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Five things to watch: Bills at Ravens

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Our first chance to watch games that matter is here!

At 1 pm today, fans all around the country will pile in front of TVs (and mobile devices, too) in bars, living rooms, and basements all over the country, telling friends and anyone else within earshot why their team has a chance to go all the way. When the Bills take on the Ravens, Rex Ryan will look to bolster his already-stellar 6-1 record on opening weekend as an NFL head coach. Each week gives us unique matchups to dissect, so here’s what I’ll be looking for during the game:

Improved defensive communication

It didn’t take a genius like Norman Einstein (thanks for that one, Joe Theismann) to see that Buffalo’s defense struggled in 2015. Many of those issues stemmed from misunderstanding assignments, calls coming in late, and all-around discombobulation. With so many new faces, it’s hard to fathom that communication and assignment understanding could actually improve, but it appeared to happen in the preseason (insert mandatory “preseason means nothing” comment here). If the team is to break a playoff drought that just secured a driver’s permit, this will be a big part of it.

Greg Roman’s creativity

Week 1 is the best time for “sneak attack” gameplans that a team will have all season. Without current film to gauge an offense’s tendencies, other coordinators are essentially relying on instinct and the prior year’s film. For a coordinator who loves to scheme some trickery like Roman, Week 1 offers up a chance at something new. If you recall, the Bills’ starting quarterback for the opener last season was technically Matt Cassel, as Tyrod Taylor lined up as a receiver for the game’s first play. Maybe we could see some wishbone early in the game? I’d call it “Gronkbone,” but something tells me that isn’t something people should Google.

The offensive line

I would have written the right side only, but Cordy Glenn’s first game action since sustaining a high ankle sprain is also worth watching. The unit was solid as a whole last year, but that was mostly due to elite play from Richie Incognito and Glenn, with very good play from Eric Wood, as well. Jordan Mills and John Miller need to take the next step in order for the offense to continue to grow.

The return of the pass rush

Buffalo’s defense was on top of the NFL in 2014 when it came to pressuring quarterbacks. Last season, nearly the opposite result occurred, as the team went from 1st to 31st in sacks in only a year. Joe Sarro detailed Joe Flacco’s struggles against the blitz in his gameplan, so pressure will be a huge part of coming out of Week 1 with a big victory on the road. I’m especially excited to see if Jerel Worthy and Adolphus Washington can parlay their tremendous preseason play into a regular season coming-out party.

Charles Clay

We all know that Sammy Watkins is the focus of the passing game. Defenses know it. Other coaches know it. Heck, my wife even knows it, and she doesn’t watch most of the games. So, it’s up to the secondary options to help Tyrod out when Sammy is shadowed. Clay did not make the kind of impact that was expected of him last season. A big first week could be the catalyst for a huge season from the athletic tight end. If the emphasis on using the middle of the field during training camp is any indication of the team’s plans, Clay should expect to see a lot of targets Baltimore.

Those are my top five—feel free to add to the list via the comments below!