Buffalo Bills: Three keys to a Week 1 victory in Baltimore
By DJ Eberle
The Buffalo Bills kick off the 2018 season with a game against the Baltimore Ravens. Here are three keys to a Bills victory in Week 1.
Buffalo Bills fans, it’s finally game week.
Like real games. Ones that matter.
Which means your favorite weekly game preview is back – Three Keys to the Game.
Despite ending the drought a season ago, the Bills begin the 2018 season in what will likely be an uphill battle.
When Buffalo travels south to take on the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, the AFC East team will trot out a new quarterback, a handful of new wide receivers, two new offensive linemen, a new middle linebacker, a couple of new corners and a few more new, shiny toys.
That’s a lot of change in one offseason.
Nevertheless, the Bills will have a shot to go into Baltimore and start the season with a Week 1 upset.
Entering our fourth season of this preview column, hopefully, you know the drill by now. But if you don’t, here’s a reminder: Each week during the regular season this column will provide the three ways the Bills can secure a victory.
So, without further ado, here are the Three Keys to the Game for the matchup against the Ravens, which kicks off at 1 p.m. Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium on CBS.
The Bill Collectors need to show up
While the defense was impressive a season ago, it was mainly due to its ability to come up with timely turnovers.
That has to be the case again this season. At least in Week 1.
Nathan Peterman getting the nod against the Ravens isn’t the worst decision in the world, especially to the level the national media has received the coaching move. I actually like it.
But as a whole, the offense is lacking talent and if the Buffalo defense can give the offense a shorter field, it will make life a lot easier for Peterman and Co.
If the Bills struggle to get after the quarterback, which is sort of expected after a lackluster showing in the preseason, even more pressure will be on the secondary.
Joe Flacco isn’t a world beater by any means, but he has talent and the Baltimore receiving corps thanks to the additions of Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead IV and John Brown.
There’s nothing to worry about in Tre White, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. The uncertainty comes at the right cornerback spot – a position that doesn’t have a starter named yet.
It’s between Vontae Davis and Phillip Gaines. And both players are coming off of lackluster years. Davis was hurt for most of it and Gaines struggled with the Kansas City Chiefs.
All that being said, if Davis is named the Week 1 starter, he actually has the advantage in his matchup against Crabtree, according to Pro Football Focus. Crabtree has a minus-3 percent advantage. It’s minuscule, but still noteworthy.
Either way, don’t be surprised if Buffalo rolls its coverage to help Davis out.
Attack the middle of the field
Sure, everyone remembers Peterman’s first start.
How could you not? He threw five interceptions in a half against the Los Angeles Chargers.
However, since that game, Peterman has looked capable.But there is one notable area of weakness in his game.
It’s his throws to the boundaries. That’s where most of Peterman’s interceptions come.
Peterman doesn’t throw his passes toward the boundaries with as much zip as say a Josh Allen. This allows defensive backs the opportunities to make plays on the ball.
With that in mind, Brian Daboll should use the middle of the field to his advantage when designing a game plan.
Peterman can get the ball out quick and gives his receivers a chance to make plays after the catch.
Daboll should look to get LeSean McCoy involved as well. While it’s unknown how effective the running game will be, McCoy is still a difference-maker in the passing game.
If Peterman can hit McCoy while he’s covered by a linebacker, the Pro Bowl running back will have an opportunity to make plays.
Stop the run
While the Bills run defense received an injection of talent in the offseason – Star Lotulelei, Trent Murphy, Tremaine Edmunds and Harrison Phillips – stopping the run still seems to be a liability, at least after the preseason.
Buffalo was gashed by Carlos Hyde and Co. in Week 2, which was alarming. And this week, the Bills face a more-than-capable running game led by Alex Collins.
The third-year running back is coming off of an impressive rookie campaign. Collins finished top-5 in elusive rating (third), yards after contact per carry (fourth) and breakaway percentage (third) in 2017, according to PFF.
He’ll be a tough stop. But if the Bills can do that, and make the Ravens one-dimensional, they’ll have an opportunity to force some turnovers and give the offense a couple of key extra possessions.
Prediction: Bills 24, Ravens 21
The national media, and Vegas, is pretty low on the Bills this season.
However, the Ravens aren’t that scary of an out. While it is on the road, the roster isn’t as impressive as it has been in the past.
Defensively, Terrell Suggs (81.0) and Brandon Williams (79.7) are the only players with PFF grades higher than a 74. Offensively, there are only three: Collins (83.4), Marshall Yanda (82.6) and Ronnie Stanley (75.1).
There will be opportunities for the Bills to make plays and win the game.