Bills vs. Ravens | Defensive Scouting Report


Our Buffalo Bills take on a re-tooled Baltimore Ravens on opening weekend. Most fans are pegging this game as a win, but I don’t believe in automatic wins. The Bills will be facing an offense who could give the defense a run for their money. The Ravens star quarterback Joe Flacco is making his first regular season start since November of 2015. Flacco appeared in only 10 games last season before injuring his knee on the first play of their game-winning drive against the Rams.

He is the key cog to offensive coordinator Marc Trestman’s offensive plan. Flacco has the athletic ability and arm to be a top ten quarterback, the problem is the Ravens haven’t really surrounded him with game breakers. The offenses leading rusher Justin Forsett was just released leaving Buck Allen and Terrance West to pick up the pieces and move forward. There is still a chance that they bring Forsett back as rumors are that the move was to possibly reduce his salary but that is no guarantee seeing as how he is going to be 31 years old.

At this point, the Ravens look to be content with West and Allen carrying the load. Rookie Kenneth Dixon (will miss 4 weeks) will pitch in when he returns, but won’t be a factor in this game. The Ravens primarily run a zone run scheme and finding fresh legs for that style of run game is quite easy. Come September 11, expect the Ravens to show a heavy dose of zone runs from several different looks.

The Browns 3 technique defensive tackle doesn’t keep the offensive lineman off of his legs, that opens the cut back for the running back. The Ravens like to have fullback Kyle Juszczyk lead their zone runs, and more times than not he will be moved all over the field.

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There’s a possibility that the Ravens may start two rookies on the left side of their line in left tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard Alex Lewis. With the addition of those linemen in the last draft, the Ravens added youth and athleticism to run their zone run game. If Lewis doesn’t get the nod, veteran lineman John Urschel a Canisius High School grad and fellow alum will start and he is more than capable of opening holes for the backs.

Stanley and Urschel pull and open up a decent hole for West to run through on this pin and pull play out of 12 personnel.

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Buck Allen is a very good one-cut running back. He shows the patience needed in this type of run game. He presses the hole but then sees the cutback for a big gain. Look at how well the lineman worked together to move and eliminate Aaron Donald. Donald has to worry about the lineman cutting him so he is unable to occupy Urschel, that doesn’t keep the weakside linebacker clean and it opens up the bend for Buck Allen. Weakside linebacker and defensive end play will be crucial to the Bills shutting down the Ravens’ attack.

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According to Marc Trestman he wants the Ravens offense to be a run first team but the numbers don’t back that up. In 2015 Baltimore passed the ball on 59% of first downs which was the third highest percentage in the NFL (Football Outsiders). Even when they were ahead on the scoreboard the Ravens passed 56% of the time which was the 4th highest. If you have followed Trestman’s career that shouldn’t be surprising.

The way in which he goes about passing may be a little different compared to how he operated in Chicago. It seems like the Ravens and Trestman have adopted a Patriot like plan of attack. They employ a lot of multiple tight end sets in their passing game. Last season Baltimore aligned in 12 personnel 15% of the time and passed the ball 64% of those looks (Football Outsiders).

Tight end/wide receiver Darrin Waller is lined up wide on this easy pitch and catch.

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Which pairs well with their run scheme. The play-action sucks the linebackers up in the box and allows the talented tight ends of Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gilmore, and Max Williams to find the holes in the zone. According to Football Outsiders, the Ravens used play-action pass on 42% of their first downs in 2015.

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In 2015, Flacco threw 25.8% of his passes off of play-action which was the 4th highest in the league (PFF). Using play-action helped Flacco and the offense to still be effective with the lack of elite talent on the outside. On play-action passes Flacco’s completion percentage was 10.6% higher than on normal drop backs (61.6% to 72.2% off play-action).

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They have relied on Steve Smith in recent years. He is long in the tooth and recovering from an Achilles injury but is expected to play in week 1. The Ravens did bring in Mike Wallace to offer some down the field ability but Kamar Aiken (121 targets, 71 recs, 944 yds 5 TDs in ’15) seems to be an integral part of their receiving core. I expect the Bills to play a lot of man coverage in 2016, but maybe even more versus the Ravens. The Bills talented secondary shouldn’t be afraid of Baltimore’s receiving corps because they match up well. But they should expect Trestman to use a lot of bunch and tight WR alignments to create natural rubs for Aiken and company. Communication and their ability to work through the picks will play a huge part in how well they can shut down the receivers from Baltimore.

The delayed release by the tight end allows Aiken to get open versus man coverage. His defender gets picked off by his own man leading to the touchdown.

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Avid Rex Ryan followers know that an inherent weakness in his scheme is versus tight ends and running backs, which sets up well for the Ravens. They love using both positions in their passing game and this game will be no different. Forsett, Allen and Juszczyk were targeted in the passing game 140 times last season and accounted for 847 yards through the air. Allen was sent into a pass route 55 times this preseason alone. He was targeted 11 times and finished with 11 receptions for 65 yards and 1 TD. Expect him to contribute in the passing game especially on third down. The Bills linebackers will be tested on screens, swing routes and check downs quite a bit.

Swing pass to Forsett ’15.

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Screen pass to Allen from ’16 preseason.

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The last time Trestman faced a Rex Ryan defense was in week 3 of the 2014 season. Rex was with the Jets and he lost to the Bears at home 27-19. In that game, Trestman’s offense had trouble running the ball. They finished with 21 attempts for 60 yards and that was with Matt Forte. Forte finished with 13 carries for 33 yards, so Rex was able to make the Bears one-dimensional.

Of course, that Bears team had more weapons, especially on the outside with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery both of whom combined for 18 passes thrown their way and 111 yards. But the difference maker was the tight end Martellus Bennett who finished with 7 passes thrown his way, he caught 5 for 54 yards and 2 TDs (matched up vs. 6 different defenders). Forte chipped in 6 passes for 43 yards. Trestman moved him around and got him matched up on 4 different defenders, specifically against the Jets’ worst coverage linebacker Demario Davis. Expect Trestman to do the same with his backs and tight ends versus Preston Brown a linebacker that has coverage limitations.

In my opinion, this game, much like many games this season it will come down to how well the Bills’ linebackers play versus the pass. Specifically how well they scheme and handle the backs and tight ends. The Ravens will use multiple tight end looks in order to get the linebackers to think run, but in actuality use them in the passing game. The game should be a good chess match between the Rex Ryan defense and offensive guru Marc Trestman.