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Crumbling their cookies: how the Buffalo Bills should attack the Baltimore Ravens

Or defend. Defend works too.

Get ready to hate hearing the term “eye discipline” on Sunday. Also, if this were Twitter, you might want to mute the terms “RPO” and “zone read”, and not just because color commentators have a frustrating tendency to mislabel plays.

It’s because you’ll see them a lot.

The Baltimore Ravens offense is the talk of the league and rightfully so. Quarterback and 2018 first-round pick Lamar Jackson has taken the NFL by storm in his second year, with offensive coordinator and former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman dialing up a power-run offense with misdirection filled to the brim with speedy and talented playmakers. Much of the narrative coming into this game will be about how the Bills are going to attempt to stop the freight train that is the Baltimore Ravens offense.

I have some thoughts...

Take your chances on getting beat deep

Lamar Jackson has been incredibly efficient passing the football this year. Intermediate routes to his tight ends have been particularly effective. His passing splits only show a weakness when forced to throw the ball deep outside the numbers. Being able to trust cornerback Tre’Davious White to handle wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown will allow Buffalo to be able to use the safeties to bracket in-breaking and intermediate routes from the tight ends and still be able to commit eight or more men into the box to stop the run. Cover-0 and Cover-7 are both examples of coverages that could potentially be used in order to achieve this goal.

Dust off Siran Neal

One of the challenges that Baltimore presents as an offense is their propensity to utilize two- and three-tight end sets, In these formations, they force the defense into base and expose teams’ strong-side linebacker—who typically isn’t on the field for more than 15-20% of the snaps given that teams are in nickel the overwhelming majority of the time in the NFL—to zone-read concepts.

The 2-TE sets will likely be countered with base defense from the Bills, putting Lorenzo Alexander on the field as a stand up linebacker more than the Bills would likely prefer. But what about when the Ravens show 23 personnel with two running backs and three tight ends? For all intents and purposes, the Ravens are running Madden “goal line” plays against you from their own 40. It creates a significant challenge because Baltimore invested in top talent at those positions so, for them, 23 personnel puts some of their best players on the field. For the defense, that’s not the case. In addition, the defense’s need to put larger, slower players on the field hurts their ability to handle quarterback Lamar Jackson in the zone-read game, which the Ravens will still run out of 23 personnel.

Enter Siran Neal.

The “big nickel” corner who was used exclusively in that role in training camp and has played more special teams than defense this year, Neal might be someone with the strength to hold up against a tight-end block but also have the speed to limit big gains from Jackson on the outside. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him out-snap Taron Johnson by a wide margin this game. We’ll see how the Bills choose to defend.

Get to the edges on offense

The San Francisco 49ers had the right idea. They got to the edges against the Ravens’ defense and had success. The Bills have the right running back in place for that type of scheme in Devin Singletary, but bubble screens and packaged plays that allow Josh Allen to throw the ball quickly to the outside when the corner’s cushion dictates it will also help. The Ravens pose a formidable threat on defense to be certain, but Raheem Mostert is a good (not transcendent) player and the Bills need to commit to running on the edges and the Bills need to recognize that the 49ers exposed a weakness in the Ravens’ scheme.

...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan for Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter @BruceExclusive and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” every week on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!