It is my favorite part of the week because I don't have to do much of anything. It is Know your enemy. This week, the Bills take on Ravens and we got the lowdown from Jason Butt of SB Nation's Baltimore Beatdown. Enjoy and retweet this!
1) On the surface, the Ravens don't exactly look like the same team that won the SB last year with the retirement of Ray Lewis and departures of Ed Reed and Boldin. How have you guys been able to replace them?
You're absolutely right that they don't look like the same team. Not only are Lewis, Reed and Boldin gone, but so are Bernard Pollard, Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, Cary Williams, Matt Birk and Ma'ake Kemoeatu — all of which were key contributors to the Super Bowl XLVII champions. The defense experienced a great deal of turnover but might actually be better than last year's squad. Sure, the Ravens gave up seven touchdowns to Peyton Manning in the season-opener. But with the way Denver's played thus far, I'm not sure if anyone will slow them down. Since that game, Baltimore has yet to give up a touchdown in eight quarters. The Cleveland game I get. But Houston? That's a good offense. It was an impressive defensive performance from the Ravens this past Sunday.
2) With Ray Rice out of the lineup, how has Bernard Pierce looked in replacing him?
To be honest, both running backs are off to a poor start, which indicates the struggles are more of an offensive line issue. There's a new center getting used to making calls in Gino Gradkowski. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell has some slightly different run schemes than former OC Cam Cameron had that the Ravens' line is getting used to. Both backs are averaging under three yards per carry at the moment. It does look like Rice will be ready for the Bills game, though how much he plays remains to be seen. The running game has been the most glaring weak spot on this team so far through three games. So the best answer to your question is that Pierce has looked about the same as Rice, and that hasn't been a good thing, nor is it necessarily indicative of each back's ability.
3) Do you guys think Torrey Smith is a legit #1 WR, why?
I was skeptical heading into the season but through three games I'm beginning to believe Smith has what it takes to be a top tier receiver. As a rookie two years ago, he was primarily a nine-route runner, used solely to stretch defenses. Now, his route tree has developed to include all sorts of combinations. This past Sunday against Houston, Smith caught five passes for 92 yards against Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. With Joe Haden shadowing him against Cleveland, Smith had seven catches for 85 yards. This, with Jacoby Jones sidelined with a sprained MCL and no other true viable targets on the outside. Smith can stretch a defense deep and can also work over the middle and gain yards after the catch. When the Ravens get Jones, and even speedy receiver Deonte Thompson, back, the passing game might be able to get back on track.
4) Are you guys at all worried about paying Joe Flacco one of the richest deals in NFL history? His numbers have been kind of modest so far. Albeit, it is still early.
As mentioned, he's got a lot of unproven talent to throw the ball to outside of Smith. He had a great game throwing the ball against Denver, which included seven combined drops from tight ends Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson. Once Jones got hurt, the Denver defense crowded the box and brought pressure, with no other receiver outside of Smith able to break free for any big plays down the field. Last year, Flacco had Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. Trading Boldin may turn out to be a huge mistake and losing Pitta (dislocated hip) for perhaps the entire year was a huge blow to the offense. Put it this way: Tom Brady has thrown for less yards than Flacco at this time. Why? He doesn't have many viable targets to throw the ball to. The same applies to Flacco. Even the greatest quarterbacks need help. As for signing him to a $120.6 million deal, it only becomes concerning year three of the deal, when the cap figure gets ridiculous. At that point, a restructure will likely take place.
5) If you were the Ravens opposition, how would you attack their defense and offense?
Given Baltimore's current offensive personnel, you stack the box with seven or eight defenders to at least show pressure against the run. Once you take that element away from the Ravens, you force Flacco to throw the ball to Smith and a bunch of average receiving options in man-to-man coverage. That should force some three-and-outs and keep the offense from putting up points.
Attacking the Baltimore defense can be a bit tricky. It's stout against the run, so that's not necessarily an area any team will beat the defense at. To beat Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith on the outside, you need big, physical receivers that are capable of getting off jams and separating down the field. For a team like the Bills to attack this defense, they'll need Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler to come up big over the middle of the field. Getting Chandler matched up on either cornerback Corey Graham in the slot, or on either of the Ravens' safeties, could work to Buffalo's advantage. Of course, the same applies for Johnson too.
6) Who would you say should be the Bills biggest worry on Sunday in terms of stopping the ravens?
That would be Daryl Smith, the man replacing Ray Lewis at inside linebacker. He's turned out to be the best addition Baltimore brought in this offseason. He's a savvy vet that didn't much publicity considering he spent his first nine years on some bad teams in Jacksonville. His presence could be what gets to quarterback E.J. Manuel, forcing the rookie into some mistakes. Now, I think the Bills can keep the scoring low because I don't think the Ravens are much of a threat offensively at this time. I do know the Bills have been gashed on the ground at times, but the Ravens are among the league's worst at running the ball. Therefore, the Bills need to execute offensively and confuse Smith and the Ravens' defense.