Offensive Game Plan
1.) Running the ball in passing situations: One of the biggest challenges the Ravens will face on offense is trying to run the football against Buffalo's front seven, which is among the top groups in the league. The front features a solid trio at the linebacker position, and a stout defensive line anchored by sumo defensive tackles Pat Williams and Sam Adams. Generally, Williams and Adams do a nice job of occupying blockers so that backers London Fletcher, Takeo Spikes and Jeff Posey are able to run unimpeded to chase the ball carrier. On the edges, defensive ends Chris Kelsay and Aaron Schobel are tough to move because they are heavier than most ends, and play with sound leverage.
If the Ravens rely on their base offensive front to slug it out with Buffalo's base defensive front, the chances are not in their favor for achieving success, especially with Jamal Lewis being out for this game. In order to run the ball with effectiveness, the Ravens will need to run the ball in passing situations out of the spread formation. Specifically, when the down is third-and-five or longer, or second-and-eight, Baltimore should line up in a three-wide, one tight, one-back set with Chester Taylor as the feature back, and run the ball against Buffalo using the draw or delay play.
Running the ball out of a spread formation accomplishes a couple of things. One, the Ravens do not usually run a running play in long conversion situations, so Buffalo may be thrown off guard by having to defend the run on those downs. Second, if the Buffalo linebackers are forced to spread out in order to cover four receivers, that will open up man-to-man blocking battles for the Raven offensive lineman to work against.
2.) Passing the ball out of a three-wide formation: There is a decent chance that Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap will miss his fourth straight game against the Bills. If Heap is out, then the Ravens will have a much tougher time passing the ball out of its base offensive formation. Ideally, a team would want to pass the ball out of its base formation against Buffalo's base defense, which is built to stop the run but is not as solid against the pass.
However, with Heap being out, the Ravens may be forced to operate consistently out of a three-wide, one tight or one fullback, one halfback formation. With the return of Travis Taylor, this formation could provide the Ravens with its best chance to move the ball through the air. In all likelihood, Randy Hymes will run his routes out of the slot formation, while Taylor and Kevin Johnson will be the outside flankers. Hymes should present the biggest match-up problems against Buffalo, because a safety or a linebacker cannot cover him, especially in the middle of the field.
3.) Running a hurry up, no huddle offense: The Baltimore passing attack is clearly in shambles, although the return of Taylor and Heap (whenever he gets back) will at least give quarterback Kyle Boller more weapons to work with. Still, Boller has regressed over the past two games. He has not been reading the blitz properly, his mechanics are not consistent, and his accuracy has been off target in crucial passing situations.
Buffalo will follow the same formula to stop the Ravens' offense as every other defense before has followed. Stop the run on first and second-down, forcing Boller to throw the ball in third-and-long conversion situations against a heavy pass rush.
The Ravens have the chance to change this pattern of efficiency by using a different offensive script against Buffalo. What Baltimore can do, especially because they are at home, is come out of the box throwing the football out of a hurry up offense. Employing this strategy accomplishes a couple of things. One, if the offense gets to the line of scrimmage quickly, it forces the defense to stay in whatever personnel grouping they have on the field, because they cannot substitute players in due time.
In Buffalo's case, they will use a base front to match-up against whatever formation the Ravens use, so the Ravens can pass the ball against this formation when they are in their three-wide set. Two, by running a hurry up offense, the Ravens can potentially tire out Adams and Williams, as the two defensive tackles will not have enough seconds to catch their breaths between snaps. And of course, as the game progresses, the Raven lineman would rather face a winded combination of Adams and Williams as opposed to an active duo.
Three, running this offense will test Boller's ability to run a two-minute offense with effectiveness, when the stakes are not as high as they would be at the end of a game.
Defensive Game Plan
1.) Forcing Bledsoe to hold the ball: Every defense that faces the Bills' offense is looking to accomplish one main object: Force Drew Bledsoe into making mistakes. Bledsoe has always been sacked often throughout his career, because he is immobile, and tends to hold the ball too long instead of getting rid of it. However, over the last two seasons, Bledsoe has also been turnover prone.
In Sunday's game, look for Mike Nolan to test Bledsoe's ability to get rid of the ball quickly by using four and five-man pass rush fronts. The Ravens have been able to get to the quarterback consistently without having to bring a lot of bodies, and against a leaky Buffalo offensive line, that success should continue.
2.) Keeping Eric Mould and Lee Evans in check: Even with Bledsoe's struggles, he is still capable of drilling deep shots down the field. With receivers like Eric Mould and Lee Evans being adept at defeating man coverage, Bledsoe will have his chances to complete some long passes against the Ravens, if the Raven corners allow these two receivers to get behind them.
McAlister will likely check Moulds, a receiver that is physical and tough at the line of scrimmage. He can usually get a clean release, and when the ball is in the air, there are few wideouts who can adjust to the ball better than Moulds can. McAlister will need to make sure that he is not too aggressive when trying to stymie Moulds at the line because if he misses his jam, Moulds will run right by him.
Baxter will also have his hands full against the explosive Evans. Evans has the quickness to give Baxter trouble, and once Evans gets his hands on the ball down the field, he will outrun any defender trying to track him down from behind.
3.) Facing the spread: One of the things that Buffalo may do to counter the Ravens' defensive attack is to spread the Ravens base defense out, and pass the ball out of a hurry up offense. Buffalo has done this against other teams, so it would not be a surprise to see them operate out of this formation on Sunday. Also, offenses have attempted to throw the ball against Baltimore's base defense more often in order to force linebackers Ed Hartwell and Terrell Suggs to cover.
In order to defense this formation, the Ravens may need to use more 4-3 alignments, with Terrell Suggs playing on the line at the defensive end position, so he is not exposed in the open field. Playing Deion Sanders more often is another way to counter the spread attack, and by having Sanders on the field, that will give defensive coordinator Mike Nolan the flexibility to line Ed Reed up in different spots on the field.
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