There's no great secret to the defensive brilliance of Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens' defense.
It's about the most basic elements of football -- blocking and tackling.
"Boom -- they stick the blockers and then they shed them," said Bills offensive line coach Jim McNally. "They hit you and disengage, and they're good tacklers."
"They shed blocks probably as well as anybody we've faced," said Bills coach Mike Mularkey. "They use their hands very well. They use good leverage. . . . There's not a lot of different fronts to have to worry about. They just do a good job of getting off people. That frees up Ray."
The Bills go toe-to-toe with the simple ferocity of the Ravens today in what should be a hard-hitting, low-scoring game at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens' defense has ranked among the top three of the NFL four of the previous five years. This season the Ravens are allowing 15.8 points per game, tied for sixth fewest in the league, and they're sixth best in yards allowed.
Lewis, the premier middle linebacker in the game, is one of four Pro Bowlers who will be on the field for the Ravens' defense. The others are defensive backs Ed Reed and Chris McAlister, and linebacker Adalius Thomas, who was honored as a special teamer last year.
The Bills know they are in for a rugged day.
"Typically those were very physical football games," said Mularkey of his annual meetings with the Ravens as a Pittsburgh coach. "I can say they usually were won within the trenches. Typically the run game was a factor one way or the other. Really not beating yourself is a big factor with teams like this because they're very sound. But we know it's going to be physical."
The Ravens have held the opposition to 20 or fewer points in 16 of the last 21 games. The Bills have failed to top 20 points in 16 of the last 21 games.
Bills guard Lawrence Smith, who spent two years on the Ravens' practice squad, will have the unenviable task of trying to get off the line to block Lewis some of the time today.
How would he describe No. 52?
"One word sums it up: intensity," Smith said. "If you can be half as intense as Ray is, that would be great. Something I don't think a lot of people give him credit for is his intelligence for the game. That's something he'd show in practice. He always had a great idea of what was coming just by watching how the offense lined up."
Lewis is a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
"I think the biggest thing he does is those players play off of his emotions," Mularkey said. "He starts from the introduction through every play. He has them going. They're high energy. They fly around the football. They're physical. They all play like him. I believe that. I think he pushes them. We have to be aware of where he's at and try to get hats on him. He makes plays all over the field."
Baltimore (3-2) has played four good defensive games and one bad one this year. The Ravens' down week was against Kansas City, which rushed for 178 yards in a 27-24 win. Baltimore rebounded in its last game by holding Washington's Clinton Portis to 53 yards in a 17-10 victory.
The Bills stand 21st in the league in rushing yards. They enter the game buoyed by Willis McGahee's 111-yard outing last week. McGahee is expected to play in relief of starter Travis Henry today.
"We're going to run it -- that's our style of play," said receiver Eric Moulds. "We're going to go out there and run the football and do play action and mix it up a little bit. We're not going to change our game plan."
The Ravens, who rank 30th on offense, have a similar plan.
"Our profile is to play great defense, run the ball, play dominating special teams -- and see how many games you can win with that," said Ravens coach Brian Billick.
The Ravens' defense rarely sends all-out blitzes. Like a lot of 3-4 defenses, they usually send five rushers and cover receivers with six men.
"If you let Drew (Bledsoe) sit back there and just pat that football, he picks anybody apart," Lewis said. "I don't care how good you are on defense. That's one of the biggest things we saw on film: Just don't let him get into his comfort zone. Either we get burned, or he gets hit a lot."
Bledsoe better keep his head up.