The Ravens won’t be facing the same-old walkover Bills on Sunday in Buffalo.
Buffalo is a team with renewed hope under the leadership of first-year coach Doug Marrone and with a rushing attack that rivals any team in the league. The Bills are off to a 1-2 start, but their first three games have been decided by a combined 10 points.
Like with Robert Griffin III last season, the Ravens get a first-hand look at the NFL’s next exciting mobile quarterback in the Bills’ EJ Manuel, who poses a different kind of challenge from the talented pocket passers Baltimore has already seen this year - Denver’s Peyton Manning and Houston’s Matt Schaub.
To win their third straight and improve to 3-1, the Ravens will need to keep their defensive upswing going by containing Manuel, a quarterback capable of getting it done with either his arms or legs, and the fifth-ranked rushing attack in the NFL.
“You enjoy a challenge,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “If you’re a football player, you don’t want the same thing every week. You want a little different (offense), and we love that we get the opportunity again to play against one of these up-and-coming, rising quarterbacks - a dual threat like EJ Manuel.
“It’s going to be a challenge. It was a challenge last week of stopping that type of run scheme with the Houston Texans. We had the challenge the week before of stopping Trent Richardson, and now we’ve got this challenge. We’re just going to continue, week by week, to play teams and challenge ourselves against what they do best.”
Part of the Bills’ attack is a read-option made possible by a host of offensive weapons. With C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, Buffalo is one of only two teams in the league that has two running backs who have rushed for at least 150 yards this season. Houston, last week’s opponent, is the other.
Add in receiver Steve Johnson and tight end Scott Chandler, and Manuel has plenty to work with while also being capable of doing it on his own.
Limiting big plays will be the key for the Ravens.
“You’ve got to see what you’ve got to see and be in position to make a play when it’s time to. Especially if Spiller plays, he can take it in a second to the house,” said linebacker Daryl Smith, who leads Baltimore with 25 tackles, including 1.5 sacks. “They’ve got a lot of weapons, and we’ve just got to be on point with that - make sure we’re talking, playing the same defense, and we’ll be fine.”
Said Suggs: “There are just so many things that you can do off of it, especially when you have a mobile quarterback that can make plays with his arms and legs. Then it becomes a tough scheme to defend. You’ve just got to go back to your fundamentals, play fundamental football, and try to have the best day you can.”
While the Ravens face a unique challenge, it’s not like they’re coming in struggling. Baltimore’s defense has led the team to two straight wins by not allowing a touchdown since Week 1.
Since allowing 49 points on seven touchdown passes by Manning in the opener, the Ravens have held Cleveland and Houston to just 15 total points on five field goals. The Ravens were burned for more yards than any other NFL team in Week 1 (510). But since, they have permitted just 523 total yards, an average of 261.5 per game.
“Obviously, you feel good about what you did the last two weeks, but that can go downhill real fast if you don’t have a successful outing the next time,” defensive end Marcus Spears said. “Three weeks ago, we were the worst team in football. You understand how fast it can go from being, ‘These guys are struggling and they’re terrible,’ to ‘They’ve pitched two games with no touchdowns.’ It’s a short-lived business. If you don’t show up every week and continue to have success, then opinions turn.”
The improved play from the defense is in part a product of time and reps together with so many new players joining the unit this season.
And the Ravens hope to keep performing at a high level against Manuel and the Bills.
“We just had to get back to playing like we had been playing during training camp, and just focusing on all the small things,” Smith said. “Really, we just made it an emphasis after (the Denver) game; we watched the film and made it an emphasis that we can’t allow these things to happen. Whatever it takes, we’ve got to do it. Those things were correctable and hopefully we continue to get better at it.”