When the Bills run
The Bills say Travis Henry is the starter, but he's still limited by sprained foot. Last week, Willis McGahee had impressive debut in starting role, using his size and strength to move the pile and gain extra yards after contact. Bills promise McGahee will have plenty of touches even if Henry starts. Running effectively will keep Bills out of long-yardage situations and help them wear down Ravens' defense in fourth quarter.
MLB Ray Lewis is heart and soul of Ravens' 3-4 defense. His instincts, toughness and leadership skills are second to none. But teams have found success running at Lewis, who no longer is protected by big run-stuffing linemen. Still, Ravens are capable of shutting down the run. If D-linemen can hold their gaps, Lewis and other linebackers will be able to swarm to ball and disrupt Bills' offense.
When the Ravens run
With stud RB Jamal Lewis serving a drug suspension, Ravens turn to backup Chester Taylor as primary ball carrier. Taylor is no Lewis, but he's a quick, slashing runner with good vision and patience. RB Musa Smith, who is bigger and more physical than Taylor, will get some touches as well. Don't assume Ravens can't run without Lewis. They have one of NFL's best offensive lines, anchored by perennial All-Pro Jonathan Ogden.
Because Ravens rely so much on running game, Bills will crowd line of scrimmage by bringing a safety into the box. DT Sam Adams' benching last week will provide additional motivation against former team. Bills are much stronger up middle than on edges, so Ravens must be successful with sweeps and off-tackle runs to have success.
When the Bills pass
QB Drew Bledsoe has put together some efficient games this season. WR Eric Moulds continues to be go-to guy, but rookie Lee Evans will test Ravens' deep coverage. TE Mark Campbell becoming big red zone target. Screens and shovel passes to McGahee were effective last week and could be again versus aggressive Ravens defense. Bills' offensive line did good job of protecting Bledsoe last week, but is still vulnerable.
Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs (five sacks), who lines up at end on passing downs, has speed off edge to wreak havoc. Ravens will blitz linebackers and defensive backs because CBs Chris McAllister and Gary Baxter can handle most receivers one on one and S Ed Reed is big-time ball hawk. And don't forget Ravens also have future Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, who still has good cover skills at age 37.
When the Ravens pass
Ravens are last in NFL with 116.4 passing yards a game, and QB Kyle Boller has yet to throw for 200 yards in a game. Ravens ask Boller to avoid mistakes and keep the game close so defense can win it at the end. But he makes questionable decisions that lead to mistakes (five interceptions and four lost fumbles). Possible return of Pro Bowl TE Todd Heap (ankle) and WR Travis Taylor (groin) would boaster attack.
Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray will disguise schemes to force Boller into making false reads. Gray should have no fear of blitzing because secondary, which welcomes back SS Lawyer Milloy, should be able to handle Ravens' injury-depleted receiving corps. Bills DE Aaron Schobel (3 1/2 sacks) faces tough matchup against Ogden, the league's best pass-blocking tackle.
Bills kickoff return man Terrence McGee leads AFC with 29.5-yard average, while Ravens punt returner B.J. Sams averages a league-high 14.8 yards and has scored a touchdown in each of the last two games. A fake reverse to Sanders set up Sams' 78-yard TD two weeks ago. Bills are tied for sixth in kickoff coverage and tied for 19th in punt coverage. Ravens' kickoff coverage team ranks in NFL's top 10.
Bills P Brian Moorman is big help to defense because of ability to change field position. Ravens P Dave Zastudil has had only eight of his 31 punts returned and placed an AFC-high 11 inside 20-yard line. Bills K Rian Lindell has made five of last six field goal attempts, but is 1 for 3 outside 40 yards. Ravens K Matt Stover is perfect on seven field goal tries, including a 50-yarder.
Bills showed signs of life last week, giving team hope of turning season around. But their road woes are well documented (2-12 in last 14 road games). Winning today in hostile environment of M&T Bank Stadium would be better indication of where team is headed.
Bye week came at good time for Ravens, who needed to put Lewis' suspension behind them and get healthier. This is a game both teams desperately need. Bills (1-4) want to continue building momentum off last week's win over Dolphins. Ravens (3-2) can't afford to lose any more ground to Steelers (5-1) in AFC North. Bills' two road losses were by combined margin of five points. Ravens' average margin in three wins is 13 points, but they have been outscored, 47-27, in two losses.
Bills would make a big statement with a win, but Ravens will make enough plays to pull out 17-16 win.