Torrey Smith will give the Bills' beat-up secondary enough trouble by himself, but: between Dallas Clark and Marlon Brown, who should Bills fans be focused on as the Ravens' second receiving option? It seems to vary week to week thus far.
Butt: Don't be deceived by the statistics. Clark hasn't been the reliable receiving option Baltimore hoped for when it signed him to replace Dennis Pitta. There have been a lot of drops and mistakes as he tries to find a groove with Joe Flacco. He had the high yardage total against Denver due to two plays — one where he got lucky because the linebacker just missed what could've been a pick-six, and one where he had a big gain but would have lost a fumble if it wasn't for a facemask penalty. Therefore, by process of elimination, the more important option to watch outside of Smith is Marlon Brown, just by the sheer versatility of his game.
However, Brown is still a raw prospect, one that wasn't the go-to option a year ago in college at Georgia (my alma mater - and the Bulldogs threw the ball quite a bit in 2012). That said, he can play outside and slot receiver, and can catch the ball in traffic. He could be a mismatch in single coverage with the added attention Smith will receive. However, he's shown to be better working over the middle than down the sideline. He's not getting great separation on nine-routes.
Ray Rice is iffy for this game. We know that Bernard Pierce is a good runner, but how does the Ravens' passing attack change with Rice out of the lineup?
Butt: Word around Baltimore is Rice is likely to play, though that could just be gamesmanship. The Ravens certainly want him ready for the sheer fact that Buffalo's run defense is a weak spot and they'd love to attack it. If Rice is unable to go, I don't think they vary form a game plan that will likely involve establishing the run to open the pass.
That said, the Ravens have been unable to establish the run against Denver, Cleveland or Houston. Granted, those three front sevens are among the best in the NFL this year (Broncos No. 1, Browns No. 7, Texans No. 9 against the run), it's still something that irks the Ravens' coaching staff given the philosophy to be a run-oriented team — even with a $120.6 million quarterback.
The only difference the passing game sees with Rice out of the lineup is the ability to check down passes sooner. Rice has an innate ability to slip out of the backfield for Flacco, who can then dump passes off if nothing is open down the field. Pierce doesn't do a whole lot of that. But otherwise, the passing game won't see too much of a difference if Rice is unable to go. It's not like the Ravens use Rice in the passing game the way the Lions use Reggie Bush.
Baltimore is looking to get right in the running game against the Bills' 30th-ranked run defense. Obviously playing three straight Top 10 run defenses hasn't helped their cause, but what has gone wrong on the Ravens' side of the coin in their slow start running the football?
Butt: Ah, back to the running game. As you know, football is such a relative game with moving parts. For Baltimore, losing Jacoby Jones to a sprained MCL for the time being hurt more than it could have expected. Without a No. 2 deep threat, the Ravens have seen defenses put seven and eight men in the box. The offensive line hasn't had a strong start with the backs not able to find much room to run.
Very few running backs can find success with eight in the box — Adrian Peterson being the only current one that comes to mind that can. Baltimore's faced some challenging fronts early on and is probably looking forward to this game for the sheer reason that there's a chance to get a running game established.
Ravens fans have to be thrilled by the play of Daryl Smith. Have the Ravens lost anything at linebacker moving from Ray Lewis to Smith?
Butt: No, and you can argue they've actually gained a better on-field presence from a pure football standpoint. Let's face it: Lewis had become a shell of his former self. Now, he could motivate like none other and possessed many intangibles that could get him by during weeks of practice, but he wasn't the same player. I think he'd even readily admit that.
Smith, on the other hand, has been fundamentally sound in just about every aspect of his game. Not many people know of him from a national perspective, simply because he played for so long in Jacksonville. Take for instance his pick-six against Houston. Smith baited Matt Schaub into that throw (a decision Schaub had to make quickly because of pressure from Haloti Ngata) and turned it into Baltimore points. I don't think Lewis makes that play if given the opportunity in 2012.
Smith was one of the faces of the Jaguars' franchise before he left, and now he's one person among many in the Ravens' locker room. It's been an outstanding addition for the Ravens, easily the best pickup they made all offseason.
Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Haloti Ngata get most of the attention in the Ravens' front seven, but a guy that has caught my eye so far this year is Arthur Jones. Talk about his importance up front, and how the Ravens use both he and Chris Canty alongside Ngata in their defense.
Butt: Bringing in both Canty and Marcus Spears allowed Ngata to move inside to nose tackle, a position that's actually more natural for Ngata. But Jones has been one of those John Harbaugh type of players — a blue-collar, lunch pail type that won't garner a ton of press but will get the job done when asked. He came on strong midway through last year as he began to grasp defensive coordinator Dean Pees' defense, which has carried over into the 2013 season.
Jones missed the Denver game with an irregular heartbeat but has participated in the previous two. He's recorded a sack in each game and has done a good job generating pressure. Thing is, with the kind of front Baltimore has, the pressure can come from anywhere. That was a reason why Canty and Spears were brought in, to help shore up a defense that was terrible against the run a year ago.
Now the Ravens rank fourth in that category. Jones has certainly played a big part in that.