The Baltimore Ravens came into their Divisional Round matchup with the Buffalo Bills as one of the league’s hottest teams. Baltimore had won its previous six games, averaging 34 points per game in the process. Quite a few experts picked the Ravens to come into Orchard Park and upset the Bills.
The problem for Baltimore was that they ran into a team that’s been even hotter than them over the course of the last few months. Buffalo won its eighth straight contest by defeating Baltimore 17-3 on Saturday night. Now, I’m no math guy, but three is a helluva lot less than 34, so the Bills were able to hold Baltimore well under their recent scoring average through a ferocious effort on defense.
How did the Bills contain Baltimore’s top players? This is what went down in Buffalo’s big victory.
QB Lamar Jackson
Buffalo stymied the 2019 NFL MVP, making him uncomfortable in the pocket and choking off his scramble lanes by playing sound fundamental defense. The Bills brought blitzes off the edges to keep Jackson in the pocket, and they used an incredible effort and outstanding rotation among their defensive linemen to finish the job. Jackson was hit seven times and took three sacks. He was forced to throw the ball outside the numbers for much of the first half, and he was unable to do it except for the few instances where he scrambled and broke contain. On the Ravens’ first drive of the second half, Baltimore was able to find a rhythm by hitting Willie Snead IV on some quick-hitters off of play-action and/or RPO looks, but on 3rd-and-goal, Jackson stared down his tight end and threw a brutal interception that Taron Johnson returned 101 yards for a touchdown. Jackson was on the field for only two more plays. On second down from their own 25-yard line, the snap flew over Jackson’s head. He recovered it around the two-yard line, then fired an errant throw to the sideline, which was correctly called intentional grounding. Unfortunately, Jackson took a hard hit on the play, and his head snapped back and bounced off the turf. Jackson left the game with a concussion. He finished the night 14-of-24 for 158 yards with that interception, adding 34 rushing yards on nine carries.
RB J.K. Dobbins
It was a coin flip between spotlighting Dobbins and his teammate, Gus Edwards, and both men ran well in the early going. The “Gus Bus” was let loose first, as Edwards ran for 22 yards on the first two plays of the game. Then, Dobbins entered and gained nine yards on his first carry, and that power running game looked like it was going to cause all of the problems we’d worried about. However, after this combo gained 31 yards on their first three carries, they gained just 53 yards on their next 17 carries as the Bills clamped down on Baltimore’s rushing attack. Dobbins and Edwards finished with identical stat lines—ten carries for 42 yards—in terms of rushing. Dobbins caught three passes for 51 yards, but it’s a pair of drops where he was wide open that were the greater focus.
TE Mark Andrews
Like the coin flip between Dobbins and Edwards, this was a toss-up between Andrews and wide receiver Marquise Brown, as Jackson targeted both of them more frequently than anyone this year. Brown led the Ravens in receiving by catching four passes for 87 yards. As usual, though, it was Andrews who led in targets, as the Ravens’ quarterbacks targeted their tight end 11 times Saturday night. Thanks to a swarming combination coverage that threw Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, and others around Andrews, he was limited to just four catches for 28 yards. Two of Baltimore’s red zone failures came on targets to Andrews—the Taron Johnson interception came when Jackson stared Andrews down, and Andrews couldn’t haul in what would have been an amazing touchdown catch on 4th-and-goal when he was surrounded by a cadre of Bills defenders. Buffalo made the Ravens play away from their strengths, which is why they came up with the win.
EDGE Matthew Judon
Judon nearly changed the course of the game in the first half with a strip-sack of Josh Allen. Fortunately for Buffalo, left tackle Dion Dawkins fell on the ball, so the Bills merely had to punt rather than allowing another Judon strip-sack of Allen to give the Ravens a short field. Aside from that play, Judon was largely quiet, as was Baltimore’s pass rush overall. The Bills did a great job protecting Allen, and defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale backed off of his blitzing ways due to Allen’s proficiency in shredding the blitz this year. Judon finished with three tackles, a quarterback hit, and the aforementioned sack and forced fumble.
CB Marlon Humphrey
Baltimore’s top corner only had two tackles and he didn’t break up a pass in the game. That doesn’t mean he played poorly—often, when corners don’t register stats, it’s a good thing, as it means that they locked down their man—but Buffalo was able to find success throwing to their top two targets. Josh Allen completed 23 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown. Of those totals, 16 completions for 168 yards and a touchdown went to Stefon Diggs and John Brown. Buffalo schemed some things to free those players from Humphrey’s clutches, but the Bills were able to play this game their way and come out on top regardless of the strength of the Ravens’ defense.