It’s finally week one, and the Buffalo Bills are facing off against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. After finishing last season with a 9-7 record and making the playoffs for the first time since 2000, the Bills will try to start strong against the team whose loss granted them their playoff berth on that fateful Andy Dalton TD pass. It’ll be a tough game for Buffalo, and here are the three matchups to watch on Buffalo’s offensive side of the ball:
Nathan Peterman vs. Baltimore secondary
Bills head coach Sean McDermott named Nathan Peterman the starting quarterback for the week one matchup. The second-year signal caller did everything he could to win the job during the preseason, and few would argue that he didn’t earn this opportunity. That doesn’t mean he’s the best option available, just the most viable one at this point, given the poor state of the team’s offensive line.
Great play by Peterman...— Cover 1 (@Cover1) August 27, 2018
Dummy snap to ID blitz coming
Checks the protection, OL/C slides right
Gives Bills 4v4 to that side
Good pickup by Cadet in hole
Miller/Groy seamless switch
An anticipatory throw from far hash to outside #s.#ManFree pic.twitter.com/9E1v8szs9G
Rookie Josh Allen had a pretty rough day behind them versus the Bengals, and Peterman is more ready to make quick decisions and avoid holding the ball for too long. That’s essential to minimizing the OL struggles and give the Bills a chance to win games early in the season.
The first game of the season is already a major test for Peterman. The Ravens have a very good secondary, which led the league with 22 interceptions and held opposing QBs to an average of 81.5 passer rating last season, good for the third-best in the league. Veteran safety Eric Weddle (82.4 Pro Football Focus grade) is the star of the group. The five-time All-Pro still is a dangerous ball-hawk, intercepting 25% of the passes thrown his way in 2017 (PFF). Tony Jefferson (82.4), Marlon Humphrey (82.7) and Tavon Young (79.9 in 2016) are all very good starters, too.
Despite missing their number one cornerback, Jimmy Smith (86.2), who is suspended, Brandon Carr is an experienced replacement outside, and Peterman’s tendency to float the ball on some passes outside the numbers is extremely dangerous against this group.
Kelvin Benjamin vs. Marlon Humphrey
For Peterman to have a shot at winning this game, he will need the help of his top receiver. Benjamin had a positive camp and looked dominant against his former team in the first preseason game with Peterman throwing him the rock.
They have a nice repertoire, which began back in the “snow bowl” game versus Indianapolis last year. Baltimore certainly is aware of their chemistry and should be sending Humphrey to shadow the big-bodied receiver all over the field. The second-year CB allowed just a 53.5 passer rating for opposing QBs on passes thrown his way in 2017. I’m not sure if another Bills WR can have a game-changing impact on this game, and KB winning this battle may be the difference between a win and a loss on Sunday.
Dion Dawkins vs. Terrell Suggs
The Bills offensive line all but quashed Josh Allen’s shot to win the week one starting gig. Can the group rebound in week one and slow down the ferocious Ravens defensive line? Second-year left tackle Dion Dawkins enters the season as the unquestioned starter after a strong finish in 2017. Since last season’s week ten, Dawkins allowed 22 total pressures on 331 pass-blocking snaps, good for the second-highest pass-blocking efficiency (95.0) among rookie offensive tackles with at least 130 pass-blocking snaps in that timeframe (per PFF).
On Sunday, he’s going to have his hands full. The veteran pass rusher Terrell Suggs is coming from a renaissance season in 2017, when he earned an 87.0 PFF overall rating, his best since 2011. He recorded 79 total pressures and 33 stops, showing great productivity for being so close (we have to assume) to the end of his decorated career. If Dawkins can deal with Suggs, it’ll be a great step in the right direction, not just for the young LT’s career, but for the Bills to have any chance at leaving Baltimore with a win.