(WGR 550) -- The Buffalo Bills return home once again for their fourth contest of the season, and this time they're dealing with the defending Super Bowl champions. The Ravens had some key subtractions throughout the off-season, but still have been able to get off to an impressive 2-1 start.
The Bills are a team searching for answers, in the wake of a 27-20 loss to the New York Jets in which both the offense and defense struggled in the early going. Buffalo now sits at the bottom of the AFC East with a 1-2 record.
The Bills are considered to be underdogs at home, but what are ways to bridge the gap? Here are five things to look for during Sunday's contest:
1) EJ Manuel putting in extra work to shake off last week
- For the first time in his young career, against the Jets quarterback EJ Manuel went through his first bit of adversity. New York was constantly bringing unique blitzes in attempts to overload one side of the offensive line and make the rookie panic. Mission accomplished for Rex Ryan and the Jets, but now Manuel and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett have to devise a way to help the Bills not only deal with the pressure, but be able to take advantage of the weaknesses that those types of blitzes create for the opposing defense. Manuel has put in extra time this week, coming in with backup quarterback Jeff Tuel on their off-day to try and simulate what they may see against the Ravens. Eventually what it must come to is the Bills' rookie quarterback being able to step up and either make adjustments at the line of scrimmage, or to make the throws that will be able to back off the defense. If he is able to do that, the Bills offense will be able to get back on track against the tougher defenses in the league.
2) Pressure on Bills' pass rushers
- It's a rather vague header for most weeks, but the Bills' defensive ends and outside linebackers have to make an impact on the game against Baltimore for a few different reasons. First, the Bills and their injury woes on the backend of the defense is incredibly concerning if you're a fan of the team (more on that later). And second, if Joe Flacco gets time in the pocket he has been known to pick defenses apart. It's on players like Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes and to a lesser extent Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, to provide the push necessary to get Flacco moving around. The Baltimore quarterback is very capable of making throws down the field when on the move. However, if you get him moving to one side, it takes his eyes off the bevy of receiving options he may have on any given play and instead has him focusing on just one or two targets. Mario Williams had a big game two weeks ago, and the Bills will need him to at least get pressure on Flacco against a tough draw in right tackle Michael Oher. However, Jerry Hughes has only flashed a couple of times through three games, and has the more winnable matchup of the two Buffalo pass rushers when he's up against the veteran Bryant McKinnie.
3) Haloti Ngata still one of the best in the game
- When it's all said and done, the Buffalo Bills will have gone up against six Pro Bowl caliber defensive tackles through their first six games. They've already faced off against New England's Vince Wilfork, Carolina's Star Lotulelei and Muhammad Wilkerson of the New York Jets. In the coming weeks they'll be up against Cleveland's Phil Taylor and Cincinnati's Geno Atkins. But this week, they have an extremely difficult and versatile defensive lineman that they're facing: Baltimore's Haloti Ngata. His role isn't all that defined, other than the fact that he'll be lining up on the defensive line in front of someone trying to block him. The Ravens like to use him all across the line of scrimmage, including up against opponent's left guards. It's been well-documented by now, but the struggles of Buffalo left guard Colin Brown are very real, and the Bills must get more production out of that position. While they've been able to do some positive things on offense, too many times Brown will lose his leverage on an assignment and his miss will blow up a play. With backup Doug Legursky getting healthier, time may be running short for Brown to improve. However, he'll find no easy matchup against the likes of Arthur Jones, Chris Canty or Ngata, who is still one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the NFL.
4) All eyes on Leodis
- The Buffalo Bills are in need of Leodis McKelvin on the field perhaps more than ever before. Already without top cornerback Stephon Gilmore, McKelvin injured his hamstring against the New York Jets in the first quarter, having to sit out the rest of the game. Without him, the Bills had Justin Rogers as the left cornerback and safety Aaron Williams as the right cornerback. Rogers struggled to say the least, allowing the Jets to complete multiple long passes to his assignment. Without McKelvin, that puts Rogers as the team's top cornerback and in rough shape against a better quarterback in Joe Flacco, and a wide receiver, Torrey Smith, who is having one of the quietest productive seasons in the league. Without McKelvin, the Bills will have to overcompensate for their cornerbacks with their pass rush. If they have him, it provides a little more flexibility for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
5) Big names are gone, but replacements are stepping up for Ravens
- Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have each moved on from Baltimore after being with the team for a combined 28 seasons. Despite the two most identifiable defenders having left, their replacements are doing a solid job. Middle linebacker Daryl Smith has been very productive for the Ravens, perhaps even being an upgrade over Lewis in the last couple of years in his career. Reed's replacement is rookie Matt Elam, a first round draft pick in 2013. Elam has been a solid player to this point and his arrow is pointing up, but the instincts of Reed are still missed even if he wasn't as fast last season. Elvis Dumervil has also done a superb job in replacing the productive Paul Kruger from 2012.
Injuries Buffalo: OUT: CB Stephon Gilmore (wrist), WR Marquise Goodwin (hand), CB Ron Brooks (foot), K Dustin Hopkins (groin) QUESTIONABLE: CB Leodis McKelvin (hamstring), S Jairus Byrd (feet) PROBABLE: HB C.J. Spiller (quad), WR Stevie Johnson (hamstring), DL Marcell Dareus (ankle), DE Mario Williams (ankle), DL Kyle Williams (Achilles), G Kraig Urbik (knee), G/C Doug Legursky (knee)
Baltimore: OUT: WR Jacoby Jones (knee) DOUBTFUL: NT Terrence Cody (knee), C Ryan Jensen (foot) QUESTIONABLE: HB Ray Rice (hip), DE Chris Canty (thigh), LB Arthur Brown (chest), LB Pernell McPhee (knee), DT Brandon Williams (toe), WR Deonte Thompson (foot), HB Shaun Draughn (ankle), WR Brandon Stokley (groin) PROBABLE: WR Marlon Brown (neck)
Prediction: Ravens over Bills
- The Bills will likely get a boost due to being home once again, but their banged up secondary is as daunting a task to overcome as any. Combine that with perhaps the return of one of the league's best running backs (Ray Rice) from an injury and a quarterback that can take advantage of deep throws down the field, it's not the best recipe for success. The Bills should be able to do some good things on defense and keep it closer than some think early on, in which they should target the suddenly struggling left tackle Bryant McKinnie. In the end though, the advantages and overall depth of talent on the Baltimore roster is what wins out.