Despite losing the 2019 game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Buffalo Bills brought it right to the wire with a Herculean defensive effort. While 24 points doesn’t sound like they limited the Ravens all that well, that was over nine points less than Baltimore’s average and the fourth-lowest scoring output during the regular season.
Buffalo kept the yardage in check at 257, or 150 lower than their season average. The Ravens averaged 3.6 yards per rush versus the Bills, nearly two yards under their 5.5 average. Mark Ingram was kept at 3.33, well under his 5.0 average. Things were arguably worse for Lamar Jackson. While his 3.63 against the Bills was better than Ingram’s efficiency, it was nearly half his normal of 6.9 yards per rush.
Can the Bills do it again? Man, I hope so. Let’s take a look at what they did and see if it’s something they might be able to replicate.
There are several things here that were themes throughout the game. The Buffalo defensive backs often afforded large cushions. This prevented large chunks (for the most part) but also helped the second theme of everyone keeping their eyes forward. There’s was also not a lot of linebacker support on the back end, which cleared them up to make a few plays like this. Tremaine Edmunds stared down the ball carrier the whole way and came through clean.
Like above, the goal was to keep everything in front of them. For this play you’ll notice on the one pause that the Bills were positioned to break on a ball around the line to gain. The defensive backs were left without a ton of support, daring Lamar Jackson and the Ravens to win one-on-one contests.
This screams of game-specific prep. Shaq Lawson set the distance of the block by jamming out his left arm. He was focused on the ball and his leg showed he’s looking to move side to side. There was zero intention of pass rush on this snap and it’s something the Bills did healthy doses of last season and a TON in this game. All of the above allowed Lawson to react quickly and move freely to the ball.
Buffalo used a lot of zone looks throughout the game to ensure everyone’s eyes were on Jackson and the ball. Here they were in man coverage thanks to the 3rd-and-long, once again trusting their defensive backs. That gave a one-man advantage at the line and Jerry Hughes capitalized. You’ll also notice again where the defensive backs were congregating. If there was a quick pass they could break and make a tackle before the Ravens got a first. Bend but don’t break.
So far I’ve shown a lot of things the Bills can replicate. Here’s one they can’t. As a long-time defender of Star Lotulelei here’s my chance to be his hype man this season. I’ve harped on this in 2020, any time you have to spend extra resources on one player it opens up something else. Lotulelei started off against a double team, which lead to some chaos in the center. Then he casually tossed the one opponent he was left with to the side and made a tackle after a short gain. I don’t know if anyone on this year’s team can replicate what Lotulelei does as a player. Lotulelei was on the field for 68 percent of the defensive snaps, which is quite high for a defensive tackle in this scheme.
Matt Milano is healthy again though! Here’s the natural evolution of a philosophy of “all eyes forward.” Yes, the Bills spied the backfield quite frequently. Milano was 100 percent read and react here.
I’ve shown similar above, but just to reinforce the idea. For the last couple years I’ve repeatedly indicated that defensive end sack numbers will probably never be high within head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier’s defense. Players are often tasked with holding the edge and making sure there’s no easy escape for the quarterback. Against Lamar Jackson this was an obvious trend.
There are some repeat themes here. Eyes front. Maintain your gap/space. Drive when you see the ball starting to move. Lorenzo Alexander did all of that and made Marquise Brown regret catching that ball. Speaking of Lorenzo Alexander, he was on the field A LOT in this game. The Bills played nickel defense roughly one-third of the time. That’s shockingly low for Buffalo. It was a one-time only appearance for a base 4-3 defense. I noted last year “If you’re looking for confidence in the coaching staff, they reinvented the defense for one week.” Like Lotulelei, Alexander was on the field for 68 percent of the defensive snaps.
Finally, sound fundamentals were huge. Ed Oliver’s left hand made this play.
I recalled a solid defensive effort by Buffalo but, after really honing in, I’m surprised at how well they played the Ravens. Their offense sputtered all day. This sounds odd to say when a team scores a bit higher than league average but hear me out. In addition to the rushing stats cited at the top, the Ravens’ leading receiver was Hayden Hurst with 73 yards on three catches. Most of that (61 yards) came on a broken touchdown play. The most efficient receiver was Mark Ingram who caught three passes for 29 yards.
The Ravens got to 24 points in large part because Buffalo kept handing them the ball back. Baltimore had 12 meaningful drives and could have added a 13th if they needed it. In 2019 they scored on 51.8 percent of their drives, which would translate here to around six scores. Buffalo only allowed four, which is a major swing.
Continuing that narrative, Buffalo’s first quarter consisted of 13 plays (a trio of three-and-outs) and seven yards. Two of Baltimore’s four scores came in this quarter. Buffalo’s third quarter had another trio of three-and-outs with a fourth drive of two minutes that yielded a field goal. That’s a lot of crappy offense.
There have been a good many changes in personnel from last year, but it’s clear that the Buffalo Bills’ coaching staff had a good handle on how to slow down the Baltimore Ravens. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of these tendencies return this Saturday for a special-edition defense.