Bills (13-3) vs. Ravens (11-5) Divisional Round Preview

Bills Offense vs. Ravens DefenseSTATS BUF O vs. BAL D
Ravens Offense vs. Bills Defense
The last time the Bills and Ravens played was Week 14 of the 2019 season. This was at a time when the Ravens Offense was absolutely destroying opponents. Yet the Bills held them to a season-low 118 rushing yards and 3.6 yards per carry. MVP Lamar Jackson was held to just 40 yards rushing and 145 through the air.

Both of these teams have had some personnel changes since 2019. But it’s worthwhile to examine Buffalo’s approach to stopping Lamar Jackson, because some of the same principles will still apply for their Divisional round playoff game. The Bills had a gameplan for taking away some of the best elements of the Ravens’ rushing attack. One element, in particular, was Baltimore’s use of various motions to create a numbers advantage in the running game. Specifically, Buffalo employed a unique tactic to handle the Ravens’ use of “escort” motion.

Escort motion (as shown below) is where an offensive player will align to one side of the formation and motion across to the other side. However, the ball gets snapped before that motion man crosses the center. This is the key element of escort motion. Normally 2nd-level defenders won’t shift pre-snap until a motion man has crossed the center. So by the time the ball is snapped, the motion man has outflanked those 2nd-level defenders to the play-side, giving the offense a distinct numbers advantage.

The Bills had a plan to deal with this, though. It sounds simple, but whenever they saw this escort motion, their linebackers shifted before the motion man crossed the center. This negated Baltimore’s numbers advantage to the play side.

Below is a great example. This was a run to the left. You can see that the Ravens had a tight end aligned to the right. He would motion across the formation.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

Bills linebackers recognized the motion and shifted prior to the tight end crossing the center.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

2019 Bills Defense_3_vsRavensEZ

With no running lanes to the left, the ball carrier was forced to the weak side for a minimal gain. That early shifting by the linebackers doesn’t work if those backside defenders don’t stay disciplined and play to their responsibilities. Here, they stayed in their gaps to handle the cutback.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

The Ravens saw early in this game that the Bills were shifting early vs. their escort motion. So they tried to counter with play-action boots and Lamar keepers away from the motion. Again, Buffalo was ready.

Below, the escort motion was going from the offense’s left to right.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

You can see that Bills linebackers were calling out and pointing to the escort motion. Again, they shifted before the motion man crossed the center.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

This time, Lamar kept the ball and booted away from the motion. Again, because of great discipline backside, this play went nowhere.

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This isn’t to say that this same tactic will be employed by the Bills in the Divisional round. But Head Coach Sean McDermott and Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier will likely be prepared and have something up their sleeves to take away key elements of the Ravens Offense. Maybe they’ll have an answer for Baltimore’s QB Counter/sweep option play.

On the other side of the ball, you have another marquee matchup: The number-2 scoring offense in the NFL vs. the number-2 scoring defense. Josh Allen has played at an incredible level this year, but that won’t deter Baltimore from applying pressure on him. The Ravens led the NFL in blitz frequency this season, and they’ll likely be in attack mode against Allen all night. This will be the key element on this side of the ball. Can the Bills handle Baltimore’s pressure schemes? Can Baltimore handle the Josh Allen-Stefon Diggs connection, which will likely see plenty of 1-on-1 opportunities vs. cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey?

In a weekend of great matchups, Bills-Ravens might be the most interesting.