– Evan Sally
Week 1 is always shrouded in mystery. No matter how much you prepare, how much tape you analyze or statistics you pour over, until we get a peek at the 2016 editions of these teams we’re left guessing. This part of the lead up to the season each year frustrates me; at a certain point all the prognostications devolve into the repeating of cliches. Coaches drone on about how much more “aggressive” they plan to be. Analysts on televisions breaking down preseason tape like it’s the Zapruder Film. We’re all starving for some real data, and the first course of a 16 course feast is finally here.
That fog of mystery is even thicker when looking at a game like Bills/Ravens. Two teams with a ton of unknowns and are trying to establish (or in the case of Baltimore, reestablish) a high standard of play. The potential for the Bills offense is evident, but after only 14 games started the questions surrounding Tyrod Taylor are justified. We have no idea how the Bills defense will mesh after Rex Ryan has already been forced to plan B and C at some positions. And after a season from hell, Baltimore is relying on the development of young players without much experience, older stars who may not have it anymore and a quarterback in Joe Flacco who’s returning from serious injury for the first time in his career. The uncertain nature of these two teams allow them to be the perfect template for fans to project onto them whatever you want them to be. If you think the Bills will be too talented for the Ravens to handle you can make that case safely. If you believe in the Ravens past pedigree of winning makes them a better bet Sunday, you can make that case too. However, that’s enough of hypotheticals, I want answers. Here’s 4 things I think I know as we approach kickoff in Baltimore.
The Bills offense will be hard for Baltimore to handle.
Looking at the Bills offense structurally, all of the pieces appear to be there to form an explosive offense. Sammy Watkins’ ability to run a diverse route tree will only make his skills at taking the top off of defenses even more effective and will give the Ravens defense fits. Even teams with good secondaries have to account for Watkins running deep because, for any faults you have had with Tyrod Taylor, the one thing he did consistently last year was hit the deep ball. Baltimore appears to have an average secondary so you can bet Sammy will routinely draw the attention of two Baltimore defenders. Tyrod and LeSean McCoy are the kind of threat coming out of the backfield that you can never ignore, each with the ability to explode and turn a 8 yard gain into a 40 yard touchdown. Baltimore’s linebackers will be busy. Theoretically this should leave the middle of the field open. If the Bills are to have success offensively it will hinge on the ability of Charles Clay and Robert Woods to punish the Ravens in this area of the field. They are two of more underrated players on the team, I think they’ll be up to the challenge. Combining all of this with OC Greg Roman’s creativity; Ravens defenders’ heads should be spinning. That is unless…
The Ravens interior pass rush may give the Bills offensive line problems.
It’s a big test out of the gate for Bills offensive line. The best way to disrupt everything listed above is to get pressure up the middle, as we were reminded that Tyrod handles edge pressure fairly well a few weeks ago.
The Ravens interior pass rush may present some problems. Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams are two young players that have been improving by year and may prove to be a load for Eric Wood and John Miller specifically. Williams has been especially impressive as this video from the great @Cover1ETurner shows. (He’s a must follow by the way.)
The #Bills offensive line will have their hands full this weekend! Brought to you by the @BillsFanaticsBF. pic.twitter.com/LtkPKJzlO8
— Cover 1 (@cover1eturner) September 8, 2016
The Ravens running game won’t be good enough to take advantage of the Bills biggest weakness.
Most of the questions surrounding the Bills defense stem from the state of the linebacking core, and the replacements for Marcell Dareus and Shaq Lawson on the defensive line. Without their best run stopper in Dareus and with linebackers we don’t know much about, how the Bills fair against the run is a concern. I forsee this being an issue down the road for Buffalo, but not in Week 1. The Ravens backfield features 3 running backs who have had moments of glory, but Justin Forsett is too old, Terrance West is too inconsistent and Buck Allen is too unproven. Combine that with a Ravens offensive line that is unsettled and featuring two rookies (even though one of them is highly drafted), I expect this part of the game to be a statemate.
Joe Flacco will be forced to press the sides of the field and hit the deep ball, and Gilmore and Darby will shine.
With the issues surrounding the defense outlined earlier, I expect Rex Ryan to get exotic with his blitz schemes to get pressure on the quarterback. This will leave Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby out on islands covering Raven receivers. If the Bills do blitz heavily it will leave the middle of the field and the intermediate game open for Flacco to attack, however this isn’t a strong part of his game as he’s often an inconsistent passer in this area of the field. Flacco will lean on his greatest strength, a beautiful deep ball, to threaten the Bills defense. Gilmore and Darby have to win these matchups. Underestimating Steve Smith Sr is something you can do at your own risk, but at age 37 old man strength and guile can only take you so far. Kamar Aiken and Breshad Perriman look to have some talent and potential, but this won’t be the game they realize it.
Despite both teams having questions, the Bills have a few edges, especially when it comes to high end talent, that will prove difficult for the Ravens to overcome.
Bills win 27-19.
– Evan Sally (@Evan_Sally)