Coming off of the first playoff win of the Lamar Jackson era, the Baltimore Ravens will play in their second NFL Divisional Round game in as many years this upcoming Saturday. The Ravens and their pass rush will journey to Ralph Wilson Stadium to take on the Buffalo Bills for the first time this season. Jackson and Bills quarterback Josh Allen have faced off as starters once before — a 24-17 Ravens victory last season.
The Ravens offense will have their chance to put up points against the Bills. Buffalo’s defense has had multiple poor games against the run in 2020 and the Indianapolis Colts put up a 163 rushing yard performance against them just last week. Both teams will likely score their fair share of points on Saturday but the key to the Ravens finding a way into the AFC Championship game will likely be on defense.
Baltimore’s defense limited the NFL’s rushing leader Derrick Henry to just 40 yards on the ground and the Tennessee Titans offense to just 209 yards of total offense. It was the second-lowest yardage total the Ravens have given up all season. However, the most underrated aspect of the game was how the Ravens managed to get consistent pressure on Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Derek Wolfe recorded the Ravens only sack but the team managed a combined five QB hits and seven total pressures on just 28 dropbacks.
The Bills have one of the best passing attacks in the NFL and the Ravens pass rush may have to one-up their pass-rushing effort from a week ago. If the Ravens want to stay alive in the AFC playoffs, their pass rush will be the key to getting a victory in Buffalo.
Baltimore Ravens Pass Rush is Key to Win vs Buffalo Bills
Week 3 Chiefs Game is Worth Comparing to the Bills
The Kansas City Chiefs offense is one of the most creative units in the NFL but what makes them so dangerous is their ability to strike quickly. The Ravens learned this first-hand Week 3. Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy‘s offense put up a season-high 385 passing yards on Don Martindale‘s defense while the Chiefs easily rolled to a 34-20 victory over the Ravens. It was the Ravens largest defeat margin of the season.
Baltimore’s only way to get pressure on Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was by blitzing him a total of 20 times in passing situations. Even despite the added effort to get to last season’s Super Bowl MVP, the defense managed just a 12.2 pressure percentage — far below the Ravens average percentage of 25.9 that ranks fifth in the NFL in 2020. Baltimore is still blitzing at the highest rate in the NFL a 44.1 percent but their pass rushers are finding more success one-on-one later in the season.
Eric DeCosta has since buffed up the defensive line with the addition of Yannick Ngakoue in potentially a direct response to Reid toying with Martindale’s aggressive defensive scheme early in the year. This gives the Ravens an option to rush just four or five players and drop six or seven into coverage more often against the very good pass blocking offensive line of the Bills.
The Chiefs provided a blueprint on how to counter the Ravens aggressive but complex front and Baltimore will see a similar offense against Buffalo. Brian Daboll has put together one of the most complete passing offenses in the NFL and he will likely have a plan for countering the blitz that Martindale send so much.
Baltimore Needs to Limit Allen on the Run
The Ravens see on a week-in-week-out basis how much a scrambling quarterback can damage a defense. Lamar Jackson has become perhaps the best quarterback in the NFL when he escapes the pocket and showed it as recently as last week. Turning a busted play into a long run is a staple of Jackson’s but head coach John Harbaugh called his 48-yard touchdown run against the Titans “the best run” he’d ever seen by a quarterback. Jackson’s touchdown tied the game 10-10 against the Titans and was the longest play by either team on the day.
While Allen doesn’t have the breakaway speed that Jackson possesses, he is able to break open games in a similar way. Against the Colts, Allen made three notable plays on the run and outside of the pocket to Gabriel Davis. His biggest was a 37-yard completion on the right side of his own end zone, backed up on the Bills four-yard line, in 2nd and 10. The play broke open the Bills second-touchdown drive of the day after trailing 10-7 with just 1:40 left in the first half.
"Josh Allen makes throws that very few people on the planet could make." #BillsMafia
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) January 12, 2021
Martindale needs to account for Allen’s ability on the run and get his pass rushers to limit him. The last time the Ravens and Bills played, Allen had the fewest rushing attempts in a game where he played more than seven snaps. His two rushing attempts totaled just nine yards. Allen has vastly improved as a passer in 2020 but keeping him contained inside the pocket is the easiest way for the Ravens to limit his production. Allen’s 4.6 completion percentage above expected was ranked second in the NFL behind just Deshaun Watson this season.
One of the EDGE Defenders Needs to Have A Big Game
The Ravens did a great job of containing Tannehill and the entire Titans offense last week and perhaps their most valuable player on defense was not a league-known star. Ngakoue and Matt Judon have accounted for the majority of big plays off of the edge in Baltimore this season but it was Pernell McPhee that had the most impactful game of the EDGE defenders last Sunday. McPhee only played 20 snaps on the day but was a force throughout the game. He totaled six tackles and was the main reason Wolfe was able to tally the Ravens only sack of the day. His ability to set the edge and play the run was integral for the Ravens limiting both the Titans passing and running games.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 10, 2021
McPhee was great a week ago but the Ravens should naturally be able to stuff Buffalo’s rushing attack with their normal personnel up-front. The Bills average the second-least rushing yards before contact in the NFL at 1.9 yards per attempt.
Martindale likely needs one of Judon or Ngakoue to step up in a big way this week. The two play somewhat different roles but are easily the Ravens two best pass rushers on the team. Judon leads the team in sacks with 6.0 and Ngakoue has a combined 8.0 between the Ravens and Minnesota Vikings. The Ravens are likely going to throw a lot of pressure at Allen and someone has to clean up their efforts. Per Jamison Hensley, Allen has thrown the most touchdown passes against pressure this season. He has a 67.5 completion percentage, 8.2 yards per attempt, and a quarterback rating of 113.2 against the blitz per Buffalo news. If the Ravens fail to bring him down when they have their shots, he is going to burn them.
Ravens Pass Rush: Pressure Comes in Different Forms
The Ravens pass rush has layers due to how much Martindale blitz’s. Their defensive backs are continually involved in blitz packages and it allows the Ravens to disguise their fronts. 16 different Ravens have logged a sack in 2020 but they should still be depending on their core defensive lineman to provide the most pressure on Saturday.
The Bills may be the only team as hot as the Ravens right now and the only way to cool them off will likely be getting to Allen early and often. He has a good pass-blocking offensive line and has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when pressured this season. For the Ravens to secure a spot in the AFC Championship Game, the defensive line is going to have to win the battle in the trenches and stop Allen from making the big plays he has so frequently made in 2020.
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