Game 6: Bills Hit Road to Face Well Rested Ravens

<B>Where to begin…: </B> <P> This game is a matchup of two relatively comparable teams. <P> The Ravens are ranked 31st in yardage offense, the Bills 29th. <BR> Scoring: Ravens 18th, Bills 30th <BR> Rushing O: Ravens 2nd (w/ Lewis), Bills 21st <BR> Passing O: Ravens 32nd, Bills 25th <BR> <P> On Defense: Yardage D: Ravens 6th, Bills 8th <BR> Scoring: Ravens 6th, Bills 10th <BR> Rushing D: Ravens 11th, Bills 5th <BR> Passing D: Ravens 7th, Bills 14th <BR>

The Ravens enter this game minus Jamal Lewis and likely minus Todd Heap, their two leading offensive producers and last season's team leaders for rushing and receiving. Kyle Boller, one of the few QBs in the league less effective under pressure than Bledsoe, Fiedler being another, leads a woeful Raven passing attack. Chester Taylor fills in for Lewis and may be very effective particularly given the relative success of nobody Sammy Morris for a much worse Dolphin team last week, at home in Buffalo.

Key Players and Matchups:

The Bills offensive line vs. the Ravens front-7: The Bills have been very fortunate that opponents have not been blitzing them much this season especially considering that nearly all of the sacks that Bledsoe has sustained have been on blitzes. The Miami sack was not having been yielded to a straight four-man rush, but the majority of others have been. This will be the make-or-break indicator of the game on Sunday. If the Ravens blitz often, then it is unlikely that this Bills team will even get into the end zone. If the Ravens do not blitz often, then perhaps the Bills can put up their usual 10-14 offensive points with a little help from the defense and special teams, which may be more than enough to generate a win vs. a Ravens team with a depleted and talent-challenged offense.

Can the Bills OL stave off a well-rested Ray Lewis led Raven D which figures to be tenacious at home fighting to reach 4-2 and remain alive and well in their playoff hunt? Travis Henry regains his starting role, which may not do him any favors. It is unlikely that either he or McGahee, in fact McGahee even less so, will have anymore than nominal success vs. this tough Raven front-7.

If Henry does not post a 100-yard game, then expect the cascade of criticism furthering McGahee's cause in starting to continue in spite of the fact that the Ravens are much tighter against the run than the Dolphins and their injured, undersized defensive line were. They are on the opposite end of the spectrum as the Dolphins. But many fans seem content to throw Travis Henry on the trash heap in Donahoe-type high-risk exchange for a completely unproven RB who's had two drives worth of solid performance thus far this season while getting up hobbling numerous times. For good or for bad, they may get their wish.

Bledsoe vs. himself: Once again, how Bledsoe reacts when he gets pressured, which will happen, will have fans holding their breath until either the receiver has the ball or it falls incomplete. I said this last week and the Dolphins rarely blitzed. It is difficult to believe that the Ravens, at home, will not blitz much. Either way, Bledsoe's performance, as usual, will be function of the frequency with which the Ravens blitz with an exceptional performance for Bledsoe being simply average or perhaps slightly above average and a poor performance being rendered completely ineffective and possibly worse. Again, this is fully dependent upon the degree of pressure exerted by the Raven D.

Bills DL vs. Ravens OL: Unlike last week vs. the Dolphins, the Ravens offensive line is not only fully healthy, but also much larger and physical than the Bills DL, even with big men Adams and Williams in the middle. This is the line that paves the way for Jamal Lewis. Behind such a line Travis Henry would amass easily in 1,500 to 1,800 range. It will be very interesting to see how the Bills play this line with its more undersized DEs and struggling and aging middlemen Adams and Williams. Chris Kelsay, looking solid vs. rookie Vernon Carey last week will once again slip back into the ranks of the mediocre looking linemen vs. the Raven OL. He will be up against 6'7"/360 lb. Orlando Brown this Sunday.

Also awaiting resolution is the status of Sam Adams due to last week's tirade and confrontation with Jerry Gray and Tim Krumrie. Readers of my columns know that I consider Ron Edwards to be the better DT anyway. Either way, the Ravens feature a solid and dominant offensive line regardless of who starts at the DT positions. Success will not be measured by completely shutting down this line and its offense entirely. In Denver Bronco-like fashion, Chester Taylor may replace Lewis with near seemlessness.

Moulds and Evans vs. Ravens Secondary: Gary Baxter and Chris McAllister are two of the better young and up-and-coming cornerbacks in the league. In fact, McAllister has already arrived. Standout safety Ed Reed only bolsters that corp.

Summary:

While last week's victory should have fallen into the ‘less than impressive eked out win on the merits of solid play through only a half, and over what is clearly the worst team in the league' category, some have taken last week's win as an indication of a pending turnaround. Well, this game on the road vs. a not so good Raven team coming off a week of rest will surely put that theory to the test.

A win in Baltimore under any circumstances assuming any contributions at all by the Bills' offense may keep such a theory alive for yet another week. A loss would put it back to bed and end any and all speculation that this Bills team is anything other than a regressed bottom tier team incapable of other than occasionally, and even then perhaps not, beating average or better opponents. Not to be premature, but a loss here under any circumstances should formally put the Bills in the mode of trying out their young and largely unknown talent in the interests doing anything possible to contribute to competitiveness next season. In fact, even a win here would only give cause for team officials to continue on in their state of denial of their own assessments of how good this team is. The team is clearly not the team promised by Donahoe and the coaching staff, nor were their assessments of key portions of it accurate in the least.

I had last week's game in the ‘if the Bills cannot impressively beat what is now shaping up to be one of the worst teams ever in the history of the NFL, at home, largely on the merits of their struggling offense by putting up 20-some points offensively, then they really, really stink; and with a loss Tom Donahoe should have been airlifted out of the city' category.

As usual, the Bills face an opponent of the variety that they have proven they can beat in this league during the Bledsoe-Donahoe-era. The Ravens, while 3-2, are nowhere near the team that got them that far with Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap on the bench for varying reasons. This renders this Ravens team to likely a .500 or thereabouts team, if even that. The only team better than 8-8 that the Bills have beaten during the Bledsoe-Donahoe era was last season's Patriots and Bills fans are all too familiar with the anomalous circumstances surrounding that game.

Regardless of what's been printed, last week's "victory" over the lowly Dolphins was clearly unimpressive. The offense still could not break the 13-point barrier. Yes, they could have kicked a field goal in the last seconds. Would that alter the argument much? They also proved once again that when the money was on the line, that from the 6-yard line, they could not penetrate the goal line or even come close. So the same argument can cut both ways.

Count me out of the company of those simply excited because the Bills achieved a win. The day I revel in the fact that the Bills beat a team actively, and with good reason, vying for 0-16 will be the day that I cease to be a Bills fan! My standards for the success of my team are a wee bit higher than that. Thus far on the season they have not even approached being met. They have also, again, not approached what Donahoe and the new coaching staff have promised or even come close. More on that later.

The Ravens bring a similar pass D yet with a much more intense rushing D to the table in this game. It will be interesting to see what the offense of the Bills does. If the Ravens blitz often and go ahead in this game one way or another, then Bledsoe succumbing to a large number of sacks is not only possible but also very likely. As well, this game smacks of his also throwing several interceptions.

The team has done well in minimizing Bledsoe's errors thus far. But as has been pointed out in many of my prior pieces, that reduction in errors, namely interceptions and fumbles, has come at the expense of a conservative offense translating to an ineffective one. The team will figure that out soon enough. They must first get past their oversimplifications of the issues surrounding Bledsoe.

There is no middle ground with Bledsoe in that regard. Bledsoe-quarterbacked teams have the options of either designing the offense around Bledsoe to the extent that his errors and downsides are mitigated, yet at the expense of anything approaching productivity in the passing game, which is the approach that the Bills have chosen this season. The other option is ridiculous quantities of sacks and turnovers. Bills fans know that one too. The Bills will likely face solid coverage in addition to a virulent pass rush as well, not a good combination for a Bledsoe-led passing attack behind a suspect OL however.

Bottom line:

For the Bills, this game will come down to how well they can run the ball. The game is a road game for the Bills who have only beaten last season's Giants (4-12) and Jaguars (5-11) on the road over the past 14 road games. The Bills bring a four-game winless road streak, they are 1-8 in their last nine road games, and are 2-12 in their last 14 road games. It is questionable whether the Bills would have even beaten Miami had the game been in Miami last week.

This game will be a defensive matchup bigtime with the edge clearly going to the team that can run the ball the best. The edge there will go to the Ravens even with Lewis sitting. The Raven OL matches up much better vs. the Bills DL and strategy than visa versa. In fact, this Bills OL may very well be in trouble vs. this Raven front-7. The Bills have by-and-large not run the ball well whereas the Ravens have.

Much like Denver, the Ravens line is built to allow any RB to experience a degree of success. Note to Mr. Donahoe! Regardless, to what extent they succeed will be the big difference in this game. The more the Ravens run on the Bills the fewer the opportunities will be for the Bills to capitalize off of Boller and Raven passing game errors. If the Bills cannot capitalize off of those, then they have little if any chance of winning this game. They have largely proven that they simply cannot score apart from help from the D and STs in setting up those scores.

The Bills beat Miami largely because of Takeo Spikes' INT return for a TD. The Bills' lone offensive TD was set up by a strong defensive stand leading to a three and out burying the Dolphins deep in their own end of the field and forcing a very poor punt setting up the Bills offense at the Fin 37. Again, this season each and every one of the Bills' offensive TDs outside of those in the Jets game, has an asterisk next to it for one reason or another. There have been very few long, sustained drives of the variety that are desirable. It stands to reason that vs. a tenacious Raven D, on their own turf, and coming off a week of rest, that once again the offense will need the defense's and special teams' help to set them up to score.

As well, the Ravens scored 14 points in their last game vs. the Skins via defense and special teams. Given Bledsoe's propensity for errors under pressure and the stuttering state of the offense, expect the Ravens to quite possibly capitalize in similar fashion off of Bills miscues. Certainly the Skins' offense with Portis and their mediocre line is very similar to that of the Bills.

There is absolutely no reason to think that the Bills offense can put up more than 14 points in this game and even that would seem to be a lot given the circumstances with which the Bills face the Ravens on Sunday. The Bills have yet to break the 14-point barrier on offense now a third way through the season. The Ravens have allowed fewer points than any of the Bills opponents to date.

Again, the odds of the defenses outscoring the offenses in this game are high. The Bills did not show enough last week vs. the Fins to indicate any sort of success this week on the road vs. the Ravens and on the heels of their semi-emotional first win of the season in nail-biting fashion and evasive of rendering them to shameful status.

Meanwhile, there is also no reason to suspect that this Ravens offensive line, arguably the best that the Bills have faced this season to date, will not pave the way for two rushing TDs with another TD coming either at the hands of Bledsoe and the Bills or via special teams.

Prediction:

Again, assuming that the Bills' defense and special teams do not score, …

Bills 6, Ravens 24.

If the special teams and defense do score, tack those points on.

To discuss this article or other issues on the Bills, Tune into "The 2004 Bills Report" which can be heard live on Thursday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. over the Internet at www.broadcastmonsters.com. Call into the show live at 1-877-913-9739.

Comments: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net


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