The 2-1 Baltimore Ravens will take on the 2-1 Buffalo Bills this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens are 3-point home underdogs for the highly anticipated AFC showdown featuring two of the MVP frontrunners at quarterback.
What are some of the key matchups for Sunday’s contest?
Von Miller vs. Daniel Faalele
Third-string left tackle Patrick Mekari exited Week 3’s game against the New England Patriots with an ankle injury, leading to rookie fourth-rounder Daniel Faalele making his first start of the season. Faalele was a right tackle in college at Minnesota, so this was his first real action as a blindside protector. After giving up two sacks early in the game, Faalele settled in and finished the game on an encouraging note. He will have a much bigger challenge this week, however, as Von Miller comes to town.
It is possible that left tackle Ronnie Stanley could make his season debut on Sunday, but the former All-Pro missed practice on Friday and Head Coach John Harbaugh declined to comment on his availability for Sunday. Even if Stanley is able to go, it would be his first game action since Week 1 of the 2021 season and against one of the league’s top edge rushers.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman will have to center the game plan around helping Faalele through a variety of methods, including double teams and chip blocks from running backs and tight ends. At his size and speed, Faalele’s biggest test will be against inside counters from Miller. Miller has nine total pressures and two sacks through three games this season with a PFF pass-rushing grade of 89.1.
Mike Macdonald vs. Josh Allen
Results have been underwhelming thus far for Mike Macdonald in his first season as an NFL defensive coordinator. The Ravens have allowed big plays through the air, struggled against the run at times, performed poorly in the red zone, and are still struggling to generate a pass rush on defense outside of Week 1’s game against the New York Jets. Macdonald has had to deal with several moving pieces, including multiple rookies in the secondary and a dangerously thin group of outside linebackers.
Macdonald will have to avoid blitzing quarterback Josh Allen. According to PFF, Allen has completed 30 of 41 pass attempts when blitzed this season for a total of 382 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions for an overall grade of 79.9. With the defense's current proclivity for allowing big passing plays, Macdonald will have to make sure his players are in the best position to succeed against one of the league’s best quarterbacks.
Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters vs. Stefon Diggs
One positive note for Baltimore’s defense this season has been the return of cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, who both suffered season-ending injuries in 2021. Peters had a few hiccups against the Dolphins — his first game back in over a year — but rebounded with a tremendous game in Week 3. With both players playing at a high level again, the Ravens should only get better defensively as the rest of the pieces gel around them.
The duo will face perhaps their biggest challenge of the season this Sunday when they face wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Diggs has been one of the league’s top receivers dating back to his time with the Minnesota Vikings, and with a strong-arm gunslinger at quarterback now, has only become more dangerous. Diggs primarily lines up on the outside but he does not stick to one side of the field. So, unless Macdonald chooses to shadow him with Humphrey, then both Peters and Humphrey will be tasked with covering him.
Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay vs. Bills’ cornerbacks
The Bills have dealt with a rash of injuries to their secondary this season. Star cornerback Tre’Davious White was placed on the Reserve/PUP list to start the season, meaning he will miss at least the first four games. Cornerback Dane Jackson said the plan is for him to play on Sunday after missing Week 3 with a neck injury suffered against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2. Cornerback Christian Benford has been ruled out with a hand injury while recently signed veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes is also unlikely to play this week due to a hamstring injury. This leaves Buffalo with a thin group of corners to cover wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay on Sunday.
The pair of young receivers have greatly alleviated offseason concerns regarding the wide receiver corps for the Ravens. Through three games, Duvernay has caught three touchdown passes. Meanwhile, Bateman has scored two long touchdowns to go with 226 receiving yards. Duvernay has displayed excellent ball skills in contested catch opportunities and Bateman has shown a knack for picking up yards after the catch.
The two should see a lot of rookie first-round cornerback Kaiir Elam and undrafted rookie Ja’Marcus Ingram on the outside if Jackson is unable to play. While tight end Mark Andrews will likely be the focus of the passing attack again, quarterback Lamar Jackson will still need his top two receivers to make plays when needed in what could be a high-scoring affair.
Mark Andrews vs. Bills’ safeties and linebackers
Andrews has continued his dominant 2021 campaign with an equally impressive start to this season. Through three games, the All-Pro tight end has caught 22 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns. Opposing defenses have yet to find a way to stop Jackson from finding his favorite target through the air, and I would not bet on that changing this week.
Free safety Jordan Poyer missed last week with a foot injury and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Buffalo already lost star safety Micah Hyde to a season-ending neck injury in Week 2. Fourth-year safety Jaquan Johnson has since replaced Hyde. When Andrews isn’t being covered by a safety, he could find himself matched up with one of the Bills' many talented linebackers, including Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. According to PFF, Edmunds and Milano have only allowed a combined 96 yards in coverage this season.