Last week, the NFL made a big deal about the future Hall of Fame quarterback matchup between Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, undoubtedly two of the greatest in the history of the NFL.
However, that one turned into a dud as neither played particularly well and the Packers won a snoozer of a defensive game 14-12.
Provided the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens aren’t playing in an offensively-challenging monsoon Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium, Josh Allen facing off against Lamar Jackson will likely be much more entertaining.
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These are two of the hottest quarterbacks in the league as Allen leads the NFL with 338.0 yards passing and 31.1 completions per game while Jackson leads the league in TD passes (10) and QB rating (119.4) and is tied for fifth among all players in rushing yards with 243.
Far and away the best quarterbacks in the draft class of 2018 when Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen were also picked in the first round, Allen and Jackson are two of the faces of the league and both are playing at stunningly high levels.
“I think it’s as simple as we’re doing what’s asked of us,” Allen said. “There were a lot of different notions and opinions about both of us coming out of the draft. We’re just trying to find ways to help our team win football games. And, (Jackson) does it as good as anybody in the league.”
So does Allen, and Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who wouldn’t trade Jackson for anyone, was quick to praise Allen’s ascension since 2018 when there were many questions about his long-term viability in the NFL.
“Just seeing him now, he’s a premier quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “He’s one of the very best in the league, top whatever you want to put it, he’s in there. He presents his own unique challenges. There’s no quarterback exactly like him in football, and they built the offense around him really well. So, that’s what we’re faced with.”
More:How to watch Buffalo Bills vs. Baltimore Ravens game on TV, live stream
Here are my keys to the game and prediction:
1. Baltimore Ravens defense is not as fierce as it once was
For so many years, especially when Lewis and Ed Reed were playing, the Ravens’ calling card was their fierce defense. Those days are a thing of the past. Baltimore enters the game ranked dead last in the NFL in total yards and passing yards allowed and is 24th in points allowed.
Much of that stems from the epic Week 2 meltdown against Miami, but even last week against the pop-gun Patriots, the Ravens gave up 26 points and 321 passing yards to Mac Jones. So, Allen and the Bills have a real opportunity to move the ball and score. Even if WR Gabe Davis is hobbled, the Bills should be able to get Stefon Diggs, Isaiah McKenzie and Jamison Crowder into favorable matchups.
The Ravens may try to take a page out of Miami’s defensive game plan last week as the Dolphins did a great job of keeping things in front of them and forcing Allen to throw underneath more than he’d like. Allen averaged 4.1 air yards per completion and 5.7 air yards per attempt, uncharacteristically low for him.
2. The Bills have to find a way to lessen Josh Allen’s burden
It hasn’t been pretty so far, and the Bills can’t keep asking Allen to produce 83% of the offensive yards as he did last week, playing 90 snaps and dropping back approximately 70 times. They need to be able to at least occasionally give the illusion that they can run the ball.
The starting offensive line has a chance to be whole this week as both C Mitch Morse and RG Ryan Bates seem on track to play. This is a Ravens defense that won’t have stud DT Michael Pierce and it could be without edge rusher Justin Houston. Of course, they still have DT Justin Madubuike who has played very well this season, and LBs Josh Bynes and Patrick Queen so it won’t be easy to create lanes, but the Bills have to start finding a way to lessen Allen’s burden.
3. Bills defense should forget about blitzing Lamar Jackson
The Patriots and Dolphins both came after Jackson with heavy blitz packages and they paid a hefty price. Last week against New England, Jackson was blitzed on 49% of his dropbacks and he responded with three TD passes. He also had three TDs against the Miami blitz in Week 2.
The Bills are not a big blitz team so I would expect they’ll play coverage and perhaps spy Jackson with LB Matt Milano or maybe even keep a defensive lineman out of the pass rush and have him shadow Jackson in an effort to keep him in the pocket.
The problem with spying Jackson, though, is you essentially lose a defender if Jackson stays put. In previous years, that was OK because Jackson’s downfield passing could be erratic. That is no longer the case.
One of the biggest keys for Buffalo will be to win on the early downs and get the Ravens into third-and-long. Baltimore’s offensive line is a little banged up – though LT Ronnie Stanley might be back – and if Von Miller and the pass rush can get after Jackson, that could disrupt the Ravens, so long as Jackson doesn’t escape and rip off a long run.
Sal’s prediction: Baltimore Ravens 27, Buffalo Bills 24
This was always going to be a tough test for the Bills even without all their injuries which is why it was so important to get off to a fast start against Los Angeles and Tennessee. I also thought the Bills would handle Miami to get to 3-0 and create some margin for error, but they didn’t, so now they’re up against it playing a team that is favored to win the AFC North on its home field.
The Ravens have been one of the best home teams in the NFL since Harbaugh became coach in 2008 with a record of 89-32, a winning percentage of .719 that is third-best in the NFL in that span. Their 17.7 average points per home game yield is No. 1. The Bills have lost their last five games in Baltimore.
Allen and the offense should be able to make things happen against this Ravens defense, and while both Allen and Jackson have been such dangerous dual threats, I just think Jackson is going to have one extra play in him that gets it done.
Other things to know about the Bills vs Ravens game
▶ Ravens TE Mark Andrews isJackson’s favorite target with 22 catches for 245 yards and three TDs. The Bills have to hope that Milano and Tremaine Edmunds can stay with him short, and then safeties JaQuan Johnson and whoever plays between Jordan Poyer and Damar Hamlin doesn’t bust on a seam coverage.
▶ Getting Poyer and CB Dane Jackson back would be huge for the Bills, though both are listed as questionable. Baltimore has two WRs in Devin Duvernay and Rashod Bateman who are deep threats. Thanks to a 75-yard TD, Bateman is averaging 28.3 yards on his eight receptions.
▶ RB J.K. Dobbins made his season debut against the Patriots after missing all of 2021. The former second-round draft pick averaged 6.0 yards per rush as a rookie in 2020, so he could be ready to step up and contribute.
▶ Greg Rousseau has been in on 3.5 sacks this season and he leads all Bills defensive linemen with 59% snaps played, just ahead of Miller’s 57%.
▶ If it comes down to a field goal, both teams have great kickers, but Baltimore’s Justin Tucker is the best in league history. He has made 91.1% of his kicks and has made 59 straight in the fourth quarter or overtime, That’s incredible.
Thur. 9/8 at Rams, W 31-10
Mon. 9/19 vs. Titans, W 41-7
Sun. 9/25 at Dolphins, L 19-21
Sun. 10/2 at Ravens, 1 p.m.
Sun. 10/9 vs. Steelers, 1 p.m.
Sun. 10/16 at Chiefs, 4:25 p.m.
Sun. 10/23 Bye week
Sun. 10/30 vs. Packers, 8:20 p.m.
Sun. 11/6 at Jets, 1 p.m.
Sun. 11/13 vs. Vikings, 1 p.m.
Sun. 11/20 vs. Browns, 1 p.m.
Thur. 11/24 at Lions, 12:30 p.m.
Thur. 12/1 vs. Patriots, 8:15 p.m.
Sun. 12/11 at Jets, 1 p.m.
Sun. 12/18, vs. Dolphins, TBD
Sat. 12/24 at Bears, 1 p.m.
Mon. 1/2 at Bengals, 8:30 p.m.
Sun. 1/8 vs. Patriots, TBD
Sal Maiorana can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.To subscribe to Sal’s new twice-a-week newsletter, Bills Blast, please follow this link: https://profile.democratandchronicle.com/newsletters/bills-blast
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Bills vs Ravens predictions and keys to the game