NFL Preview - Baltimore (2-1) at Buffalo (1-2)|
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Baltimore Ravens' new-look defense is starting to come
together after a forgettable Week 1 performance. The most recent performance,
in fact, probably left a pair of former contributors impressed.
The Ravens look to keep the Buffalo Bills out of the end zone this Sunday when
the club's clash at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Following their second Super Bowl championship in 13 years last season, the
Ravens saw a number of exits from a defense that defined the club over the
previous decade. Two of the bigger names returned to Baltimore this past
weekend, when safety Ed Reed's Houston Texans came to town on a day that
retired linebacker Ray Lewis was inducted into the Ravens' Ring of Honor.
Baltimore fell behind early on a pair of Houston field goals, but exploded for
17 straight points in the second quarter and did not allow a touchdown to roll
to a 30-9 victory over the previously-unbeaten Texans.
The momentum swing in the game came without the offense. Linebacker Daryl
Smith, one of the new faces on defense, picked off a pass and raced 37 yards
for a score and Tandon Doss returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown less than
two minutes later.
"Two huge plays by the defense and the special teams," Ravens head coach John
The Ravens were coming off a 14-6 win over Cleveland and have not allowed a
touchdown in back-to-back wins since giving up seven in a season-opening 49-27
loss in Denver.
The defense played shut down in the second half as well, giving up just 102
yards to the Texans after halftime.
"You go back to Denver -- you don't ever want to have a performance
like that," said Smith. "So, each week, we're going to concentrate on getting
better. ... And each week, we'll grow together, we'll gain more chemistry,
we'll learn to trust each other more, and I think we've done that the last two
weeks, and we just have to continue to do that."
Having rebounded from the rough Week 1 loss, Baltimore aims for its fifth
straight 3-1 start under Harbaugh and takes on a Buffalo club that has played
in three straight tightly-contested contests.
The Bills split their first two games of the season, both at home. They lost
23-21 to New England in Week 1 before a 24-23 victory over Carolina.
Buffalo hit the road for the first time this past Sunday and was in its game
against the New York Jets late before giving up a long score in the fourth
quarter of a 27-20 loss.
Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel hit tight end Scott Chandler for a 33-yard
score with 10:39 left in the fourth quarter and Manuel's completion to wideout
Stevie Johnson on the two-point conversion tied the game at 20-20.
The Jets, who committed a team-record 20 penalties in the game, were able to
respond just over a minute later as their rookie signal-caller Geno Smith
connected on a 69-yard scoring pass to Santonio Holmes.
"Every loss feels like a missed opportunity," said Johnson. "No matter what
happened on the other side of the ball, each team is out there fighting.
There is never a perfect game. But it kind of feels unreal right now after
fighting back and then them coming back and getting the touchdown. We just
have to go back to work."
Manuel threw for 243 yards, but was sacked eight times on the day and the
Bills had to settle for four field goals from Dan Carpenter before the
"When they're bringing eight people at you it gets tough," said Manuel.
"Moving forward we'll be more prepared for it."
Sunday will mark the sixth meeting between the Bills and Ravens, who lead the
Baltimore picked up a 37-34 overtime victory in the most recent encounter on
Oct. 24, 2010 at home.
The Bills have won the only previous meeting in Buffalo, a 19-14 triumph on
Oct. 21, 2007.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Ravens running back Ray Rice (hip) missed a game for the first time since his
2008 rookie season when he did not suit up against the Texans, though Harbaugh
said on Monday that both he and defensive end Chris Canty (thigh) were close
Minus Rice, Bernard Pierce ran for 65 yards on 24 carries with a score. He
will likely continue to get work even if Rice can play this weekend, but it
should be quarterback Joe Flacco who has the big game versus the Bills.
Buffalo's secondary is besieged by injuries right now to all three of its top
corners. Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks are sidelined due to wrist and foot
issues, respectively, while Leodis McKelvin suffered a leg injury in the first
quarter versus the Jets.
Minus McKelvin, head coach Doug Marrone moved Aaron Williams from free safety
to corner with Jim Leonhard shifting to his spot.
The Jets took full advantage, logging four plays of 40 yards or more,
including TD passes of 51 and 69 yards that saw third-year man Justin Rogers
burnt on both plays.
Marrone didn't single Rogers out after the game, saying it was the whole
secondary that struggled.
"Everybody's going after our secondary and we just have to do a good job,"
said the Bills coach. "We're trying to change things up for them coverage-wise
and pressure and do that to try to keep the quarterback thinking. But hey,
when they bring the pressure, block them all up. They went one-on-one and it's
just a point of we didn't make those plays."
Said Rogers of moving on from the performance, "Yeah, I think I've been able
to for the most part. You know it was unfortunate and I was hard on myself but
the thing about this game is you have to move on."
Overall, the Bills rank 28th in total defense at 417.3 yards allowed per game.
Should McKelvin be unable to suit up, Ravens long threat Torrey Smith could
have a monster day. He is averaging 16.8 yards per reception.
Flacco threw for 250 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions
for a 111 passer rating in his only previous meeting with the Bills. He could
be thin behind him at running back after Pierce's backup, Shaun Draughn,
suffered a high ankle sprain versus the Texans.
"It will be there. We can't force anything," Flacco said of the long ball. "We
still have to take chances. It's not like they're high percentage all the
time. They're either going to be completed, and it's going to be a big play,
and that's the risk you take. If not, you're sitting there at 2nd-and-10 or
whatever it may be. I think, overall, we just have to click a little bit more
on everything we're doing."
Also for Baltimore, backup nose tackle Terrence Cody sustained a sprained knee
last weekend and Harbaugh said it would be a stretch to get him back for this
After getting sacked eight time last weekend, Manual may be in for another
long day against an improving Ravens defense. Linebacker Terrell Suggs is
looking to record a sack for a fourth straight game and has four in four
career meetings with the Bills.
Smith, meanwhile, leads the club with 25 tackles to go along with 1 1/2 sacks.
"Daryl has just done a great job, and for him to come up (with big plays),
it's not just the interception. He's played really well consistently from the
beginning," Harbaugh said of his linebacker.
The Bills defense is being led by Mario Williams' 4 1/2 sacks and 27 tackles
by Kiko Alonso, who is just the second rookie linebacker in team history to
record an interception in back-to-back games.
Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller had nine yards on 10 carries versus the Jets
before suffering a thigh injury, but expects to play this weekend.
"It's sore, but it shouldn't be anything that will keep me out this week,"
Spiller said on Monday. "I should be feeling better day-by-day. Just taking it
slow, just a little sore right now."
The Bills do have a capable backup in Fred Jackson, who ran for 72 yards on
seven carries last weekend, though 59 came on one play.
The Ravens seemed lost in the woods following a Week 1 loss and slow start the
following weekend versus Cleveland, but have survived thus far because of
Baltimore needs more out of the highly-paid Flacco and should get it this
weekend against an injury-ravaged Bills secondary despite the lack of
playmakers in the receiving game, a unit complicated by an injured Rice. His
return will allow Flacco to look deep towards Smith and Marlon Brown while
having Rice to check down to.
Buffalo has managed to be in each game it has played so far, but will get all
it can handle against a confident Ravens defense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 27, Bills 17
09/26 15:03:26 ET