Takeaways from Ravens vs. Bills
It wasn't pretty, but wins don't come pretty this time of year. What matters is the final score, and the Ravens punched their ticket to the postseason with a 24-17 win over the Buffalo Bills in a slugfest.
The winning streak now extends to nine games as the Ravens improve to 11-2 on the season. They hold a firm grasp on the No. 1 seed in the AFC and can clinch the AFC North with a win on Thursday night against the New York Jets.
"The Ravens' victory against the Bills again lacked the style points and the gaudy offensive numbers," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "But a week after the offense kept the ball for the game's final 6 ½ minutes and set up Justin Tucker for the game-winning field goal over the San Francisco 49ers, the Ravens defense finally was asked to play the role of closer."
Here are pundits' takeaways from the game.
Even When It Isn't Pretty, Ravens Still Finding Ways to Win
The Ravens had become accustomed to winning handily. Last week's three-point victory over the San Francisco 49ers seemed like an outlier, but it offered a glimpse into the playoff-like atmosphere Baltimore will face heading into December and January.
"The past two weeks have been an indication of what the Ravens can expect playoff football to feel like," Zrebiec wrote. "They can't expect the offense to be able to move effortlessly down the field every week and put video games numbers, as it did in Los Angeles a few weeks back and at home against the Texans last month. Every possession will be contested like it was here on Sunday."
Pundits were impressed again with the Ravens' ability to grind out another close game – this time, led by their defense.
"[T]he Ravens in both the last two weeks and the last two months have proven they're a team that can win when Jackson's just a guy," NBC Sports' Peter King wrote. "On Sunday, in the 24-17 win over the Bills, the Ravens sacked Josh Allen six times and had 25 significant pressures.
"Two months ago, the Ravens embarked on a hellscape of a schedule—at Seattle, New England, at Cincinnati (chortle), Houston, at the Rams, San Francisco, at Buffalo—that even the optimistic Baltimoreans would have been thrilled going 5-2. The Ravens went 7-0. They averaged 35.1 points per game and never gave up more than 20 in a game. They've developed a sneaky-good pass-rush, led by Judon and his 8.5 sacks, and they're great closers, allowing just 7.8 points per second half all season."
At times, things didn't go well for the Ravens. The Bills did the best job of any team containing Lamar Jackson this season. With a steady wind that affected the passing game, the Bills consistently loaded the box with seven defenders to stop Jackson and the Ravens' downhill running game.
The Ravens finished 3-of-11 on third downs, and penalties also took their toll. Baltimore was flagged nine times, three of which came on the final drive of the game.
But the defense stepped up and made big plays. With Mark Andrews lost to injury, Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, and Willie Snead IV caught touchdown passes.
The Ravens are the definition of battle-tested. They've now beaten seven teams with winning records during their nine-game win streak.
"It says a lot about the strength of this roster that they can blow out teams like the Rams and Texans in dominating fashion," NBC Sports' Ryan Wormeli wrote. "It may say even more that they can play poorly and still beat teams like the 49ers and Bills.
"If the Ravens are going to make the Super Bowl this year, they'll likely have to do it by playing closer to their 'A game' in the postseason. But it's comforting to see them figure out how to win in other ways too."
Relentless Blitz Keeps Allen and Bills in Check
The Ravens came into Sunday's game with the highest blitzing rate in the NFL, and Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale didn't take his foot off the gas. In fact, he stepped on it harder. The pass rush was relentless, racking up six sacks and 12 quarterback hits.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Ravens blitzed 30 times, and Josh Allen only completed 29 percent of his attempts against it. The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer noted that Martindale sent four or fewer pass rushers on only five of 25 of Allen's incompletions.
"Baltimore's plan couldn't have worked much better," The Athletic's Matthew Fairburn wrote. "The Ravens defense was authoritative in a 24-17 dismissal of the Bills. Allen was running for his life most of the game, completing 17 of 39 passes for 146 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked six times and fumbled twice. On passes that traveled at least 15 yards in the air, Allen was 1-for-11."
The Ravens ran cover-zero on the final play of the game, as they did in their playoff-clinching win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 last season. But instead of an interception, it was Peters who deflected Allen's pass intended for John Brown to seal the win.
Sending seven pass rushers leaves your secondary with one-on-one coverage, and Fairburn said the Ravens have the "unique" personnel to pull this off. The cornerback depth of Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, and Peters allows the Ravens to do what most teams can't.
"When the Ravens' cornerbacks play as well as they did Sunday and their pass rush shows up, opponents have trouble moving the ball," Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "Sunday's game offered a glimpse at how the Ravens' defense was built to work — and it might strike fear into other AFC contenders."
Matthew Judon Is Earning His Payday
No player may have profited (literally) more than Matthew Judon on Sunday. After recording five tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss against the Bills, Press Box's Bo Smolka believes Judon has earned himself a hefty payday.
"The Ravens have a long history of developing their mid-round draft picks and then wishing them well and letting them walk when the free-agency money gets too crazy," Smolka wrote. "Will Judon, who was a fifth-round pick in 2016, be next?
"Judon said earlier this fall that he's not worrying about that right now, nor should he be as the Ravens march toward the postseason. But one thing is certain: He is lining himself up for a huge payday next spring. Who will be paying him remains to be seen."
Leading the pass rush, Ebony Bird's Richard Bradshaw said Judon has been one of the most important Ravens this season.
"He's perhaps the biggest difference-maker in the front-seven and shows up every week to compete," Bradshaw wrote. "He's an important piece in Baltimore's puzzle, and he proved that against the Bills once again."
From Coach to Key Contributor: Domata Peko is Making an Impact With Ravens
One month ago, Domata Peko was on the sidelines as an assistant coach at Calabasas High School in California. Fast forward to Sunday, and he is a key defensive contributor on the NFL's hottest team.
"Humphrey, Matthew Judon, Earl Thomas III and Marcus Peters, among others, may be the headlining forces on this defense, but without the contributions of the aforementioned players listed above, the Ravens are almost certainly not sitting at 11-2," Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko wrote.
The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker noted that the majority of the Bills' 104 rushing yards came on the outside, as the 325-pound Peko clogged the middle.
"Though Peko has averaged a modest 19 snaps per game and made just one tackle against the Bills, he routinely pushes blockers into the backfield," Walker wrote. "That collapsing pressure bothered Allen throughout the game.
"With Williams, Pierce and Peko (combined weight: 1,001 pounds) rotating, the Ravens are guaranteed to have two unmovable boulders at the center of their defense whenever they need them."
Peko attributed his time in Calabasas to help him stay in shape and the 13-year defensive tackle is gaining plenty of support as he continues his NFL career.
"I've gotten a whole bunch of texts and Instagram messages from my little players at Calabasas saying, 'Good job, Coach. We see you out there.' It's been really cool," Peko told The Los Angeles Times' Sam Farmer.
Williams once again had a dominant game as well, and finished the game tied with Earl Thomas III for the team lead in tackles with seven.
- Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz gave the benefit of the doubt to Greg Roman's aggressive experimentation on offense: "The success of Roman's creativity fluctuated Sunday. At some moments, it seemed like the Ravens would've been better served to run the ball down the gut of the Bills' defense instead of trying to catch them off guard. Still, experimentation and aggressiveness have been hallmarks of the Ravens' successful season. Those traits have helped the team score more points this year than in any other."
- Kasinitz also believes Patrick Mekari's snaps must be more consistent for Jackson: "Whatever the case, the Ravens know their newest starter on the offensive line has work to do. Mekari stepped into the lineup after Matt Skura suffered a season-ending knee injury Nov. 25, and he's mostly produced solid play. To keep the NFL's top-scoring offense rolling, he'll need to shore up his snapping."
- NFL.com's Mike Silver profiled how Peters' game-changing plays have propelled the Ravens this season.
- Add another pair of broken ankles to the list.