Efficiency in the redone, third down conversion rate, winning the turnover battle - all of these objectives apply to every game, every week. Limiting LeSean McCoy and the Bills rushing attack will be a big challenge for the Ravens, and will take strong effort from multiple players at all levels of the defense. However, the four direct player match-ups below will decide which team earns the Week 1 win...
RB Terrance West vs LB Preston Brown
The Bills front seven will not be near full strength for this early season contest. Stout nose guard Marcel Dareus is suspended while rookie run plugger Reggie Ragland and first round edge defender Shaq Lawson are both injured. The Ravens offensive line should be able to open some holes for the running backs against an inexperienced defensive line, especially on the right side. Preston Brown, a 16-game starter for the Bills last season, will be tasked with stopping power back Terrance West in the hole. The Ravens game plan will likely feature a focus on establishing the run between the tackles. If West is successful in the matchup with Brown, the Ravens will be able to control time of possession and move the chains through smash mouth running.
WR Sammy Watkins vs. CB Jimmy Smith
Sammy Watkins is by far the Bills most dangerous player and primary pass catcher. Jimmy Smith is unlikely to shadow Watkins all game, but he must use his size to bump Watkins at the line when given the opportunity, he does not have the agility to stick with Watkins if he has a free release. Dean Pees might opt to frequently bracket Watkins with Shareece Wright and Lardarius Webb, leaving Smith to eliminate receiver Robert Woods. But if Jimmy can at least keep Watkins in front of him on his man coverage snaps, the Ravens will be able to stack the box with safeties to help against the Bills capable rushing attack.
QB Tyrod Taylor vs. LB Zach Orr
Tyrod Taylor posted more than 500 rushing yards last season and is adept at using his elite mobility to escape the pocket when the pass rush is bearing down. Orr, along with fellow rotational linebackers Albert McClellan and Anthony Levine, must contain Taylor when he scrambles. The Bills also run a lot of crossing routes, if Orr can find proper depth on his pass coverage drops in zone coverage and find the ball in the air, the Ravens can put the Bills in unfavorable down and distance situations.
WR Kamar Aiken vs CB Stephon Gilmore
Gilmore and Ronald Darby comprise one of the best cornerback tandems in the league. They utilize man coverage on the majority of snaps, which could disrupt Joe Flacco’s timing in the passing game. Darby has great speed and will likely mark Mike Wallace and the other vertical receivers in the Ravens stable. The one matchup advantage the Ravens may find is Aiken using his size to outmuscle Gilmore for contested catches. Aiken outweighs Gilmore by almost 25 pounds. His physicality should come in handy, especially in the red zone.
The matchup appears to be a classic Ravens-style grind it out type of game. Winning the battle in the trenches will be crucial, big plays should be limited for both offenses. As long as the Ravens tackle well enough to prevent chunk plays from Watkins and Taylor, while also getting West going, they should earn a close victory in their home opener.