Written by John Sparaco
Seemingly everything went wrong for the Bills last Sunday, yet they almost managed to pull off a victory. Already decimated with injuries heading into their divisional game in Miami, multiple others joined the list by the conclusion of the game. This includes:
- Starting safety Micah Hyde (placed on season-ending IR before the game)
- Starting safety Jordan Poyer (inactive with foot injury)
- Starting cornerback Dane Jackson (inactive with neck injury)
- Starting center Mitch Morse (inactive with elbow injury)
- Starting defensive tackle Ed Oliver (inactive with ankle injury)
- Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (inactive with hamstring injury)
Keep in mind, all of these injuries took place before kickoff. During the game, it only got worse. Starting corner Christian Benford fractured his hand, starting guard Ryan Bates got a concussion, wide receiver Jake Kumerow suffered a high ankle injury, and quite a few players left due to illness, caused by a heat index of over 100 degrees.
Still, Buffalo managed to control the ball for 40 minutes. In the end, the loss came down to execution. At the end of the first half, a botched snap prevented the Bills from spiking the ball to stop the clock, squandering an opportunity to attempt a field goal. Later in the game, Josh Allen underthrew an open Isaiah McKenzie in the end zone on a 4th and goal attempt, which could have given Buffalo a late lead. Buffalo got one more chance to win it after a “butt punt” led to a safety for Miami. Out of timeouts, the Bills marched down the field trailing 21-19 as the clock winded down. McKenzie got the Bills into field goal range in the final seconds, however, he was unable to get out of bounds and time ran out. Buffalo was handed their first loss of the season.
Despite the unwanted result, the mood in the Bills’ locker room was not somber. According to Sal Capaccio, the players were prideful that the contest came down to the final second, despite all of the injuries they fought through. The positive vibes continued to be evident on Friday afternoon, when left tackle Dion Dawkins live streamed himself dancing to music by Backstreet Boys with his teammates on Instagram.
That said, the Bills will carry their unwavering confidence into Baltimore for an exciting matchup between two top-five offenses at M&T Bank Stadium.
- Battle of the MVP candidates: Entering Week 4, both quarterbacks Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson are considered among the favorites to take home the MVP award this season. While it is very early, Allen and Jackson’s performances have separated them from the rest of the league to open the regular season. Allen currently leads the NFL in passing, completing 71.2% of his throws for 1,014 yards, nine touchdowns and just two interceptions. He has also rushed for 113 yards and one touchdown on 19 attempts. Jackson, who was the MVP in 2019, has completed 63.6 of his pass attempts for 749 yards, 10 touchdowns and two picks. Additionally, Jackson ranks as the fifth-leading rusher in all of football, adding 243 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Both players lead their teams in both passing and rushing, accounting for a significant chunk of their offensive output. This will be their third time ever playing against each other, if you don’t count their NFL debuts in 2018, when they both entered the game late as backups.
- Playoff rematch: The last time these two teams faced off head-to-head was back in the Divisional Playoff round in 2021. Many remember it as the “Taron Johnson game” after Buffalo’s slot corner essentially sealed the game with a 101-yard pick six. The swirling wintry winds of Orchard Park stymied each team, forcing four missed kicks split between both sides, despite featuring two of the game’s top legs in Justin Tucker and Tyler Bass. It was a low-scoring affair, ending in a 17-3 victory for the Bills. Jackson was forced to leave the game two snaps after the pick six by Johnson after sustaining a concussion. Following the conclusion of the game, Bills fans responded to Jackson’s injury by donating over $500,000 to the Louisville chapter of Blessings in a Backpack, his favorite charity. Jackson thanked the #BillsMafia on Twitter, saying that the gesture means a lot to both the kids and himself.
- Late veteran additions: Each team brought in a big name veteran to fill needs on their defenses this week. Riddled with injuries in their secondary, the Bills signed nine-year veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes to their practice squad on Wednesday. Rhodes, 32, is a three-time Pro Bowler and former All-Pro. He briefly spent time playing under current Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier in 2013, when he was still the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. Bills head coach Sean McDermott announced on Friday that Rhodes is dealing with a hamstring injury, making him unlikely to play this weekend. On Monday, the Ravens signed two-time Super Bowl champion and three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul to a one-year deal. It is uncertain how much Pierre-Paul will play this Sunday, but both teams hope their new veterans can contribute as quickly as possible.
- Draining Week 3: By the end of their game in Miami last Sunday, it was clear by their body language that the Bills were physically drained. Baking under the Florida sun, players were cramping up all over the field and receiving IV treatments on the sideline to combat dehydration. Bills receiver Stefon Diggs recalls taking IVs in both arms for the first time in his life, which was a scary experience for him. “I laid on the [trainer’s] table and I was like, ‘Yeah, this is it for me,” Diggs said Tuesday while appearing on The Dan Le Batard Show. Several players on the Bills offense had to leave the game for varying lengths of time due to heat illness, including Spencer Brown, Dawson Knox, Diggs and Isaiah McKenzie. How they recover from that experience just seven days later will be worth monitoring.
Impact matchups to watch
Buffalo’s front seven vs. Lamar Jackson
Anytime Lamar Jackson is on the opposite sideline, the top priority for the defense will be to try and contain him as much as possible. While top running back J.K. Dobbins slowly builds up his workload after tearing his ACL, LCL, meniscus and hamstring last August, Jackson remains far and away the go-to ball carrier. In fact, Jackson’s 992 total yards (passing and rushing) account for 87% of Baltimore’s total offensive output through their first three games.
Buffalo has done a fairly good job containing Jackson in their previous two matchups. In 2019, Jackson completed 16 of 25 passes for just 145 yards, although he did record three touchdowns through the air. He only averaged 3.6 yards per carry on the ground, totaling 40 yards on 11 rushes. Baltimore won that game by a score of 24-17. Jackson recorded a similar statline in the Divisional Playoff game, mustering up 3.8 yards per carry on nine attempts, while passing for 162 yards on 14 completions. The Bills wound up winning that one, as previously mentioned.
Linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano will once again be responsible for sniffing out Baltimore’s play calls. However, Buffalo’s defensive line looks much different than what the Ravens saw last time they met. Neither Greg Rousseau nor Von Miller manned the edge for Buffalo in 2020-21. Rousseau, who entered the league last season, is off to an exceptional start to his sophomore campaign. The 22-year old has 3.5 sacks (6th in NFL), five tackles for a loss (1st in NFL), five quarterback hits, 11 tackles and one pass deflection in his first three games. He is thriving under the mentorship of a future gold jacket recipient in Miller, who has not hid his belief in Rousseau.
“He has all the ability and the mindset to be the best pass rusher in the league. It’s going to happen,” Miller said last week. “The trajectory he’s on, man, he’s on a great path.”
Rousseau’s ridiculous 83-inch wingspan gives Buffalo a unique advantage towards stopping runs outside the tackles, where Jackson excels. The Bills also must be aware of “play action Jackson,” as the Ravens run those plays 25% of the time, which is good for third most in the NFL. Jackson has built a strong connection with tight end Mark Andrews as well as his top wideouts, Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay, making their passing offense just as much of a threat.
Stefon Diggs vs. Baltimore’s secondary
As reported by ESPN’s Alaina Getzenberg, the Ravens defense has allowed the most completions of 20-plus yards downfield this season. Bills quarterback Josh Allen happens to lead the league in total quarterback rating (100) and completion percentage (70%) on such throws. A large reason behind that success is his connection with top wideout Stefon Diggs.
Diggs, who grew up in Maryland and went to college there, has an opportunity for a big day statistically in his backyard. Through eight seasons, Diggs has yet to play an NFL game in his home state. The Ravens had an opportunity to draft him in 2015, and his mother, Stephanie, never let them forget it. According to Sports Illustrated, she ran into now retired Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome at a College Football Playoff game in 2017 and told him: “You didn’t pick my son. They should fire your ass!”
Prior to Thursday Night Football, Diggs led the NFL in receiving yards (344), touchdowns (4), and ranked second in the league in receptions with 27. Baltimore has already allowed three 100-yard receiving performances this season, two of them going for over 150 yards when they played the Dolphins.
The Ravens’ secondary features a ton of promise, highlighted by two-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey, two-time All-Pro Marcus Peters, first round rookie Kyle Hamilton, and top free agent acquisition Marcus Williams, who ironically, was largely responsible for the Minneapolis Miracle, Diggs’ most memorable play as a Viking. Injuries and lack of time to gel have slowed them down to this point, but the expectation remains that this secondary will perform better as time goes on.
This Sunday will challenge them in more ways than one, however, as no opposing team has found an answer for Diggs – well, other than humidity.
How to watch
Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday at 1:00 p.m. EST on CBS. Ian Eagle and Charles Davis will be on the call with Evan Washburn reporting from the sidelines. The Bills will be wearing white jerseys and white pants for the first time this season. Remnants of Hurricane Ian could impact the weather in this game. The current forecast calls for heavy rain on Saturday and lighter rain on Sunday, dampening field conditions. If precipitation continues throughout the game, both offense’s ability to pass the ball could be affected.