Weekend Look Ahead

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6 things to watch for in Bills vs. Ravens | Week 4

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1 – Marquee QB Matchup

More than 80 percent of the country is going to get the Bills-Ravens game in the early 1 pm television window due mainly to the pair of dynamic quarterbacks squaring off from the 2018 draft class. Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson are both off to blazing hot starts in the young 2022 season with Allen leading the league in passing yards and Jackson leading the league in passing touchdowns and passer rating.

The two quarterbacks are the only two players in the league's 103-year history to reach both nine touchdown passes and 100 rushing yards through the first three games of a season. They're also just two of four signal callers in league annals to post at least 20 rushing touchdowns and 90 or more touchdown passes over their first 61 NFL games (Dak Prescott, Daunte Culpepper).

"Lamar is playing the position right now, albeit with his legs, but just as much with his arm and he's much more accurate," said NFL on CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn in an appearance on 'One Bills Live' this week. "He's dissecting defenses and we're seeing the improvement of Lamar as an accurate thrower."

Allen has been just as deadly as a passer, and though he didn't run as often last week in Miami, Ravens head coach knows he has it in his arsenal.

"The biggest challenge is the fact that he does so many things so well," said Harbaugh of Allen. "He's a big, strong quarterback; he's on time in rhythm. He can do that. He can hold the ball and get the ball downfield; he can throw it to every part of the field, obviously. He's a tough tackle, even just moving in the pocket, then throwing, then getting out and running. Not only that, but they're pretty expansive in their offense. They're running quarterback driven runs, they're running RPOs … There are a lot of similarities in the two offenses, actually, when you take a look at it. So, his style is unique. He's just a very athletic, big, strong guy who can throw the ball really well. So, that's the challenge it presents."

The defensive approach of both teams will be of particular interest because blitzing Allen or Jackson could be a death wish. The 2018 draft classmates rank first and second in the league in passer rating when facing the blitz. Jackson is atop the league with a rating of 140.8 when blitzed. Allen is second with a 135.9 passer rating.

2 – Allen versus opportunistic Ravens 'D'

Harbaugh is all too aware that Allen is the league's most prolific passer through the first three weeks of the 2022 campaign. Number one in passing yards per game (338), Allen is facing a Baltimore defense that leads the league in takeaways with eight and is tied with Jacksonville with an NFL-best six interceptions. The problem is Baltimore also ranks last in the NFL in passing yards per game allowed (353.3) and it's more than just a bad fourth quarter against Miami.

Last week in New England, the Ravens surrendered 321 passing yards to the Patriots as Mac Jones completed 69 percent of his passes in Week 3. Even Jets' backup QB Joe Flacco threw for 309 yards against the Ravens in Week 1.

Ravens Insider for BaltimoreRavens.com, Clifton Brown, who appeared on the 'Bills by the Numbers' podcast this week, believes the Baltimore secondary is a work in progress due to the new and returning players.

"They've got to tighten some things up even though they got the win last week in New England," Brown said. "I think there are a few reasons for it. Marcus Peters is working his way back in after being out for more than a year. I thought he played really well last week but he played a lot of snaps and that's a tough ask. I think he'll continue to play better as the season goes along. But they've made a lot of changes back there.

"Marcus Williams, the free agent safety they brought in, he leads the NFL with three picks. Then Kyle Hamilton, the rookie, he's had some struggles in coverage, but then he came back last week with a big play on the strip to cause a big fumble. So, I think it's a unit that as the season goes along it will get better, but they do have to tighten up, especially facing Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis."

Allen is also the NFL passer rating leader on deep passes (152.1) and faces a Ravens defense allowing the most deep passing yards so far this season (352). What's interesting is the Bills quarterback hasn't had a lot of success going downfield against the Ravens in the past. In his previous three meetings with Baltimore, he has a passer rating under 80 and no touchdown passes of 10-plus air yards.

However, since 1970, the league leader in passing yards has a 13-6 record in matchups against the league's worst ranked pass defense.

3 – Not the Ravens offense you remember

The Ravens offense during Lamar Jackson's 2019 season was one that was rooted in a three tight end look that left opposing defenses in a major quandary when it came to finding proper personnel groupings for matchups.

Go heavy with more linebackers on the field and Baltimore would have Jackson beat you with passes as their tight ends could gain separation on routes. Go more athletic with more defensive backs on the field and the Ravens would pound you with the run game.

This season, though they still play a good deal of two tight end and two back sets, they're trusting Jackson more as a pocket passer leading to a much more explosive attack through the season's first three weeks.

"He's just so good in so many different areas that they can put up points in a hurry," said Bills head coach Sean McDermott of Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense. "I think they lead the league in points scored. He's got weapons on the outside with (Devin) Duvernay and (Rashod) Bateman. They can take a short pass and turn it into a big gain, so they're very explosive. Then Lamar has got (tight end) (Mark) Andrews and what he does, he's so savvy and strong and good after the catch. They're a tough offense."

In just three games the Ravens have 11 plays of 25 yards or more, including touchdowns of 25, 26, 55, 75 and 79 yards.

"Devin DuVernay is not a big guy, but he is a burner," said Washburn. "Lamar has got to fit it in there to Duvernay and he's done that. Duvernay has grown in this system. He's an All-Pro returner, that is now showing himself to be a legitimate number two wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens and the chemistry and trust that Lamar has in Duvernay has helped give this offense a surprising look. I've seen it as more balanced. Yes, Lamar is running the ball when necessary. He's putting up those type of numbers, but it looks different because I think they just have so much trust in Lamar the passer, Mark Andrews is still their best pass catcher at the tight end position and most consistent. He's that big body guy with a massive catch radius. And now with Bateman coming on as a as a second-year player and Duvernay as that second or third option. It's a really balanced group."

Baltimore's offense not only leads the league in scoring, but they're first in yards per play and third in passing. But the Bills' defense, despite being ravaged by injury, has allowed the league's fewest yards per game, 214.0.

4 – Red zone similarities

Baltimore and Buffalo have done well for the most part on offense when it's come to punching the ball in the end zone once they crack their opponent's 20-yard line, and that figures to continue on Sunday if given those kinds of opportunities.

That's because the Bills and Ravens' defensive units have struggled to keep opponents from putting up seven points on red zone possessions. Baltimore's defense has given up eight touchdowns in 11 opportunities by their opponents (72.7%) to rank 27th in the league so far this season.

Buffalo's red zone defense has been even more generous. Though they've allowed only six red zone possessions to their opponents in three games, they've surrendered five touchdowns for a success rate of 83.3 percent for their opponents. Miami went 3-for-3 against the Bills shorthanded defense last week.

"We've been hit with the injury bug, but we've got some resilient guys who battle through things," said Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "It can happen to any team. We're dealing with it right now. Hopefully we'll get some of those guys back soon."

Baltimore had similar trouble with Miami in Week 2, allowing the Dolphins to go 4-for-4 in the red zone. They improved holding the Patriots to 3-for-5 in the red zone last week, but Ravens CB Marcus Peters feels they still have a way to go in defending the red zone.

"I think it's going to take some time for us to put it together; it's going to be week-by-week we're going to get better," Peters said. "We're learning each other. We have some new pieces, and we have some guys who are coming back. So, we know it's going to take some time for all of us to kind of get this thing rolling, but once it's rolling, it's going to be clicking at the right time and that's what we need."

5 – Trouble in the trenches

While the Bills injury list is much longer than that of the Ravens, both clubs have been shorthanded up front on their offensive and defensive lines. Buffalo figures to still be without DT Jordan Phillips, who is week to week with a hamstring injury. Fellow DT Ed Oliver is trying to work his way back to the lineup after missing the last two games with an ankle injury. Meanwhile on the Bills offensive line, RG Ryan Bates has been in the concussion protocol, but reached step 4 of 5 on Thursday. Starting center Mitch Morse is trying to return from an elbow injury.

Baltimore has problems on their offensive line as well. Starting LT Ronnie Stanley has yet to play this season in his return from a season-ending ankle injury last year that required surgery, though it appears he may be back in the lineup this week. And the timing couldn't be better because his backup Patrick Mekari sustained an ankle injury of his own and might not be ready for Sunday's game. Mekari wasn't even Stanley's backup at the start of the season. That was Ju'Wuan James, but he tore his Achilles in Week 1 and was lost for the season.

On the Ravens defense it looks like they'll be without their starting nose tackle Michael Pierce, who tore a biceps tendon last week and has opted for season-ending surgery. He'll be replaced by rookie Travis Jones, who performed well last week in New England.

"Travis Jones played great," said Ravens veteran DL Calais Campbell. "He's a talented guy. His biggest thing is going to be experience. It's not going to take him long; I think he's just so gifted, and he's going to make a lot of plays. But he's going to get a whole lot better and, in a hurry, hopefully. Obviously, there are going to be mistakes – everybody makes them; but he makes them big [in] the right way. If he doesn't know what he's doing, he blows stuff up, which you can appreciate."

Baltimore also signed free agent veteran pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul in an effort to beef up their moribund pass rush as second year OLB Odafe Oweh has been inconsistent and veteran Justin Houston is not 100 percent healthy.

"The pass rush is a concern because you have Justin Houston with a groin injury," said Ravens Insider Clifton Brown. "We'll see if he can play against the Bills and how effective he is. But they need to get more production from Odafe Oweh. They started the season thin at the outside linebacker position and I think it is asking a lot for Jason Pierre-Paul to come off the street into the lineup for this game on Sunday. So yeah, it is a concern with this pass rush heading into this game."

6 - A nasty nest

The Bills have seemingly made annual trips to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, which is as difficult a road environment as there is in the NFL, but M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore is a challenging road venue as well.

Under John Harbaugh, the Ravens own the league's third-best home winning percentage (.719) going 82-32 at "The Bank." That includes a 5-1 all-time mark at home against the Bills.

The main reason is the Ravens have allowed a league low 17.7 points per game at home since 2008.

Over that span they also own the league's third-best opponent passer rating (78.8) and second-best yards allowed per game (309).

In their 82 wins during that 14-year stretch their margin of victory has been 14.4 points per game.

Weather could also be a factor as the remnants of Hurricane Ian could bring moderate rain and wind during Sunday's game.

The Bills held their first practice of the week in preparation for Sunday's game in Baltimore against the Ravens. This gallery is presented by On Location.

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