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'They're the top defense that we've played all year' | Bills coaches discuss the big challenge in facing Baltimore

Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (26) Buffalo Bills vs Baltimore Ravens, December 8, 2019 at New Era Field. Photo by Bill Wippert.
Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (26) Buffalo Bills vs Baltimore Ravens, December 8, 2019 at New Era Field. Photo by Bill Wippert.

Plenty of chatter going into Saturday's divisional-round matchup between the Bills and the Baltimore Ravens will revolve around the quarterbacks, and rightfully so.

Lamar Jackson is the reigning MVP. Josh Allen is on the short list of candidates for this year's award. Both are young, dynamic players who showcased their thrilling brands of football during wild-card victories last weekend.

But while the world talks about Allen and Jackson, Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll expects to have his hands full with another aspect of the Ravens' roster.

"It's one of the best defenses if not the best defense in the National Football League both player-wise and scheme-wise," Daboll said Monday.

"… It's a Baltimore Ravens defense, you know? They're really good. It's a challenging team to prepare for in a lot of regards and we're gonna have our work cut out for us."

A few statistics stick out regarding the Ravens defense. They lead the NFL in forced fumbles (25), fumbles recovered (15), and fumbles returned for touchdowns (three). They blitzed on 44.1 percent of dropbacks, according to Pro-Football Reference, which led the NFL. They ranked 14th with 39 sacks but tied for fourth with 59 QB knockdowns.

The Ravens ranked sixth with 3,536 passing yards allowed during the regular season, yet they also managed to hold All-Pro running back Derrick Henry to just 40 rushing yards in their wild-card victory over the Titans.

"They're the top defense that we've played all year," Daboll said. "That's what the playoffs are. Those are the moments that you live for. Highly competitive individuals playing in tough games that are meaningful games, and it will be a challenge."

The Bills got a taste of what they might expect during their matchup with the Ravens last season, a 24-17 loss in Buffalo during Week 14. Allen was blitzed 31 times in that game, leading to six sacks and 14 pressures.

Plenty of factors can change in a year's time, Allen's results against top defenses among them. According to NFL Media Research, Allen was 4-0 with a 109.9 passer rating against top-10 defenses in 2020 (Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh). He had gone 7-5 with a 75.3 rating against top-10 defenses during his first two seasons.

Daboll said he and Allen had already communicated about the challenge as of Monday.

"I'm glad he's our quarterback," he said. "I just think the world of him. He's ready to move on to this week. He knows the challenge ahead of us. We've been in communication today, going through some of this stuff. We've got our work cut out for us."

Now, onto notes on the divisional round after Monday's media sessions with Daboll, head coach Sean McDermott, and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

Keeping track of Lamar

The Titans had held Jackson to 10 yards rushing as halftime approached on Sunday. Then, on 3rd-and-9 at the Tennessee 48-yard line, Jackson flipped the game on its head. 

The Ravens quarterback dropped back, stepped up through the middle and simply out-sprinted the entire Titans defense for a 48-yard touchdown. He would finish with a game-high 136 rushing yards on 16 attempts.

"Those are the type of plays that keep defensive coordinators up at night," Frazier said. "When you see that, when guys are in position and they aren't able to make that play because that player is so special on the other side. 

"Lamar has done that in his short NFL career to the point where he's been an MVP already. He's capable of making you look bad at times. You just gotta be able to keep working and hopefully be able to corral him at some point."

The Bills had success containing Jackson in their meeting last year, holding him to 40 rushing yards for his second-lowest total of the season. Having a pair of linebackers with sideline-to-sideline speed in Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano helps with that effort, though Frazier said he is not willing to hang his hat on those results going into the rematch. 

"We realize we can't just look at what we did last year and say that was good enough," Frazier said. "Because they grew quite a bit as an offense and Lamar has grown quite a bit as a quarterback. So we'll really have to do a good job of coming up with a good plan of trying to slow them down. They're still the number one offense in the NFL."

Moss to miss remainder of playoffs

McDermott confirmed that running back Zack Moss is expected to miss the remainder of the playoffs after sustaining an ankle injury during the team's wild-card victory over Indianapolis on Saturday. 

Moss was carted off the field following a run in the third quarter. The rookie accumulated 481 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 112 carries during 13 regular-season games. He also caught 14 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown. 

Devin Singletary, who led the Bills in rushing yards (684) and yards per carry (4.4) during the regular season, could see an uptick in his snap count in Moss' absence. Singletary played 89 percent of the offensive snaps in Weeks 3 and 4 when Moss was out with a toe injury. 

McDermott pulled Singletary aside following the injury Saturday and gave him words of encouragement. 

"I just told him it's his time to step up and this is what he's worked all his life for," McDermott said. 

"Devon's a guy that has worked extremely hard over the course of his career even before he to get NFL. He's no stranger to hard work and he's no stranger to having to carry the load and I know this team is 100% confident in Devin Singletary."

Other options at running back include T.J. Yeldon, who has logged 10 carries in three games this season, or undrafted rookie Antonio Williams, who made his NFL debut in Week 17 against Miami. Williams had 12 carries for 63 yards and two touchdowns in that game, all in the second half. 

"He certainly popped when you looked at the film and felt it down there on game day," McDermott said. "Great experience for a young man who had really worked hard."

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