Whichever direction Buffalo Bills running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller chose on Sunday, they left behind a trail of cleat marks and fallen defenders as they mercilessly pounded the football against the Ravens' traditionally stout defense.
During a 23-20 loss to the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Ravens allowed 203 rushing yards as Buffalo set an opponent franchise record with 55 rushing attempts. The yardage is the fifth-most allowed by the Ravens in franchise history.
"That sounds ugly," defensive lineman Chris Canty said. "We got started too slow. It took us a while to adjust to what they were doing. It's definitely out of character."
The Ravens entered the game ranked fourth in the NFL in run defense, surrendering just 74.7 yards per game. They were coming off a 30-9 win over the Houston Texans where they bottled up running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
Against the Bills, though, the Ravens were shoved around at the line of scrimmage, didn't shed blocks quickly enough or bring down Jackson and Spiller on the first hit.
The Ravens were particularly vulnerable between the tackles as Jackson got downhill quickly for 87 yards on 16 carries with one touchdown. And Spiller utilized his speed to dart around for 77 yards on 23 carries.
The Bills controlled the ball in the first half, gaining 116 yards on the ground on 25 carries as they built a 20-7 halftime lead.
"They ran the ball exceptionally well, especially in the first half," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We allowed them to run the ball, especially between the tackles in the first half."
The Bills rarely utilized the read-option with rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. They didn't have to with all of the favorable down-and-distance situations provided by their backs.
"They did a good job of keeping us off-balance," said rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, who recorded a game-high 17 tackles. "When you have a defense off-balance, you can open up the playbook."
The Bills broke off a number of first-down runs, using basic plays where they made it difficult for Pro Bowl nose guard Haloti Ngata and veteran middle linebacker Daryl Smith to corral the backs quickly before they could get into the open field.
"They try to get on the edge," rush linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. "They hit some creases and kind of hurt us."
The Bills' longest run was a 16-yarder for Jackson, but there were plenty of solid short gains mixed in throughout the game.
"They just ran the ball well on first down," Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw said. "The coaches put us in and teach us the right technique, and we just have to go out and make plays and tackle. Just a loss, period, is kind of frustrating.
"We can't just look at it as, 'They ran the ball on us and that's the reason why.' We just have to come out, tackle better and everybody swarm the ball, rip the ball out when we get a chance."
Ravens' safeties James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam started cheating up to account for the running game. That played into the Bills' hands, opening up the secondary for a few timely throws by Manuel, who delivered a 42-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Robert Woods in the second quarter.
"We knew that if we were able to run the ball pretty well, we could get the safeties down," Jackson said. "We would get at least one safety down. We were able to do that by establishing the running game early.
"It gave us some opportunities. Robert had a one-on-one opportunity and he took advantage of it, and EJ hit him stride for the touchdown."
The Bills averaged 3.7 yards per carry against the Ravens, who had allowed just 2.8, 2.8 and 2.4 yards per run against the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns and Texans with yardage totals of 58, 99 and 75 yards.
"They had a great game plan, they switched some things up, they didn't do the things they had done the last couple of games," cornerback Corey Graham said. "The key for us is we want to stop the run. They were fortunate to get some yards. We've got to find a way to stop the run."
The Bills followed traditional I-formation looks with one tight end as their primary base offense.
"A lot of times it's not rocket science," Bills coach Doug Marrone said. "You're going to get the base looks, you're going to get the safeties down. Early on coverage looks, we were able to run some draws. They wound up bringing some safeties in.
"You know what you're getting. You still have to go block them and they're very stout upfront. So, I was happy with that."
The Ravens rarely have this much trouble stopping the run. The last time they struggled this badly was during a win over the Kansas City Chiefs last year where they gave up 214 rushing yards on 50 carries.
"We're not going to overreact," Canty said. "We understand it's a long football season. We're going to have this serve as motivation going forward."
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