The Ravens begin their quest for a Lombardi trophy by taking on the Buffalo Bills in week one.
The Bills were predicted to be a dangerous team last season, but regressed on defense and ended up with a disappointing 8-8 record. This season, they have a plethora of players either suspended or injured. They won’t be at full strength on defense, but still have former Ravens quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the always explosive Sammy Watkins on offense.
The Ravens finished with a horrid 5-11 record, mainly due to injures and bad luck. The team has added an influx of youth and has regained the health of many important players. They look to be a renewed team this season. Quarterback Joe Flacco has the most weapons he’s ever had in his career, but is coming off a serious knee injury. The defense is an unknown, but really anything would be better than last season.
Let’s examine how each team’s unit stacks up against each other, which may ultimately decide the outcome of the game.
Aug 7, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) stands in the huddle in the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Ravens Offense vs. Bills Defense
Joe Flacco’s return means all the world to the Baltimore Ravens. He’s the best quarterback in franchise history and is a proven winner. The stadium will be amped up and will finally feel like M&T Bank again.
Flacco’s weapons are better than ever. Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman has the players to run every package in his playbook. They have speed on the outside and strength on the inside. The running back rotation is three players deep and looks dangerous.
The key player to watch for is tight end Dennis Pitta, who is playing in his first game in two years. He can create mismatches as a receiver against safeties and linebackers. Pitta is a fantastic route runner and has great chemistry with Joe Flacco. Just seeing him out on the field is incredible in and of itself, with his two hip dislocation fractures.
Buffalo is missing key pieces in perennial Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, first-round pick defensive end Shaq Lawson, second-round pick linebacker Reggie Ragland, and veteran linebacker Manny Lawson.
The Bills front seven is decimated. The combination of Justin Forsett and Terrance West should be able to churn out big yardage and ease the pressure off of Joe Flacco.
However, even with all of the injuries, a Rex Ryan defense is always extremely aggressive. He employs exotic blitzes and unique coverage schemes.
The Bills secondary will challenge the Ravens’ receivers, as they have two excellent starting corners in Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby. They can lock down the short to intermediate routes, but without adequate safety help, will be vulnerable over the top.
Former Raven Corey Graham is now the Bills’ starting safety, along with Aaron Williams who is coming off a serious neck injury. They’re somewhat of an unknown and the Ravens would be wise to test them deep throughout the game.
Aug 11, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh speaks with defensive back Eric Weddle (32) before the game against the Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Ravens Defense vs. Bills Offense
While the Bills have a nice combination of youth and explosiveness on their offense, the Ravens should have a rejuvenated pass rush and a much improved secondary.
Jimmy Smith on Sammy Watkins will be the marquee match up of the night, as they are two ascending talents who are among the best at their positions. Smith should be healed from his foot injury, while Watkins may not be fully recovered from his. Watkins is like Randy Moss, as defensive coordinator Dean Pees referred to. He’s a threat to take it all the way on every single play.
Buffalo doesn’t really have many receivers other than Watkins however. Robert Woods is more of a number three guy rather than a compliment to Watkins. The real threats on the offense are tight end Charles Clay and running back LeSean McCoy.
Clay is a menace on seam routes and is a pretty good blocker in the run game as well. Shady McCoy is a fantastic back, especially in open space. He’s explosive and can break off big runs if left with even the smallest of lanes.
The Bills’ most versatile weapon is former Raven quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He’s extremely athletic and has an incredibly accurate deep ball, which he has honed over the years when he was behind Joe Flacco. He’s not just a great deep passer, as Taylor was second in the league in rushing yards by a QB last season (only trailing the MVP Cam Newton), and he didn’t even play all 16 games.
The Ravens have two new safeties in perennial Pro-Bowler Eric Weddle and converted cornerback Lardarius Webb. They look to shut down the deep ball and help out the corners in coverage. While they aren’t the biggest safeties, they are very good tacklers and should have no problems in the run game.
Buffalo has a pretty stout offensive line, with Pro-Bowler Eric Wood at center, stud Cordy Glenn at left tackle, and a rejuvenated Richie Incognito at guard. Buffalo led the league in rushing yards and rushing yards per carry.
However, don’t expect them to open up giant holes in the run game often, as defensive tackle Brandon Williams might have something to say about that.
Williams is the Ravens’ best kept secret, the best nose tackle in the league right now. He will have a great battle with center Eric Wood, but Williams is fresh and ready to stuff the run. McCoy shouldn’t have much room to run throughout the day.
The Ravens defense has so much unknown on it, but doesn’t lack in talent. It will be difficult to contain Watkins and McCoy, but they should have success since they know Tyrod Taylor so well. As of right now, the two units seem pretty evenly matched.
Sep 13, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker (9) kicks a field goal during the second half against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 19-13. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
The Ravens had the top ranked special teams unit in the entire NFL last season (and a top three finish the past four years) and with the Wolfpack back together again, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be the best this year.
Oh, and did I forget to mention the Ravens added the greatest returner in NFL History? That’s right, Devin Hester, formerly of the Bears and Falcons, agreed to a one year deal last week. Hester has the NFL record for both special teams touchdowns and punt return touchdowns (most in NFL history).
Justin Tucker is among the best, if not the best kicker in the league. Sam Koch has over 20 different punts and went to the Pro-Bowl last season, and when was the last time you ever heard that Morgan Cox had a bad snap?
Now the Bills are no slouches on special teams themselves, they had the NFL’s best kickoff coverage last season, but lost key special teamer Jordan Gay. However, like most Rex Ryan led teams, they finished second in special teams’ penalties last season as well.
Dan Carpenter is an above average kicker and Colton Schmidt was a nice surprise last season, but the combination of Justin Tucker and Sam Koch is superior.
Oct 1, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh yells to his team during the second half against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. The Ravens won the game, 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
Ravens 27, Bills 17
While the Bills will be a good team, it’s hard to beat a pissed off Ravens team, especially at home. They have superior talent on both sides of the ball, and while I expect it to be close throughout the game, Joe Flacco will eventually get in his stride and put the game away.
The Ravens know Tyrod Taylor and his tendencies extremely well since he was here for four years. They will get after him and make him throw short to intermediate routes, which is not his strong suit since he isn’t very tall.