Well we’ve reached the quarter mark of the 2013 season and have already learned a few things about this young Buffalo Bills football team. We knew they would have their ups (beating the Panthers, nearly beating the Pats) and downs (getting crushed by the Jets, nearly beating the Pats), but for some reason this year feels different. Maybe it is the rookie QB, who every week is learning more and more about playing in the NFL, or a shift in the mindset for the Defense, who already looks more aggressive than previous years, or maybe the head coach, who is someone you believe could be around for a while. Whatever it is Bills fans are hoping that this team for once is heading in the right direction long term, whose path looks a bit like a growth stock, full of its short term ups and downs but when looked at over the course of a few years, heads towards the top. Today’s game against the Ravens should be considered a must-win for this team looking to show they are capable of winning big games, and it starts at home. With this in mind, here are a few things to expect today:
The Bills’ Wide Receivers need to get Wide Open. Last week’s pitiful performance against the NY Jets, a team with a historically tough defense, is a great indicator of what will happen today. E.J. Manuel was sacked 8 – yes count them 8 – times, with many of those sacks coverage sacks. The WR corps could not find a way of getting open against a solid but not great secondary. Today’s test doesn’t get much easier with another notoriously strong defense, fueled by two of probably the best defensive ends in the game. How LT Cordy Glenn and RT Erik Pears fair against this rush in their one on one match-ups will most likely determine the fate of the game.
Buffalo Needs to Stop Rice in an Instant. Ray Rice is planning on playing today, and while not 100% is 100% capable of still causing major trouble. If the defense gave up 150 yards last week to Bilal Powell (who?), Ray Rice even at 50% should have no problem having a career day, unless Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine has other plans. Kiko Alonso is having a Pro Bowl Rookie season, but he also needs to smarten up against the run. All too often Alonso is out of place due to over-pursuing, allowing rushers to rack up big gains. Yet the run stopping problem does not begin with Alonso, and the D-Line must get off their blocks and play stronger and with more ferocity to win the line of scrimmage. The Bills will need to dominant at least one line of scrimmage and be equal on the other to have a shot in this contest.
Nathaniel Hackett will test the Ravens D. I don’t think there is any question here. With a lackluster run defense, a injury-decimated secondary, and a better than average special teams unit, if the Bills do not get any production out of their offense, the game will be over early. Hackett will have to stretch the field early and often, and be more creative with his play calling. All too often in the first few weeks of 2013 has he resorted to safe, conservative plays to protect and help out his young QB. That ship is sinking fast. The Ravens defense will snuff out the 4 and 5-yard passes faster than a tiger attacks its prey, so if the Bills want to challenge them and call of their blitz, they will have to air the ball out. Blitz pickup, adjustments, and hot routes have to happen today, and E.J. must show a bit more composure in a collapsing pocket. He has taken his fair share of licks to “welcome” him to the NFL, and now needs to stand tall and connect with his WRs and TEs to make them pay. If he starts to break down and cannot find receivers underneath in slants and fades, you can turn off your TV early and enjoy a beautiful fall day in Buffalo.