The Bills have the fifth best rushing attack in the NFL. After what the 49ers did last week, should the Ravens be worried?
Jen Badie, editor: Yes, but I think the Ravens will still win this game. The Bills have Frank Gore and Devin Singletary with over 550 yards rushing apiece, plus Josh Allen is also a threat to run (and with eight rushing touchdowns, he has one more than Lamar Jackson). But the Ravens offense — along with some well-timed takeaways by the defense — has put up enough points to win four of the six games in which the defense has allowed over 100 rushing yards.
C.J. Doon, editor: There are no former Ravens in the Bills backfield, so maybe we won’t see the type of performance Raheem Mostert had. But Buffalo has a strong one-two punch in veteran Frank Gore and rookie Devin Singletary, capable of attacking the Ravens up the middle and on the edge. Don “Wink” Martindale should have the Ravens better prepared to stop the run, but this Bills offensive line is as solid as they come, ranking fourth in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate at 65%. That spells trouble.
Daniel Oyefusi, reporter: Few teams in the NFL can execute the zone-running scheme as well as the 49ers did to gash the Ravens last Sunday. The Ravens should be concerned, however, that their run defense is the one weak point in an otherwise well-rounded team. The defense is at its best when it can force teams to pass and put its defensive backs on the field.
Mike Preston, columnist: There should be concern. Look for more teams to use two tight ends or stay in their base offense because that will keep the Ravens in their base defense. The Ravens play better in sub packages with more defensive backs in the lineup than inside linebackers. The 49ers’ success has caused the coaching staff to rethink some things.
Peter Schmuck, columnist: Only if they don’t figure out why the 49ers were able to run outside so successfully. The Ravens coaching staff is pretty good at making those kinds of adjustments, so they should be able to keep the Bills from running all over them.
Jonas Shaffer, reporter: Very. Josh Allen is the best running quarterback they’ll face this season (other than Lamar Jackson in practice). The Bills have a more efficient ground game than the 49ers, and San Francisco ran wild with a backup running back Sunday. If the Ravens can solve their problems setting the edge, they’ll be in better shape. Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams have held up well inside.
Childs Walker, reporter: Yes. Opponents have not run often against the Ravens but have run efficiently, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The Bills, with a productive rookie running back in Devin Singletary and an excellent running quarterback in Josh Allen, will certainly try to test the Ravens on the ground.
Lamar Jackson is clearly the best QB from the 2018 draft. Is Josh Allen the second best?
Badie: Yes, at least at this stage of this season, but it’s way too early to say overall. Allen’s stats for 2019 are better than Baker Mayfield’s and Sam Darnold’s, and Allen has helped his team to a 9-3 record and good position for the wild-card spot and potentially the AFC East title if they can overcome the Patriots. Plus, in addition to those eight rushing touchdowns, Allen has 430 rushing yards, so he is more of a dual threat than Mayfield or Darnold.
Doon: Yes. Allen is more athletic than Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, capable of extending plays with his legs, and might have the strongest arm in the league. He’s cleaned up his mechanics after a rocky rookie year, and it has paid dividends. He rates poorly in some of the advanced numbers (QBR, DVOA, DYAR) and is still turnover-prone, but there’s no questioning his playmaking skills. He has rare ability that you can’t teach, and he’s only getting better while Mayfield and Darnold have regressed.
Oyefusi: As of now, yes, but Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield have had nice stretches in recent weeks and have time to turn around the narratives of their young careers. All this should be a cautionary tale to not rush to judgment when it comes to young players, especially at quarterback. This time a year ago, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen “couldn’t throw the football.” Now they’re leading their respective teams to playoff berths.
Preston: I always give rookies three or four years to pan out. Last year at this time, Baker Mayfield was the best quarterback in the 2018 class. I’ll stick with my usual plan instead of anointing any quarterback at this time the best of his class. Jackson is playing well, and Allen has made great progress in his second season.
Schmuck: It sure looks like that at the moment, but it’s probably because he has the most complete team built around him. If Baker Mayfield continues to mature and figures out how to stop completing so many passes to linebackers, he might end up doing more over the long haul.
Shaffer: Allen has played recently like the clear runner-up this season, but I think it’s Baker Mayfield. Despite the Browns’ disappointing record this season, he ranks as a middle-of-the-road quarterback, according to Pro Football Focus. Mayfield’s offensive line has done him no favors, and Freddie Kitchens hasn’t, either. Allen has improved as a passer, but I don’t know how sustainable it is.
Walker: He has been this season. Though he ranks well below Jackson by measures such as passer rating and QBR, Allen has improved substantially while other quarterbacks from the class, such as Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield, have stagnated or declined. Allen threw seven interceptions in Buffalo’s first five games. He’s thrown one since. He’s exceeded expectations, no question.
Which is a more dangerous game for the Ravens: Buffalo this week, or the New York Jets next Thursday after a short turnaround?
Badie: The Bills. They have a good quarterback in Josh Allen, who will test the Ravens defense, plus the Ravens have to travel to Buffalo. The Jets haven’t beaten any playoff-caliber teams besides Dallas and just lost to the previously winless Bengals. They do have the No. 1 rush defense in the league, but facing the best rush defenses has done little to stop Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.
Doon: Probably Buffalo this week, just because the Bills are a much better team. The Jets just lost to the winless Bengals, yes, but they’ve also beaten the Cowboys and thrashed the Raiders. On their best day, they can give the Ravens a fight, especially a team weary from playing seven of its past eight games against teams with winning records, including four straight.
Oyefusi: Buffalo. The Bills are a better team than the Jets and playing at home. Yes, the Ravens have to play on a short week, but Thursday night games typically favor the home team.
Preston: Playing in Buffalo in those conditions will be a tough challenge for the Ravens. St. Frances Academy of Baltimore could beat the Jets.
Schmuck: The Bills, of course. They are a really good team that has a lot to play for right now. The Ravens have to play on very short prep next Thursday, but so will the Jets, who are not a very good team. Nobody knows better than the Ravens how much is at stake. There will be no letdown.
Shaffer: Buffalo, and not only because the Jets stink. The Ravens won’t get a lot of rest after Sunday, but the Jets won’t, either. Plus, New Era Field will be a lot less hospitable to the Ravens than M&T Bank Stadium.
Walker: The Bills, and it’s not close. Weird things happen on Thursday night, sure, but the Ravens will benefit from playing at home, and the Jets just aren’t very good.
Four games left. Who gets the No. 1 seed in the AFC: Ravens or Patriots?
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Badie: The Ravens. I wouldn’t have thought that a month ago, but the Ravens are in the driver’s seat. All of the games left on the Ravens schedule are winnable. And of course, if both teams win out, the No. 1 seed is the Ravens’ by virtue of the tiebreaker. Either way, it’s fun for Baltimore to be even having this conversation.
Doon: The Ravens. They have the tiebreaker, but the margin for error might be razor thin. After hosting the Chiefs this weekend, New England ends the season at Cincinnati and home for Buffalo and Miami. It’s likely the Patriots finish no worse than 13-3, which means the Ravens can only afford one more loss. They’ve won eight straight, so winning out isn’t out of the question, but going 3-1 against the Bills, Jets, Browns and Steelers is no easy task.
Oyefusi: The Ravens end up with the No. 1 seed, which seemed crazy to even think about when the team was 2-2 or even as they were knocking out the league’s best teams. The Ravens have a tougher final stretch of games to end the regular season, but they haven’t given me any reason to pick against them at this point.
Preston: The Ravens will get the No. 1 seed. New England might not even win the AFC East with the way they are playing. The Bills will make it interesting in that division.
Schmuck: The Ravens. I think they are going to win out, even though they might not have to. The Chiefs are headed to Gillette Stadium this week and they’ve got something to prove against a Patriots team that is starting to look beatable.
Shaffer: The Ravens. I think the Ravens will beat the Bills and the Patriots will lose to the Chiefs this weekend. That would give the Ravens a pretty solid one-game lead in the playoff chase over New England, which doesn’t have the tiebreaker, either. After this weekend, the Ravens’ schedule is tougher than the Patriots', but they’re also a better team.
Walker: The Ravens are the favorite for the first time all year and not just because they’re in poll position after Sunday’s results. They’re simply playing better than the Patriots, who will face another difficult test from the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes on Sunday. The Ravens could have a two-game lead (given their tie-breaker advantage) by Sunday night.