A week ago, the Ravens faced the league’s top running back in Derrick Henry, the back who tormented them in the playoffs last season. Because of that loss, the Ravens used their offseason to bolster their front seven as much as they could.
Now, they’ll face one of the best passing attacks in football — a group that includes first team All-Pro receiver Stefon Diggs and second team All-Pro Cole Beasley, regarded by some as the best slot receiver in the league. Not to mention they also have talented rookie Gabriel Davis or former Raven John Brown, either, both of whom present size and speed problems for any defense.
The Ravens, though, have their own group of talented players on the outside as well in Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and Jimmy Smith that surely won’t make life easy for the Bills.
Just six days after stopping Henry and the Titans’ second-ranked run defense, the Ravens’ secondary will have to stop the Bills’ third-ranked passing attack.
“They have a lot of skill, a lot of speed,” Smith said. “All their guys are really good, they get active, and Josh Allen has taken a major step this year as far as what I’ve seen in his game. What Diggs is capable of doing, and also Beasley is good at moving the chains and running underneath routes. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us. We’re a man-to-man team, and we’re going to have to get our hands on these guys and try to slow them down.”
Structurally, the Bills’ receiving corps has well-set roles that play well into Allen and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s hands.
There’s Beasley, the 5-foot-8 slot receiver who was second on the team in receiving with 82 receptions. With Allen’s arm always a threat to throw long, Beasley has been a massive help underneath and totaled 967 yards this season.
There’s Davis, the bigger fourth-round rookie with great downfield ball skills. After a slower start to his rookie season, which can be understood due to 2020's circumstances, he’s put some nice games together over the last half of the season, including a four catch, 85-yard performance in the Wild Card round against the Colts.
There’s Brown, the deep threat who can stretch any defense thinner than they’re able to go. This year, he tallied 33 catches and 458 yards in just nine games.
And, of course, then there’s Diggs — the Maryland product that everyone in the league, including the local Ravens, missed out on.
“We knew a lot about him and studied him,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We just missed on him, too. Obviously, we could’ve drafted him up until that point, and we didn’t. I don’t remember the exact details of it, but unfortunately, that’s one that got away. All the respect in the world for him as a player. I don’t want to say public enemy, but he’s Ravens enemy No. 1 right now, or maybe No. 2, or maybe No. 3. They have a few of them over there, but he’s a guy that we have to keep a good eye on.”
This year, perhaps more than any other reason, Diggs has turned the Bills’ offense into a mediocre one to one of the league’s best. After an offseason trade from the Vikings, he arrived in Buffalo and dominated from the get-go and quickly became Allen’s favorite target.
Of Allen’s 572 pass attempts this season, 166 were directed Diggs’ way — he caught 127 of them for 1,535 yards with eight touchdowns. It’s easy to point to the massive improvement of Allen’s accuracy as a leaping off point, but it’s Diggs’ presence that truly gave the Bills an elite threat in the pass game.
With the weather potentially a big factor on Saturday night, the heavyweight matchup between the Bills’ receivers and Ravens’ defensive backs might not come to fruition. But if the Ravens are able to slow down the Bills’ passing attack like they did Henry, they’re almost certainly leaving Buffalo with a win.
“I feel like we have some of the top run-stoppers in the league up front, and we have some of the top corners on the outside, as well,” Clark said. “So, I mean that’s what we’re here to do. That’s what football is; it’s a matchup league, and it’s a matchup game. So, I like our matchups.”