Baltimore’s last matchup against Josh Allen and the Bills came on a Sunday afternoon in Week 14 of 2019.
Both teams look considerably different since their last encounter; what’s most notable is the continued success, growth, and development of both Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson.
When watching highlights of this game, I noticed how much bigger Allen looks this year than last year. From head to toe, Allen looks at least seven pounds heavier this season just based off of sheer observation.
Aside from the changes in physique for Allen, the Bills added a number of different players since their last encounter with Baltimore. Players such as Stefon Diggs, Zack Moss, and Gabriel Davis have really helped make the offense among one of the league’s scariest.
Allen has played at an MVP level at times during this season and his consistency, in addition to his uncanny statistical improvements, have propelled Buffalo to stardom. Credit must also be given to the Buffalo coaching staff with great emphasis on the work of Sean McDermott and Brian Dabol.
The culmination of these improvements has resulted in the best Buffalo Bills team in decades.
Let’s take a look at how Allen and the Bills did in their last encounter with Baltimore, before they were the Bills team we know now.
To begin the game, Baltimore quickly forced Buffalo to go three and out.
On Baltimore’s first drive, Jackson started out with a nice 14-yard completion to Mark Andrews for the team’s first, first-down conversion.
After the play, the Ravens couldn't establish any rhythm and punted.
The Bills, still slow out of the gate, went three and out again as the offense ran three plays for negative two yards.
Starting at Buffalo’s 45 yard line, Jackson and the Ravens began to gain momentum. The offense ran six running plays in a row and eventually settled for a field goal attempt as Jackson was unable to connect with Andrews on a third and ten.
Tucker nailed the 36-yard field goal to put the Ravens up 3-0.
Both offenses traded punts after the Tucker field goal.
Buffalo received the ball back towards the end of the first quarter. Looking to gain some sort of rhythm, Allen looked to make a play and escape a converging pocket on third and eight.
Allen fumbled the football, was stripped by Matthew Judon, and Jihad Ward recovered.
Now with the ball at Buffalo’s 24 yard line, Jackson and the Ravens eventually made their way into striking distance.
On a third down and goal, Jackson found Nick Boyle for a three-yard touchdown pass to add to the Baltimore lead.
Ravens led 10-0.
In response, Singletary and the Bills offense began to intrude upon Baltimore territory.
On this drive Singletary gained solid yardage on a few runs and accounted for three first downs.
Buffalo’s drive stalled, however, and they settled for a Steven Hauschka field goal from 36 yards.
Baltimore led 10-3.
After a holding penalty on Baltimore’s following drive, Jackson miscalculated his aim for Willie Snead, and the ball was intercepted by Tremaine Edmunds.
The Buffalo offense was unable to capitalize, however and punted back to Baltimore.
On Baltimore’s next drive, the offense started at their own six yard line and couldn't move the sticks.
After punting, Buffalo started their next drive near midfield.
Allen and the Bills did just enough to get into Hauschka territory. Just before the half, Hauschka nailed another field goal to trim Baltimore’s lead to four heading into half.
The Ravens led 10-6 at half.
Starting out on offense to begin the 2nd half, Jackson and the Ravens didn't waste any time making splash plays as Jackson found Hayden Hurst on a skinny post, which Hurst took 61 yards to the end-zone.
On the following Bills drive, Isaiah McKenzie took a short throw and turned upfield for 24 yards.
One play later, Allen connected on a crossing pattern with former Raven John Brown, who took it 18 yards.
After two first downs in a row, the Ravens defense did a wonderful job stalling Buffalo’s drive. Hauschka came on for another field goal, this time from 49 yards away, and nailed it.
Ravens remained in the lead, 17-9.
On the next six drives by both teams, punts were traded as both defenses held strong.
After a Buffalo punt, Jackson, Mark Ingram, and the Baltimore offense began to rely on the running game to move the sticks.
Eventually reaching the Buffalo four yard line, Jackson found Willie Snead on a second and goal pass play for a touchdown to extend their lead to 24-9 with 9:49 left in the game.
Needing a response, Allen and the Bills began to drive down the field after a 37 yard throw and catch between Allen and Dawson Knox.
A number of defensive penalties on behalf of Baltimore allowed for Allen and the Buffalo offense to quickly find themselves in striking distance.
After multiple goal to go tries, Allen finally found pay dirt as he hit Cole Beasley for the score.
Allen and Beasley connected once more for the two-point conversion.
Needing a few first downs to close out the game, Jackson and the Ravens were unable to do so and punted back to Buffalo.
With 5:27 left, Buffalo needed a touchdown to extend the football game.
After two unnecessary roughness penalties by Baltimore’s defense, the Bills were in Ravens territory.
Unable to gain more first downs, on a fourth down and sixteen, a Beasley-intended pass from Allen went awry, but luckily they were saved by a pass interference penalty to get a fresh set of downs.
Baltimore’s defense held strong once again and forced Allen and the Bills into another fourth down and sixteen attempt.
Allen fired down the middle to John Brown, but Marcus Peters found just enough of the football to knock it away for a Ravens victory.
Ravens won 24-17.
What can we expect this Sunday?
For both of these quarterbacks, the winner will have an opportunity to win their first conference title.
With both quarterbacks coming off of their first playoff victories, confidence must be at an all time high not only for themselves but also for the entire team.
For the Ravens to win and earn a ticket to the AFC Championship, Baltimore’s defense must make Buffalo’s game plan as one dimensional as possible.
Zack Moss, who consistently split carries with Devin Singletary during the regular season, is out for the rest of the playoffs. Now, Martindale and the defense must focus on stopping the legs of Allen and Singletary.
If the running abilities of Allen and Singletary are minimized, Allen and the Bills will pass for the majority of the game.
With Buffalo heavily relying on their pass, Baltimore’s defense will have more of an idea what to expect and may not get caught off guard with what Buffalo deploys.
Regardless of how one dimensional Buffalo’s offense may become, players such as Stefon Diggs, Dawson Knox, Isiah Mackenzie, and Gabriel Davis must be accounted for by Baltimore’s secondary, who had a stellar performance against Tennessee in the Wild Card.
Marlon Humphrey will once again be tasked with the responsibility of covering the opposing offense’s best receiver in Diggs. Expect a back and forth matchup against these two, but I’m confident in Humphrey’s ability to limit Diggs.
Offensively, the Ravens should merely keep doing what they’re doing and rely on the rushing attack, quick passing game, and the legs of Lamar Jackson.
Clearly, Marquise Brown has found his groove over the latter half of the season; however, he must face off against one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in Tre’Davious White. Brown will have his hands full and must find separation to help Jackson out in the passing game.
Jackson may be playing his best football as a pro, and I foresee him taking control of the game against Buffalo just as he did against Tennessee.
Buffalo’s run defense has been relatively pedestrian during this season and must be up to the task to mitigate the ability of Baltimore’s physical offense.