yards per attempt. This week, the Ravens get a much easier matchup as they go up against the Bills who are tied for second worst in rush yards allowed per game with 155 yards per game.

This should be the exact spark that the Ravens’ run game needs to get going. Buffalo has struggled to stop the run so far, though they have faced two top six rushing teams and the other is ranked 13th.

Anyways, expect the Ravens to come out running the ball early and often as they try to take advantage of this weakness in the Bills’ defense. With the talent that the Ravens have, expect them to be successful running the ball against the Bills.

3.  Confusing E.J. Manuel
These are the types of days that defenses looks forward to: going against a rookie quarterback. Recently, rookie quarterbacks have been playing better than ever but experienced defenses can still get the best of them.

With the 16th overall pick, the Bills drafted Manuel out of Florida State University, making him the first quarterback taken in last year’s draft.

Last week, the Bills played the New York Jets, and the Jets’ defense showed that Manuel was an inexperienced rookie (with some help from the Bills’ offensive line). The Jets had eight sacks and 16 quarterback hits and Manuel completed just 45 percent of his passes. Jets head coach Rex Ryan used to be the Ravens’ defensive coordinator so the Ravens still run similar schemes to him.

The Bills knew that Ryan and the Jets would be coming with lots of blitzes but they still weren’t able to stop them. Manuel is a duel-threat quarterback so you always have to worry about him running when you call these blitzes but he only had limited success running the ball.

The Jets laid out a very good defensive blueprint to use against the Bills. They were able to contain — and by contain I mean hold to a 0.9 yards per carry average — elusive running back C.J. Spiller, forcing the game into the hands of Manuel. Knowing that Spiller was contained, the Jets were able to use more pass specific blitzes to try and stop Manuel, which worked. When the Jets rushed five or more players, Manuel was just 1-of-10 passing and he was 1-of-8 when a defensive back was blitzed.

Historically, the Ravens have played well against rookie quarterbacks and they are 5-2 under head coach John Harbaugh against  rookie quarterbacks. One of these losses can’t be attributed to the defense though as the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Ravens despite 93 passing yards from quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

Expect the Ravens to come after Manuel this week with the blitz, just like the Jets did. The Ravens have a similar defensive style to the Jets so expect to see similar results. If the Ravens can confuse Manuel with different blitzes, they have a very good chance of winning.

4.  Pass Rush
As usual, the pass rush will be an important aspect of the game on Sunday.

So far this year, outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil have looked excellent for the Ravens. Suggs has three sacks and Dumervil has two. Pass rushing is just measured by sacks though, as you can look at pressures and hurries as well. When you look at these two things, you see that Suggs and Dumervil are also recording many of these as well.

While the Ravens will probably try confuse Manuel with different blitzes, it is a safe bet that Suggs and Dumervil will be rushing on almost all of these.

Last week, the Ravens were without starting defensive end Chris Canty due to a groin injury. This week he is questionable and has been limited in practice all week. He will be a game-time decision and and having him will provide a big boost to the Ravens’ pass rush. His backup is Marcus Spears who offers virtually nothing in the passing game but is a stout run defender.

The Bills offensive line has given up nine sacks, tied for 18th best in the NFL. However, eight of those came against the Jets so when you take that game away, they have given up just one sack in two games. Left guard Colin Brown has been particularly bad this season so expect the Ravens to attack him.

I’m predicting that the Ravens will get three sacks against the Bills tomorrow. Suggs, Dumervil, and Arthur Jones will each record one. If the Ravens can record at least three sacks, they have a good shot at winning this game.

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