By Trevor Woods
The 10-2 Baltimore Ravens are heading to New York to take on the 9-3 Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Dec. 8, at New Era Field.
Here are some of the key matchups to watch:
Lamar Jackson vs. Josh Allen
According to Field Yates, “Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen have a combined 1,407 rushing yards this season. On Sunday that will represent the most combined rushing yards on the season by opposing QBs in the same game in NFL history.”
Bills rushing attack vs. Ravens defense
While Josh Allen should be respected as a passer, what powers the Bills offense is their rushing attack, which ranks fifth in the NFL. The trio of Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, and Allen have combined for 1,535 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. It won't be easy for the Bills to run the ball, as the Ravens rank sixth in rushing defense.
While the Ravens have done a fine job against the run this season, they didn't stop it last week against the 49ers in rainy conditions. The Niners rushed for 174 yards on 29 carries.
“They ran the ball on us too much. It was outside stuff,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said this week. “We’ve got to look at that, straighten it up. There are a couple of things to look at, build on, and improve on, and we have to go to work on that.”
The Ravens, who usually are a sure-tackling defensive unit, missed a handful of tackles versus San Francisco, which greatly aided the production of running back Raheem Mostert. A week removed from the lackluster performance stopping the run, the Ravens are going to have to dig down and right their wrongs against yet another good rushing attack. The Bills love to use play-action passing and get Allen out wide on bootleg runs, and those elements of their offense are predicated on getting their run-game moving along.
John Brown and Cole Beasley vs. Ravens defense
The Bills have a pretty potent duo at wideout in John Brown and Cole Beasley, both players compliment each other well. Brown is able to stretch the field, while Beasley is reliable as a motion-man and slot-receiver.
The Ravens have the No. 12 passing defense, and the likes of cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters will have their work cut out for them. Brown ranks eighth in the league with 47 first down receptions and has 14 receptions over 20 yards, which ranks ninth. Even when teams try to use press-coverage against Brown, it doesn't work out. Against the Dolphins, Brown had 7 receptions for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns against press coverage, which was the 2nd-most receiving yards against press by any player in a game in 2019.
While Beasley doesn't have the type of versatility Brown has, he can get things done in his own right. Beasley has been red hot over his last two games, hauling in 12 receptions for 186 yards and 2 touchdowns. On the year, Beasley ranks 23rd with 291 yards after catch. Brown can beat you deep, Beasley can beat you short, and if both are productive, the opposing team can get beat.
Ravens rushing offense vs. Bills defense
The best way to beat the Bills may be to stick to the bread and butter of Baltimore's offense ... run the football. The Ravens are the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL, and they're on pace to have the most rushing yards in NFL history by a team in a 16 game season. The Bills run defense is not stellar, they're middle of the pack sitting at No. 14. While the Bills may have won last week against the Cowboys, Dallas was able to run effectively when they chose to do so. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 71 yards on 12 carries, and Dak Prescott chipped in 25 yards on 4 attempts.
The Bills are preparing to stop the Ravens rushing attack, but will preparation all be for naught? “This team comes from the black and blue division and they pride themselves on being physical and really beating you up over time,” Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said this week. “It’s just a mentality. So you have to meet that and set, and really dominate the line of scrimmage. That’s really the only way you win that game.”
Even if the Bills defense is physical, the challenge goes beyond physicality, the Ravens schematics make it hard for opposing teams to stay mentally disciplined.
"They’re a really tough team to beat. We’ve gotta be able to beat them in every single area to be able to help us defensively, Alexander said. "They want to get Lamar going in the run game with zone reads and boots. We have to try to make it more of drop back game. We’ll have our hands full but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Mark Andrews vs. Jordan Poyer
Bills safety Jordan Poyer will be asked to cover Ravens tight end Mark Andrews throughout the game. The 6-foot Poyer was a corner in college but has since transitioned to safety and has good coverage skills, along with a good tackling prowess. Andrews has 53 receptions, 693 yards and 7 touchdowns on the season. Two weeks back, Pro Football Focus named Poyer the Bills most underrated player. Poyer doesn't allow many big plays, nor does he give up many receptions in coverage, but it'll be hard to shut out Andrews completely, especially in the red-zone.