The Extra Point – Week 14: Baltimore’s Blitz Bonanza Beats Bills

Photo from baltimoreravens.com.

Sunday’s matchup against a high quality opponent provided a great measuring stick for Buffalo. Unfortunately, they came up short, and in so doing, showed that they still have a ways to go to be among the league’s elite.

1.) Ravens blitz Bills out of the stadium, Allen has day to forget. Sunday’s game between the Bills and Ravens — for all of its pre-game buildup and breathless talking points — can be summed up pretty easily: The Ravens defense blitzed the Bills offense on just about every play, and the Bills didn’t have any answers. Time and again, the Ravens sent extra rushers at Josh Allen and time and again, one or more defenders burst through the line untouched and besieged the young quarterback. He was hurried, harassed, flushed, sacked, stripped, and ultimately, defeated by the Ravens defense. This strategy isn’t new, of course. Allen’s worst outings this season were against New England and Cleveland, who both employed similar strategies.

Why doesn’t EVERY team just blitz the Bills out of the stadium, you might ask? Well, not every team has the personnel in the secondary to be able to send relentless Cover Zero blitzes and have faith that their defense will hold up on the back end. Unfortunately, the Ravens DO have the necessary personnel, and Josh Allen did not execute well enough on multiple occasions to make them pay for their aggressive hubris.

Look no further than the multiple missed long throws in the first quarter to see why the Ravens continued with this strategy right up until the final whistle. Allen looks like a different quarterback — scared, chaotic, pensive — when teams successfully attack him in this way, and unless and until he shows that he can consistently beat the pressure and deliver catchable passes to his receivers, teams will continue to follow a similar blueprint. The offensive failures were not ALL on Allen, of course, which leads to our next point.

2.) Allen didn’t get much help on a day in which he sorely needed it. The Bills’ cast of offensive playmakers didn’t do much to help their quarterback on Sunday. There were dropped passes by wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs. There were times when his receivers did not fight for catchable balls. There were times when Allen’s pass catchers simply could not escape the Ravens’ stifling man-to-man coverage, Both offensive tackles got rather routinely whipped by Baltimore’s edge defenders, too.

All told, it was a day to forget not just for Josh Allen, but for the entire Bills offense. Seeing how many passes Allen failed to deliver accurately, how many times receivers failed to catch the passes that WERE delivered accurately, and how soundly the Bills offensive line was beaten by the Ravens front seven, I have trouble putting much blame on offensive play caller Brian Daboll.

To my eyes, it looked like the players simply failed to execute at a high enough level for most of the afternoon. Moreover, while the Bills have some nice pieces on offense in Beasley, Brown, Singletary, and Knox, I wouldn’t say they really have any game-changers on that side of the ball. Take a look at Buffalo’s final pass of the game. A true blue chip wide receiver prospect, a true number one, might have made that play. The Bills don’t currently have that guy on the roster.

Photo of GM Brandon Beane from buffalonews.com.

Brandon Beane has $90 million and 9 draft picks this coming offseason. Here’s hoping he’s well aware of the fact that a large chunk of those resources should be devoted to adding offensive playmakers and continuing to improve the offensive line. His shopping list may be long, but “Give Josh all we possibly can to help him succeed” should be in bold, underlined writing right at the top.

3.) Despite failures in execution, Bills offense fought until the end. Even with everything mentioned above — Allen’s bad day, the receivers getting a case of the dropsies, the lack of answers for the blitz –the Bills still had the ball at the 20 yard line in the waning minutes with a chance to tie the game.

On a day where it seemed like absolutely NOTHING was going right offensively, the Bills kept grinding and somehow gave themselves a chance at the end. This speaks to the mental toughness and resolve of the offense as a whole and of Josh Allen specifically. It also speaks to the talent of the Bills defense, which brings us to our next point.

4.) Bills defense turns M.V.P. into J.A.G. On all but one play Sunday afternoon, the Bills defense did an absolutely stellar job of containing the Ravens offense. They caused the Ravens — a team on track to potentially set the all-time record for least punts by a team in an NFL season — to have multiple 3-and-outs and punt far more than they’re used to.

They held the potent Ravens rushing attack, best in the league and averaging over 200 yards per game, to just 118 yards. Mark Ingram averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Lamar Jackson, in the midst of a record setting campaign from a rushing yardage standpoint, averaged 3.6 yards per carry. They effectively turned a legitimate M.V.P. candidate into J.A.G — Just A Guy. Sean McDermott, Leslie Frazier, and the Bills defenders deserve a ton of credit for the performance they turned in on Sunday.

Despite all of that, the above paragraph starts with the words “on all but one play…”. So, about that play…

5.) Uncharacteristic defensive foible swings the game’s outcome. Unfortunately, in the National Football League, you can play outstanding defense all afternoon, stifle an elite running game, and make an M.V.P. candidate look totally pedestrian…and still give up one play that changes the game. Such was the case with the blown coverage that led to Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst’s 50+ yard touchdown catch-and-run.

Coming into Sunday’s game, there are lots of things that would not have surprised me: The Ravens gashing the Bills defense in the run game, Lamar Jackson taking over and adding to his impressive highlight reel. One thing I did NOT expect to see, though, was the Bills defense thoroughly blowing a coverage that resulted in a long touchdown pass for Baltimore. Leslie Frazier’s defense simply does not make these kinds of mistakes very often.

They are a disciplined, smart, fundamentally sound bunch. Indeed, they were all of those things and more on Sunday — for all but one play. In a game the Bills lost by one touchdown, it was that one play that decided the game. Consider this: had that scoring play not occurred, the Ravens would have had 17 points rather than 24 points in the 4th quarter, when the Bills — also with 17 points on the scoreboard — reached the 20-yard-line at the two minute warning.

Photo from buffalonews.com.

A Stephen Hauschka field goal, then, would have put the Bills in the lead with less than two minutes to play. Instead, they were forced to go for it on 4th down in an attempt to score seven, and the rest is history. One play — ballgame.

6.) Odds and Ends. There are a few things I wanted to mention before we wrap up that didn’t quite fit in elsewhere.

– Tre’Davious White running over and picking up the Ravens play-sheet that blew onto the field and trying to garner some intel from it? Hilarious. That one elicited a smile from Leslie Frazier in his Monday morning press conference.

– The officials were absolutely horrendous on Sunday. I rarely like to mention this, because I’m a firm believer that referees are rarely the reason that any team loses a football game. There are just too many other factors in a sport as complex as football to be blaming any outcomes solely on the zebras. Sunday’s performance, though, deserves scorn.

There were far too many blown calls and missed calls. The Ravens walked the razor’s edge of having 12 defensive players in the huddle time and time again, causing the ever well-composed Sean McDermott to be as angry and animated as you will likely ever see him on the Bills sideline. I know reffing NFL games is a tough job, but the officials NEED to do better.

– Speaking of angry Sean McDermott, I thought he had a good day. He had his team ready — schematically and from a fundamentals standpoint, at least — he mixed it up with the officials when they clearly deserved it, and he made a great call to have the team go for the two point conversion when they did.

Even though the clueless CBS announce team badmouthed the move, it was clearly the right decision. If you wait until the end of the game to go for two and fail to convert, the game is over. If you go for two earlier and fail to convert, you at least know how to proceed through the rest of the game. How paid professionals like Dan Fouts could get this basic idea so wrong, I have no idea. Credit McDermott for getting it right.

Photo of QB Josh Allen from buffalonews.com.

The Extra Point

For weeks and weeks, all Bills fans heard was that the team’s record wasn’t that impressive because they hadn’t beaten anybody good. With that in mind, the stretch of games against Dallas, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and New England presented a great chance for the Bills to quiet their critics and for Bills Mafia to see once and for all just how their team measures up against the better teams in the league. Last Thursday at Dallas, they got off to a great start. This week against Baltimore? Not so much.

Still, despite posting their fourth loss of the season, there were silver linings. Buffalo’s defense was more effective against the Ravens offense than the likes of New England and San Francisco — both of whom are rated higher defensively than Buffalo in the league standings. The Bills also had the ball in the waning moments with a chance to tie the game — another nice feat against a team that many consider the best in the league.

Moral victories, it can be argued, are for losers. What the Bills need to ensure just their second playoff trip in the past two decades, is an ACTUAL win — and they’ll have three more chances to get it.

Fans need not be discouraged by Josh Allen’s poor outing. Quarterback progression is never linear. There are ups and downs, and Sunday was certainly a “down”. Let us not forget, though, that the three weeks prior to that were “ups” for Allen.

There’s no reason to be down on the offensive personnel as a whole, either. It is important to remember that this offense features NINE new starters that weren’t Buffalo Bills last season. Not only that — it’s a safe bet that there will be a few MORE new starters on that side of the ball next season, too. The Bills offense simply isn’t done being built yet. It needs some game changers.

As for the upcoming slate of games and the Bills playoff hopes? There’s good news there, too. The Bills are 3-0 following a loss this season. They need only one win in the next three games to guarantee a playoff spot. Their first chance to do so will come next week in front of another national audience on Sunday Night Football. All they’ll need to do is win a regular season game at Pittsburgh for the first time since 1975. No big deal.

All season long, this young Bills team has shown that they are growing and improving, that they learn from their mistakes. Let us hope, then, that they learn from their loss to Baltimore and apply what they have learned next Sunday night. The whole football world will be watching.

Editor’s babble: Thanks to Matthew Rule for his contributions to our blog. You can find Matthew on Twitter @MatthewtheRule.

About Matthew Rule

Matthew Rule is a long time Bills diehard, former season ticket holder, relentless optimist, and survivor of the 6 to 3 Bills-Browns game of '09. These days, he lives with his lovely wife in Portland, Oregon.