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Scouting report: Bills need third-down correction on both offense and defense

1. Fix the issues on third down. A particular point of emphasis for Bills coach Doug Marrone this week is fixing the issues his team is having on third down, both offensively and defensively. In an effort to do that, Marrone had both starting units practicing against each other this week. The numbers don’t make a lot of sense on the defensive side of the ball. On situations of third and 6 or less, the Bills have allowed conversions 6 of 19 times, 31.6 percent of the time. When the Bills get opponents to third and long (7 yards or more), the defense has allowed conversions 13 of 25 times (52 percent). Offensively, the Bills are strong when it’s third and 6 or less, converting 50 percent of the time (14 of 28). When it’s third and 7 or more, however, the Bills don’t have a conversion (0 for 17). One particular concern for the offense is that running back C.J. Spiller has 24 runs of 2 yards or less on first down.

2. Left side of the line will be challenged. Left guard Colin Brown remains the whipping boy of Pro Football Focus. The website, which grades every play of every NFL game, currently has the second-worst cumulative season grade on Brown for guards since 2008, when it started its grading. Brown will have his hands full again today, lining up at least at times against Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. With Doug Legursky getting closer to a return from a knee injury, Brown needs a good performance today to hang onto his starting job.

3. Joe Flacco adjusting to new faces. The Ravens traded away wide receiver Anquan Boldin in the offseason because of a contract dispute and have immediately missed him. Making matters worse, they lost tight end Dennis Pitta to a hip injury, and receiver Jacoby Jones is currently out because of a sprained knee. Quarterback Joe Flacco’s production, thus, has suffered. He has completed only 3 of 17 passes targeted over 20 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Flacco and No. 1 wideout Torrey Smith test the Buffalo secondary deep.

4. Slow starters. Both the Bills and Ravens have struggled in the first half of their respective three games. Baltimore was held scoreless in the first 30 minutes in Week Two against Cleveland, then managed only a field goal and four first downs against Houston last Sunday. The Bills, meanwhile, have scored just 16 points before halftime in their three games. If either team can jump ahead early, it could take the other out of its game plan.

5. Keep it up regarding turnovers. One area the Bills have fared well this season is in the turnover battle. The Bills are plus-2, having recorded four interceptions and two fumble recoveries on defense, while rookie quarterback EJ Manuel has thrown just one interception and lost one fumble (running back C.J. Spiller and receiver Marquise Goodwin have also lost fumbles). The Ravens, meanwhile, are even in turnovers.

Outlook: The Ravens haven’t allowed a touchdown in two weeks since being blown out by the Broncos in the season opener. Baltimore doesn’t look like an elite team on paper, but it has a great head coach, a quarterback who has 100 percent command of the offense and a stout run defense. It’s a tough matchup for a rebuilding Buffalo team.

Prediction: Ravens 27, Bills 14

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