The opening script was masterful.
The personnel groupings and formations were constantly shifting.
The play-action run fakes were creating gaps in the defense.
The matchups were being exploited.
All the things Buffalo Bills fans were hoping to see from their team’s offense were on display Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
Unfortunately for the Bills, it was Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg who was masterfully pulling the strings, not new Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
Here’s a closer look at the key plays that shaped the Ravens’ 47-3 triumph.
1. The throwback to John Brown. The Ravens’ opening drive looked dead at second-and-26 from their 40. But quarterback Joe Flacco ran a delayed rollout to the right, then threw back across the field to wide-open receiver John Brown for a 29-yard gain to the Buffalo 31.
“That was schemed up,” Brown said. “We practiced it a lot, and we got our defense on it pretty good, so we just knew that it was coming. The offensive linemen did a great job and held their blocks.”
Bills cornerback Phillip Gaines was beaten on the play. Brown ran 4.34 in the 40-yard dash in 2014, second-fastest of any receiver in that draft. Gaines was giving him a big cushion. Brown ran a double move, faking a hitch, then cutting back toward the sideline. Gaines was late reacting to the cut.
“That was a nice schemed play, but at the end of the day I just have to keep my eyes where they need to be, and that will take care of that,” Gaines said.
2. Play-action success. Flacco hit rookie tight end Mark Andrews on an 11-yard pass for a first down two plays later. Later in the quarter, Flacco found Andrews for 12 yards on a play-action pass, and in the second quarter he found Willie Snead on a 15-yard play-action pass.
“The one thing you notice is that the style of their defense,” said Flacco, “those linebackers are just so free to attack the line of scrimmage, at least for two steps forward before they actually do get back in the pass coverage. So we really felt like we could get them sucked up and hit them in that intermediate, 10 to 15 yard range over the top of their head.”
“The first 15 plays that they script, especially the first drive they had, they earned a lot of it,” said Bills safety Micah Hyde. “They had the sticks moving. That’s kind of one of those things we have to flush. Give them credit they did their thing today and knew how to beat us.”
3. Bills coverage bust. The Ravens took a 14-0 lead on a 7-yard TD pass from Flacco to Brown.
The Ravens had three receivers to the left. Brown was in the middle and ran a simple hitch to the back line of the end zone. Slot cornerback Taron Johnson, settling in a zone, let Brown go by him. Michael Crabtree was the inside receiver and ran to the goal post. Hyde, playing the middle, had to respect Crabtree momentarily and couldn’t get over to Brown in time.
“There’s ways around that play,” Hyde said of the coverage. “We weren’t really communicating on that play pretty well. Obviously, Crabtree was running at me, and I felt like Flacco was looking at him a little bit. He was probably staring at me. He was kind of reading me on that play. Give them credit on that play. They knew how to scheme.”
4. Big punt return. The Ravens extended their lead to 17-0 with a field goal that was set up by Janarion Grant’s 51-yard punt return.
New Bills punter Corey Bojorquez boomed his first two punts, getting hang times of 4.55 and 4.87 seconds. But he didn’t strike this one well, booting it 49 yards but with just a 3.8-second hang time. Grant had time to elude a diving Taiwan Jones. He also slipped Lafayette Pitts to get free down the left sideline.
The Ravens’ talent evaluators have to be pleased. Grant had a subpar, injury-plagued senior year at Rutgers, then ran poor times (4.63 and 4.57 seconds) before the draft. Nobody picked him, and nobody signed him on draft weekend.
The Ravens invited him to their rookie minicamp, then signed him. But Grant played better than his times. He had tied the NCAA career record for combined return touchdowns (five on kickoffs, three on punts).
“There’s a lot of stories like that in this league,” said Ravens special teams coach Jerry Rosburg. “I was impressed by Janarion’s film and our scouts were impressed. Why nobody else was interested, I can’t really comment. It reminds me of a situation in Cleveland. A returner named Josh Cribbs was in the same exact circumstances. The NFL is the land of opportunity.”
5. A big Peterman miss. Trailing 17-0, the Bills had a chance to get back in the game after recovering a fumble at the Ravens’ 30.
But on a first-and-5 play from the 30, Peterman failed to see wide-open tight end Justin Croom running up the seam from the left slot. Instead, he threw a jump ball for Benjamin down the sideline that didn’t come close. He was sacked two plays later and the Bills missed a long field-goal try.
6. Crabtree looks elite. The Ravens built their lead to 26-0 with Flacco’s 12-yard TD pass on a fade down the left sideline with 13 seconds left in the half.
Great play by Crabtree. Gaines had decent coverage. But Crabtree didn’t reach his hands out to make the grab in the back of the end zone until the last second. Gaines got his head around late and couldn’t break it up.
“Crabtree has a special way of running routes and getting in position and making big catches,” Flacco said.
“Marty was dialing it up,” said Crabtree, referring to his offensive coordinator. “We’re just out here at his disposal.”