- Caleb Holfoth
Divisional Round: Buffalo Bills vs. Baltimore Ravens Preview
Both the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens are coming off of close wins against strong AFC teams with the Bills beating the Colts and the Ravens beating the Titans. Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen showed why they are considered top quarterback talents as both were the best players on the field in their respective games and essentially the reason each of their teams won. Jackson the reigning MVP and Allen the favorite to finish 2nd in MVP votes this season will headline this game and make it perhaps the most attractive game of the weekend for football fans. What makes this QB matchup so exciting is that Allen and Jackson have very different styles of play. Allen will beat you with his arm by slinging it all over the field. Then, in the red zone, Allen uses his 6'5" 240lb frame to often pound the ball into the endzone. Jackson is always the best athlete on the field and he uses that to his advantage and more often than not is able to run all over opposing defenses. Jackson is the first quarterback to have back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons which shows his success on the ground. This game is about more than just these two star quarterbacks. To go more in-depth we are going to preview a couple of matchups in this game and the Buffalo Bill's keys to victory.
Sean McDermott vs. John Harbaugh
The reason that this is the first on the list is because of how each of their opposing coaches performed last week. Both Mike Vrabel and Frank Reich who opposed Harbaugh and McDermott in the wild card games made coaching errors that effectively led to their teams losing. Vrabel punted in the 4th quarter when he should have gone for it and Reich passed up an easy field goal attempt and did not score on 4th down and the Colts ended up losing by a field goal. This shows that all it takes is one small coaching error to completely flip the game script. Harbaugh is a veteran coach with a lot of experience and McDermott is still fairly young in his head coaching career so this is a matchup to watch that certainly can affect the outcome of the game. McDermott has outcoached veteran head coaches before but I would not count on Harbaugh making many mistakes this late in the season. McDermott and Harbaugh did coach together briefly with the Philidelphia Eagles under Andy Reid who has his coaching tree all over the playoffs which makes this coaching matchup a very exciting storyline on the AFC side of the playoffs.
Buffalo Bills Front 7 vs. Baltimore Ravens Run Game
This to essentially every fan is obvious. It cannot be stressed enough how important this is in this game. The Ravens tend to run at will on teams when they are this hot. The key to stopping that run is Buffalo's front 7. Gap integrity, gang tackling, and quickness off the ball are all things that are necessary for this Bills front. Although the Bills do not rank too great in run defense they actually are not all that bad. They have held some of the best running backs in the NFL to limited success (Derrick Henry, Jonathon Taylor, Josh Jacobs). This Ravens running offense is a different beast. Not only do they have very talented running backs in Gus Edwards and rookie J.K. Dobbins they also have the reigning MVP and arguably the greatest running quarterback ever in Lamar Jackson. The key to stopping the Ravens run starts with the defensive tackles and their gap integrity on defense. Ed Oliver, Justin Zimmer, Vernon Butler, Harrison Philips, and Quinton Jefferson all must control the line of scrimmage and stay in their gaps if they want to take away the inside run. If the Defensive line can eat up blockers and free up space for Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds to make plays the Bills will be in a good situation. The key to stopping the Ravens run is that you have to understand that you cannot stop it. You have to slow it down. It is important that the Bills get the Ravens to 3rd down. The more 3rd downs the Ravens have the more game-changing plays that Buffalo can make. It does not matter if it is 3rd and 12 or 3rd and 1 getting to both situations will give Buffalo's defense at least a chance to get off the field which is the most important thing in this game.
Both Teams vs. The Weather?
While it no longer looks like there will be snow there will be very cold temperatures (low 30s) and it will be windy (up to 20mph in Orchard Park). This is important, especially in the kicking game. This also ties back to the coaching matchup between McDermott and Harbaugh. Justin Tucker is the best kicker in the NFL and Tyler Bass does not look that far behind him as of recent and had a very strong game against the Colts. The wind in this game could ultimately change how Harbaugh and McDermott approach the kicking game and both teams could end up being more aggressive on 3rd and 4th down. How both teams manage the weather and both coaches do as well will be an important aspect of winning this game. An additional side stat is that Lamar Jackson is 7-1 in games under 40 degrees.
Via Bill Wippert
Keys to Victory
Run the Ball
The Bills can pass the ball and they have shown that against the best defenses in the NFL. However, last week they lost Zack Moss who was a big part of the run game. TJ Yeldon is more than capable of taking the backup role but it is important for Buffalo to be able to run the ball to keep Baltimore's offense off the field. In addition to that, if Buffalo can run the ball they can expose rookie linebacker Patrick Queen who is poor in coverage on play-action. Running the ball will also balance the offense and open up more options such as tight end and running back screens as well as plays that rolling Allen out of the pocket.
Bend don't Break
The Defense is not going to stop Lamar Jackson. I know that is not a very optimistic outlook, but it's the truth. That being said you do not need to stop Jackson in order to beat the Ravens. The Titans got absolutely dominated by the Ravens run game and had chances to win and only ended up losing by 7. The Bills Defense needs to make plays when they have the opportunity to. As well as holding the Ravens to field goals and not touchdowns. The Bills did a good job of this against the Colts as the Colts made it across the 50 on every drive but still ended up losing. Stopping Lamar Jackson is an unattainable dream. But slowing him down? Certainly attainable and in my eyes probable and definitely necessary in order to win.
If Buffalo wants to give themselves the best chance to win they need to score touchdowns, not field goals. Buffalo has had its fair share of struggles in the red zone this season and with the loss of Zack Moss who was a weapon for Buffalo in the red zone, there is a cause for concern heading into this game. Buffalo needs to convert their chances into touchdowns so that the Ravens will be forced to match that with touchdowns of their own. Another reason this is important for Buffalo is if they can get up 14 or so points on the Ravens at any time the best way to beat them is to force them to throw the ball. With the lack of weapons in the passing game and the strength of the Bills secondary that is exactly what Buffalo wants to happen in this game. Field Goals will not get you to that point allowing the Ravens to potentially control the game and the clock.
Buffalo Bills 30
Baltimore Ravens 26