Way too early preview: Bills vs Ravens (Week 1 – 2016)
By Michael Mathews Jr.
Can the Ravens recover from their injuries?
I’ll get straight to the point because this is what will determine the outcome of this game, and most likely the Ravens season. Joe Flacco suffered a devastating knee injury against the Rams in late November, 2015. Flacco will only get 9 months to fully recover from the injury. I’m not sure the Ravens QB will be 100% for week 1. That’s not to say Joe won’t be ready, because I’m sure he’ll be out there and will most definitely put pressure on the Bills defense on September 11th.
Some other notable injuries last season:
- Steve Smith, WR – Torn Achilles
- Justin Forsett, Pro Bowl RB – Broken Arm
- Terrell Suggs, OLB, defensive captain, heart & soul of the team – Torn Achilles
- Elvis Dumervil, OLB – Groin
- Breshad Perriman, WR – Knee
- Jeremy Zuttah, Center – Torn Pectoral Muscle
Ravens WRs vs Bills secondary
I’m trying to keep this “way too early preview” as non-bias as possible, but after much thought, I can’t realistically see a scenario where the Ravens WRs put any pressure on the Bills secondary. Steve Smith is 37 years old, coming off a torn Achilles. Breshad Perriman has yet to catch a pass in the NFL, and yet again battling a knee injury this offseason.
Kamar Aiken seems to be getting better every year in the League, with 75 receptions and 944 yards in 2015. But, this was a player that couldn’t even get playing time when he was on the Bills roster in 2011 (6-10 season). I have a feeling Gilmore/Darby can easily handle this assignment all game long.
The only wildcard, as far as I can tell, will be Mike Wallace. Wallace hasn’t been the same since he left the Steelers after the 2012 season. After just an average stint with the Dolphins, he came crashing down to irrelevancy with a horrible season in 2015 (Minnesota Vikings). I believe Wallace is much better than what he showed in 2015, so expect him to be a big part of the Ravens game plan for week 1.
All in all, the Ravens likely have the worst WR position group that the Bills will see all year. I expect domination for all 4 quarters.
Ravens TEs vs Bills LBs & Secondary
This is where it could get interesting. The Ravens have a very good group of TEs, in fact, I expect them to keep 4 or possibly even 5 TEs on the roster. The group includes starter Crockett Gilmore, Dennis Pitta, Benjamin Watson and Maxx Williams. The 5th TE they might keep would be Darren Waller, who is in the process of converting to WR.
There will be an interesting camp battle to determine pecking order. Crockett Gilmore had a solid season in 2015 with 412 receiving yards and only playing in 10 games (41.2 yds/game). Maxx Williams could turn in a break out year. His week 17 game against the Bengals was impressive catching 6 balls for 53 yards. I’m a bit nervous about the Bills LBs and Safeties in coverage, but who could blame me! The Bills were uninspiring when covering the middle of the field. Was this communication, defensive scheme, confusion…something else? Who knows… but the Bills need to get it figured out quick, or Flacco will continue to work inside the numbers all day with success.
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Ravens RBs vs Bills Front 7
Justin Forsett broke him arm in the same game Flacco went down with his knee injury. Forsett’s injury should be much easier to recover from than Flacco’s torn ACL. Forsett turns 31 years old in October, so I doubt he will get the majority of the load in the Ravens backfield this coming season. In steps the Ravens 4th round draft pick from April – Kenneth Dixon. Dixon along with Wallace are the two wildcards for this game. I have high expectations for Dixon, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he came out guns blazing right out the gate this season. Here are his scouting notes:
• Outstanding in space, will make defenders miss with exceptional quick cuts.
• Patient, let’s plays develop. Similar hop step to Le’Veon Bell when reading blocks.
• Has speed to get to the edge, showed this often when running outside zone.
• Has the vision and quickness to turn a bad run fit by the defense into a big play.
• Very quick to hit cutback lane on inside zone runs.
• Good receiver out of backfield, showed ball skills down the field.
• Caught 12-of-15 targets for 185 yards and two touchdowns when lined up in the slot.
Dixon excels in the passing game. The Bills do not excel in covering RBs in the passing game, not an ideal matchup. PFF compared his skill level to Dion Lewis.
When the Bills are on offense
I expect Taylor and the Bills offense to take another step forward this season. On paper, the offense is explosive. Every year, fans of NFL teams ask the same question – can we stay healthy? The Bills rarely had all their playmakers on the field at the same time last season. Even players who were on the field were far from healthy, case in point is Robert Woods, who played with a torn groin most of the season. Bottom line, if Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins, Charles Clay, Robert Woods and Karlos Williams are all healthy, then Baltimore will have a very hard time stopping the offense.
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Both of Baltimore’s star pass rushers have injury concerns. Terrell Suggs turns 34 in October, coming off a torn Achilles. Elvis Dumerville is 32 coming off a torn groin. The only Linebacker worth mentioning as a difference maker, is CJ Mosley. With the exception of Eric Weddle, I don’t think the Ravens have the fire power to negate the Bills weapons on offense.
I think the Bills win this game. The Ravens will do a good job containing Sammy Watkins by assigning Eric Weddle on top of his 1 on 1 coverage with the CB. Robert Woods will have a big day.
The Bills will be able to run the ball, but not as effectively as we would hope.
I have a lot of respect for CJ Mosley, so I think he limits the damage done on the ground. I think the Ravens will have a good day running the football with Kenneth Dixon and Justin Forsett. Dixon will get some receptions and put pressure on the Bills LBs to cover him in space. The Ravens TEs will get targeted much of the day and will move ball with TEs getting open in creative ways. I think it will be a sloppy season opener with the Bills winning 17-10.