The Ravens defense sees a unicorn in practice every day with Lamar Jackson. On Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore's defense will be seeing double.
Like Jackson, Bills quarterback Josh Allen has a unique style of play. However you rank the NFL's best quarterbacks, Allen is at or near the top.
Now the Ravens defense, which ranks last in the league allowing 458 yards per game, has the challenge of stopping that.
"He's a premier quarterback. He's one of the very best in the league, top whatever you want to put it, he's in there," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "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."
Allen leads the NFL with 1,014 passing yards. He's second behind Jackson in touchdown passes with nine. Allen ripped a whopping 63 passes last week against the Miami Dolphins and threw for 400 yards.
"He's a big, strong quarterback; he's on time in rhythm," Harbaugh said. "He can hold the ball and get the ball downfield; he can throw it to every part of the field."
Beyond his arm, Allen's legs stress the defense's pressure. Allen's 5.9 yards per carry ranks fifth in the league among runners with at least 10 carries (Jackson is first at 9.3 yards per run). While Jackson will run past defenders, Allen sometimes tries to run through them with his 6-foot-5, 237-pound frame.
"He's a D-end body type. He's pretty much the same size as Odafe [Oweh], and he's strong and athletic, and he can make every throw on the move," veteran Calais Campbell said. "He is a guy where I feel like you can't really worry about penalties, because you're going to get run over. I've seen him run over D-linemen, which is rare for a quarterback."
So how do the Ravens plan to slow this all down?
"I'd say I'll leave the specifics out, but we're definitely going to try a few things," Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald said with a chuckle. "I think we have a good plan in place, and the guys are executing it.
"But it's the NFL; we have great players too, they have great players. Like 'MP' [Marcus Peters] says, if they make a play, it's the NFL. Hopefully it's an earned play, you're trying not to give them free plays, give them freebies, just like everyone."
As far as approaching Allen as a runner, Macdonald said the strategy changes by situation – both down and distance, man vs. zone coverage, etc.
"Then, if he rears his head in certain critical situations, just keeping the ball in designed runs, then it's a different animal, just because it's a numbers issue plus his skill as a runner and just being so big and being able to get on the edge," Macdonald said. "So, it's definitely a challenge."
Macdonald is probably feeling this week the way other defensive coordinators feel when preparing for Jackson. Such a unique quarterback requires a unique gameplan.
The Ravens have faced Joe Flacco, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones (and their weapons) so far this season. Allen is the best quarterback among them. The Dolphins' wide receiver tandem of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle have been the best in the league so far, the Bills' Stefon Diggs leads the NFL in receiving yards (344) and Gabriel Davis is a major threat if healthy. It's not just Allen.
With all that said, the Ravens defense isn't backing down from the challenge. A Ravens defense that has surrendered 353.3 passing yards per game will have its hands full trying to keep the Bills below that, but Baltimore's secondary isn't entering Sunday's game feeling defeated. Quite the contrary.
"We're not worried about any placement right now; we're worried about getting things flowing so we can be the best defense and the best unit that we can be," Peters said. "It will keep clicking as the year goes on, but we're going to be alright. We're not worried about all that stuff. Once we get rolling, it's going to be straight."
"I think we have a good plan to contain him, get to him, make him uncomfortable and cover well on the back end," rookie safety Kyle Hamilton said. "I don't think we have to do anything really outside ourselves but execute. But obviously he's going to make you pay if you don't communicate and do things the right way."
Although the Ravens have given up too many yards through the air, they've been able to counter with turnovers. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars have as many interceptions (6) and takeaways (8) as Baltimore.
"We know who they have with Allen, Diggs. They've got some good guys on their team," cornerback Brandon Stephens said. "But they also have to go against us. We have guys on the defense that can make plays and create turnovers. We're looking forward to the matchup."