Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson talks about why he changed his playbook wristband in the 49ers game and the possibility of breaking Michael Vick's record.
RAVENS PASSING GAME: Lamar Jackson suffered through his worst passing game in more than a month in Sunday’s 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. He acknowledged that the steady rain bothered him as he completed 14 of 23 passes for 105 yards. Jackson still ranks fourth in the NFL in passer rating and first in ESPN’s QBR statistic measuring overall performance. Tight end Mark Andrews proved again that he’s Jackson’s go-to target in a tough spot, catching a touchdown pass in the first half and converting a key first down on the winning drive against the 49ers. After a strong game against the Los Angeles Rams, the team’s wide receivers went largely silent against the 49ers, catching three passes among them. Rookie Marquise Brown, the team’s top downfield threat with 14.4 yards per catch, caught just one pass on two targets for 1 yard. The Ravens rank 25th in passing offense but sixth in yards per catch, an illustration of their low-volume, high-efficiency approach.
BILLS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Josh Allen has improved considerably. After throwing five touchdown passes and seven interceptions in Buffalo’s first five games, he’s thrown for 11 touchdowns and just one interception in the next seven. The Bills still rank just 23rd in passing and 17th in yards per attempt, but they’ve outgained their opponents through the air in eight of 12 games. Former Raven John Brown has been Allen’s top target with 61 catches for 882 yards and five touchdowns. Cole Beasley has been a solid possession receiver with 55 catches on 81 targets for 635 yards and five touchdowns. Dawson Knox has been Buffalo’s top receiving tight end with 25 catches for 307 yards.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: For once, the Ravens didn’t overwhelm an opponent on the ground in their win over the 49ers, rushing for 178 yards and averaging 4.7 yards per carry, almost a yard below their season rate. Jackson was their top runner with 101 yards on 16 carries and needs just 63 more yards to pass Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record for a quarterback. No. 1 running back Mark Ingram II also remains on pace to clear 1,000 yards and leads the team with nine rushing touchdowns. The Ravens lead the league in rushing by almost 60 yards per game and also easily rank first in efficiency at 5.6 yards per attempt.
BILLS RUNNING GAME: The Bills rank fifth in attempts, fifth in rushing and 12th in yards per attempt, so they’ll test the Ravens on the ground. Rookie running back Devin Singletary has come on strong, starting four of the past five games and averaging 5.6 yards per game on the season. Though Allen can’t match Jackson as a big-play threat, he’s one of the most effective running quarterbacks in the league, with 430 yards and eight touchdowns on the season. Veteran Frank Gore produced a few big games early in the season but has cleared 50 yards only once in the past five games.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The 49ers hurt the Ravens with outside runs, averaging 6 yards per carry on the way to 174 rushing yards, the second-most the Ravens have given up all season. Few opponents have tested the Baltimore defense on the ground, in part because so many have played from behind. But the Ravens have allowed 4.5 yards per carry, 11th-worst in the league, and have been particularly vulnerable on the edges, where outside linebackers Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser struggled against the 49ers. The Ravens are stronger in the middle. Nose tackle Michael Pierce returned to the lineup after missing two games with an ankle injury and played well against the 49ers. His interior partner, Brandon Williams, was also effective while playing almost 75 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. Middle linebacker Josh Bynes continues to be the most reliable run defender in his position group.
BILLS RUSH DEFENSE: Despite their overall defensive success, the Bills have been mediocre against the run, ranking 14th in rush defense and allowing 4.5 yards per carry. They gave up a combined 365 rushing yards in their losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns. According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Bills rank among the league’s top 10 at defending short-yardage situations and stuffing runs at the line of scrimmage but become extremely vulnerable when runners make it past 5 yards. Second-year linebacker Tremaine Edmunds leads the Bills in tackles and grades as a solid run defender, according to Pro Football Focus. Safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer excel at run support. Buffalo lacks a dominant run stuffer on the interior, however, with rookie Ed Oliver ranking as their most productive defensive tackle.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens have moved up to 13th in the league in pass defense and rank seventh in interceptions with 11. Cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey and safeties Earl Thomas III and Chuck Clark have all received excellent coverage grades from Pro Football Focus. The Ravens’ weakness still lies in the pass rush, where they rank 24th in the NFL in sacks and 27th in hurry percentage despite blitzing on a higher percentage of dropbacks (52.3%) than any other team in the league. Outside linebacker Matthew Judon leads the team with seven sacks and 26 quarterback hits. But the Ravens’ two other edge rushers, Bowser and Ferguson, have combined for just five sacks and nine quarterback hits.
BILLS PASS DEFENSE: The Bills have one of the league’s best defensive backfields and have allowed opponents to average just 5.1 yards per pass attempt, third in the NFL. TreDavious White is their top cornerback with four interceptions, 14 passes defended and 54 tackles. Safeties Hyde and Poyer complement White with sound coverage on the back end. The Bills don’t have an overwhelming individual pass rusher but rank eighth in the league with 37 sacks. Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson have both been effective coming off the edges, and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips leads the team with 7½ sacks.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Justin Tucker proved his extreme value again Sunday when he kicked a 49-yard game-winner in wet and windy conditions. He’s made 22 of 23 field goal tries and ranks as the most accurate kicker in NFL history by almost 3 percentage points. Sam Koch has not punted often this season but delivered a clutch 62-yarder to pin the 49ers at their 1-yard-line late in the third quarter Sunday. Koch has put 58.3 percent of his punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, which would lead the league if he had enough kicks to qualify. De’Anthony Thomas has been an effective punt returner, averaging 10.7 yards since taking over for Cyrus Jones, but the Ravens still aren’t generating much yardage on kickoff returns.
BILLS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Stephen Hauschka has been unsteady this season, missing six field goal attempts and two extra point tries. He missed all three of his combined field goal attempts in the losses to Cleveland and Philadelphia and missed a field goal attempt and extra point try in the Bills’ most recent win over the Dallas Cowboys. The Bills have struggled even more on punts, where Corey Bojorquez’s 38-yard net average puts him near the bottom of the league and almost 5 yards per punt behind Koch. The one area of special teams where the Bills excel is kickoff returns. Andre Roberts has averaged 28.4 yards on 17 returns and broke one for 66 yards against the Washington Redskins.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens proved their mettle with a bruising victory over the 49ers and won’t want to relinquish the No. 1 playoff position they moved into Sunday. They’ve won four straight road games, with three of those coming against winning teams, and eight straight overall. John Harbaugh is a Coach of the Year candidate in his 12th season in Baltimore.
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BILLS INTANGIBLES: The 9-3 Bills will be eager to prove they’ve been unfairly left out of discussions regarding the league’s best teams. They’ve played an easier schedule than the Ravens but have won their past three by a combined 45 points. They’re led by another Coach of the Year candidate in Sean McDermott, who’s looking to secure his second playoff berth in three seasons.
PREDICTION: The Bills have the components to give the Ravens a difficult afternoon with their productive rushing attack and excellent pass defense. But they’ll struggle to keep up with the high-powered ground machine led by Lamar Jackson. As good as the Bills are, the Ravens have performed better against better competition. Ravens 31, Bills 20.