3TFO: Ravens @ Bills, Week 4
The Bills are struggling offensively and the Ravens defense is rounding into form. Matt Claassen looks at this game and pin-points three key elements that will dictate the outcome.
3TFO: Ravens @ Bills, Week 4
One of the biggest stories for the Baltimore Ravens this offseason was the significant personnel changes on the defensive side of the ball. However, despite a shaky start against Peyton Manning, the defense has been the strength of this team. In the past two weeks, neither the Browns nor the Texans could find the end zone against the Ravens — combining for 15 points on five field goals.
After last week’s loss to the Jets, the Buffalo Bills now find themselves at the bottom of the AFC East. Despite the 1-2 record, they have had a legitimate chance to win each game. Even with his inconsistencies, E.J. Manuel has limited his mistakes and proved that he can be a game-changing quarterback with his game-winning touchdown drive against the Panthers.
The availability of a few key players could certainly affect the game, but here are a few matchups to focus on throughout.
Ravens Ground Game
Historically the Ravens have been a run-heavy offense and are usually successful doing so. Ray Rice missed last week’s game with a hip injury and it remains to be seen if he will be a factor in this game with his status listed as ‘questionable.’ In the first two weeks, he averaged just 2.9 yards per carry and forced one missed tackle. Bernard Pierce has not fared much better when splitting time or filling in for Rice, averaging only 2.8 yards per carry. The two have combined for just one rush over 15 yards on 77 carries. On the other hand, the offensive line has not given either running back much help. Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher have been dreadful when run blocking with -6.2 and -7.3 grades, respectively — ranking as the two worst offensive tackles. Gino Gradkowski has not performed much better in his attempt to replace Matt Birk, ranking 23rd at center. Marshal Yanda has not played as well as he is accustomed to playing, however he held his own against J.J. Watt last week, which should not be overlooked.
Only the Jaguars have allowed more rushing yards than the Bills this year, and although they haven’t performed quite as poorly as those statistics suggest, there is still much room for improvement. Kyle Williams has been their best run defender, tallying eight defensive stops. His Run Stop Percentage of 10.5% ranks fifth among 3-4 defensive ends. After Williams, there is not much to be excited about. Alex Carrington was their next best run defender, but he is done for the year. Mario Williams had his impressive five-sack game Week 2, but he has failed to do much against the run and ranks last among 3-4 outside linebackers. The defense has missed 17 tackles on run plays, 11 of which were missed by defensive backs.
Replacing Missing Pieces
There is no doubt the Ravens miss Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, and the injury to Jacoby Jones is not helping. Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark were brought in as replacements and have proven to be serviceable, but they are not the reliable targets Joe Flacco is used to having. The two, along with undrafted rookie Marlon Brown, already have as many total drops (five) as Boldin and Pitta dropped all last season. Brown has the only two receiving touchdowns for the Ravens, but has earned the lowest wide receiver grade (-2.0) on the team. Ed Dickson has been nearly non-existent in the passing game, with just one catch and three drops on six targets. Between Boldin and Pitta’s absences and with no other consistent options for the Ravens, Torrey Smith is running more short-to-intermediate routes. Smith’s average depth of target (aDOT) is 14.1 yards downfield, which is significantly down from his league-leading 18.6 aDOT a season ago. Flacco has completed just three out of 17 passes targeted over 20 yards. Even including two drops, Flacco’s adjusted Accuracy Percentage is one of the lowest in the league at 29.4%. Last year he was tied for the league lead with 11 touchdowns on deep passes (he threw five more in the playoffs) and was the only quarterback to not throw an interception.
Speaking of replacing players, the Bills have had to do plenty in their secondary due to injuries. Their pass defense has been less than stellar this season, but when they are missing one of the best safeties in the league and three cornerbacks, it is difficult to have high expectations. Leodis McKelvin, who is listed as “questionable” for Sunday, is the only Bills defensive back with a positive coverage grade. Jim Leonhard has allowed seven receptions on eight targets, two of which were touchdowns. Justin Rogers has earned the worst cornerback coverage grade (-6.9) with poor performances such as allowing six catches for an astounding 247 yards and two touchdowns last week. The Ravens don’t possess the most prolific passing offense, but neither did the Jets. If McKelvin cannot play, or is not at 100 percent, it could be another long day for the Bills’ secondary.
What Can Brown Do For The Bills?
Colin Brown is clearly the weak link along the Bills’ offensive line and continues to follow up poor performances with even worse performances (-7.8, -8.3, -9.6 Weeks 1 through 3). Considering that he already has the second-worst cumulative season grade for guards since we started grading in 2008, it is remarkable that he still has a starting job. His Pass Blocking Efficiency of 89.1 is the lowest for guards and he has accounted for 18 of the offensive line’s 35 pressures allowed. Brown has another difficult task ahead of him because Haloti Ngata (+5.4) will be on the other side of the line. Because the rest of the Bills’ offensive line has performed decently, expect the Ravens to put Ngata in position to face Brown as much as possible. There is plenty of the season left to turn it around, but if he continues to play so poorly, it wouldn’t be surprising if they start to consider other options.
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