The Ravens head to the road for a two-game stretch starting this weekend. First stop Buffalo. The Bills are currently 1-2 but have played tight in every game so far. They boast an intriguing rookie Quarterback in E.J.Manuel and have some weapons to account for in their offense in C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson.
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The Ravens surprised many last week as they stomped the Houston Texans 30-9 to push their record to 2-1. What can they do to improve on that mark?
Let’s take a look at a few of the important match-ups in this week’s game:
Ravens Running Back Bernard Pierce vs. Bills Front Seven
Pierce got his first career start last week against Houston and he had a tough day against a formidable front. Still he ground out 65 yds. on 24 carries with a touchdown. Ray Rice, even though limited in practice Wednesday has stated that he will play this Sunday. So we will just how much the Ravens two pronged attack will test the Bills front.
Meanwhile, the Bills have had their struggles controlling the run game in their first three contests giving up 465 rushing yards, which is one of the worst marks in the league. Buffalo also has several injuries up front so it’s also possible that their entire starting defensive line may not suit up. Either way, Sunday appears to be a golden opportunity for the Baltimore offensive line to have a breakout game and get the run game churning.
Ravens Outside Linebackers Terrell Suggs/Elvis Dumervil vs. Bills Quarterback E.J. Manuel
The Ravens pass rush has been one of the bright spots in this revamped defense. Constant pressure, and delivering hits on the quarterback are a key to forcing mistakes from the opposition. One need only watch tape from last week to see Matt Schaub fall victim to repeated punishment from Ravens defenders.
Leading the charge has been outside backers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil who combined have totaled 31 pressures in just three games. No doubt these two are anxious to get at a Buffalo front line that gave up eight sacks last week to Rex Ryan’s Jets.
E.J. Manuel is an impressive rookie out of the new mold of signal callers. He has size and an ability to go deep but he can also use his speed to create plays as well. So not only will Baltimore pass rushing tandem need to get home on the young quarterback but hopefully they can force him into to some ill advised decisions too.
Ravens Wide Receiver Torrey Smith vs. Bills Cornerback Justin Rodgers
The Ravens have been known as a big play team the past few years often utilizing Joe Flacco’s big arm for big plays downfield. So far that hasn’t materialized. He’s only attempted 17 passes of 20 yards or longer this season. Torrey Smith continues to be a dependable target for Flacco and he’s currently on pace to double his receiving yardage total from a season ago.
The Bills are banged up in the Secondary. Franchise player Safety Jarius Byrd is out with a foot injury and last week against New York they gave up several deep strikes to Santonio Holmes. Rodgers a rookie will most likely get the call to guard Smith and no doubt he’ll need some help over the top to stick with the speedy wideout.
This could be a great time to get the deep ball going and for Flacco to put up some big numbers.
Ravens Ends Marcus Spears/Arthur Jones vs. Bills Running Back C.J. Spiller
Last season Spiller averaged a gaudy 6 yards per carry, this year he hasn’t been as succesful (3.6 ypc) due to defenses focusing on stopping the run and forcing the rookie quarterback to beat them. Spiller exited last week with a quad injury but he’s expects to be a go against Baltimore.
Spiller is still a threat to take the ball to the endzone at any moment so Baltimore must set the edge and stay true to their lanes. The Ravens dealt with a limited line against Houston. Chris Canty who was out with a strained groin is hopeful that he’ll be able to play this weekend while Terrence Cody was out with a sprained knee. That will leave Spears and Jones to help the edges secure and allow the linebackers to help make plays to limit any big gains.
Ravens Tight End Ed Dickson vs. Bills Safety Da’Norris Searcy
You may have forgotten that Dickson even played last week. He was primarily used as a blocker and finished with zero targets against the Texans. But I feel that the Ravens need to get him going. Sure, his hands are questionable but he has the physical tools that an aging Dallas Clark doesn’t have – he can stretch the seams of the defense. Considering how hurt the Buffalo secondary is at this point this would be a good time to call Dickson’s number and see if he can produce.
Baltimore has done a decent job this season of converting on third down (44%) and that’s usually with Flacco delivering to Smith or 37-year old Brandon Stokley. The Bills have had a rough time so far stopping teams on third-down. Developing another weapon will serve the team well as the season progresses.