Ravens look to take another step up against high-flying Buffalo Bills

Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen, two of the NFL’s best, square off in a key AFC early-season matchup

Published on: October 01, 2022 5:00 AM EDT|Updated on: October 03, 2022 1:39 PM EDT

Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens runs past linebacker Mack Wilson Sr. #30 of the New England Patriots during the first half at Gillette Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

When boisterous Baltimore Ravens fans watch the team take the field on Sunday afternoon to take on the Buffalo Bills at home, they’ll be looking at a conundrum.

The good news is that with the extraordinary Lamar Jackson at the helm, the offense is the NFL’s highest scoring, putting up 33 points per game. This is despite the fact that the running game has been as dazzling as the late Kobe Bryant’s rap career, or Michael Jordan swinging at minor league curveballs.

Even without a balanced offense, Lamar’s brilliance through the air and on the ground has the unit chewing up opposing defenses to the tune of 380.3 yards per game.

At this point, we’re all aware of how high the stakes are every time Lamar takes the field this year.

Unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension prior to the start of the regular season, he’ll earn $23 million this year playing out the fifth-year option of his rookie deal with an eye toward a future contract that will make him the highest-paid player in the history of the league.

With each passing week, as the chorus of “pay that man!” grows increasingly louder, the Ravens’ front office continues to look as frugal and ill-informed as Archie Bunker.

Jackson, an early-season candidate for MVP honors, continues to do things that we’ve never seen before. His latest feat? Becoming the first player in league history to have at least 100 rushing yards and at least three touchdown passes in back-to-back games.

The close of his postgame press conferences, when you cut through all of the football talk, basically translates into Marlo Stanfield’s message to the co-op on “The Wire,” when he took control of the city’s distribution package: “One more thing. The price of the brick goin’ up.”

Against the Jets, Dolphins and Patriots, Lamar has thrown for 749 yards and and a league-leading 10 touchdowns. Jackson is also averaging 9.3 yards per carry, racking up 243 yards and two more scores.

Who could really blame him at this point if he came out saying, during pregame introductions, “I’m David Ruffin, and these are The Temptations”?

Last weekend, the Ravens offense scored touchdowns on all five of its red zone trips. The loss of Marquise Brown as a downfield threat has been mitigated by the play of wide receivers Devin Duvernay, who has eight receptions for 121 yards and three TDs, and Rashod Bateman, who’s averaging 28.3 yards per reception.

And as usual, tight end Mark Andrews is pummeling defenses. Like the feisty old security guard Otis from “Martin,” he’s basically telling defenders prior to each snap, “I’m gettin’ ready take ya down, boy!” Through the first three games, he has 22 catches for 245 yards and three touchdowns.

The running attack showed signs of life last week with Justice Hill, who’s averaging 7.3 yards per carry, and the return of J.K. Dobbins. They’ll need to assert themselves more on the ground this weekend because Buffalo’s defense has been causing more misery than Annie Wilkes.

The Bills, led by the incomparable and future Hall of Fame linebacker Von Miller, are bringing the NFL’s top-ranked defense to town to face Lamar in the matchup, which starts at 1 p.m.

Baltimore’s defense limps in like Verbal Kint in the film “The Usual Suspects” to do battle against Buffalo’s talented young signal caller Josh Allen. They’re ranked among the worst in the league at this early juncture. Ravens fans are optimistically hopeful that like the Kint character, they’re merely masquerading until turning into their true selves: the merciless and cunning Keyser Söze.

Allen’s top weapon is University of Maryland alum Stefon Diggs, who stands behind the velvet rope in the league’s class of elite receivers with 27 catches for 344 yards through the Bills’ first three games.

But Ravens head coach John Harbaugh’s defense took a step in the right direction last week by forcing four turnovers against the Patriots. They’ll need to force fumbles and interceptions, along with establishing a consistent pass rush when they decide to bring pressure.

The Ravens defense only has seven sacks this season, and allowing Josh Allen to sit in the pocket to find Diggs and the talented but less-heralded receivers Isaiah McKenzie and Gabe Davis and running back Devin Singletary out in the flat is a recipe for more heartache and pain for Baltimore fans.

Jackson and Allen are two of the NFL’s brightest young stars, both of whom present unique challenges as dual threats. The pair have combined to rush for 6,354 yards during their young careers. Allen is currently completing 71.2% of his passes and has 1,014 yards and nine touchdowns heading into the season’s fourth game.

The quarterback battle should be a treat, but Jackson, as exceptional as he’s already been, will need to be just as much, if not more so in this game, with Baltimore’s injury woes on the offensive line.

The last time these two teams met, Buffalo ended the Ravens season in the 2020 Divisional playoffs, 17-3. Lamar was sacked three times and knocked out of the game at the end of the third quarter with a concussion.

If the Ravens hope to get some payback on Sunday, their defense needs to be on their A-game. And Jackson will need to be at his absolute best, as smooth and effective as Gus Fring getting his revenge in “Breaking Bad.”