by Ryan Mink & Garrett Downing
Mink: The Ravens are primarily known for being a man-coverage team, which can cause problems against a mobile quarterback because their eyes are trained on their receiver more. However, Baltimore mixes up its coverages with some frequency and will continue to do so, perhaps even more than usual, against Allen.
Let me also add this. Allen can run, and he can even bulldoze defenders. But I don't think Allen's running ability is so dangerous that it forces defenses to change what they fundamentally do (like defenses must against Lamar Jackson). New England's Cam Newton ran for more yards than Allen did this year. So did Houston's Deshaun Watson. The Ravens surrendered a combined 38 rushing yards to those two quarterbacks.
I think what's making fans especially leery of Allen's running ability is he just had 11 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts last week. He only had more carries than that once this season (in Week 1) and more yards twice. So, yes, the Ravens have to be aware of Allen's ability to run, but I'm more concerned about his arm than his legs.
I expect the Ravens will use a variety of blitzes and coverages to keep Allen guessing. The last thing they want to do is let him get comfortable because he has the talent, and weapons, to carve up a defense. Last year, Baltimore held Allen to 17 completions on 39 attempts for just 146 yards and one touchdown. The Ravens sacked him six times and forced two fumbles. They'd like to do that again.
Downing: Stopping Stefon Diggs is certainly a top priority for this Ravens defense, but accomplishing that is easier said than done. Defensive coordinators knew all season that Diggs was the Bills' top weapon, but he still led the NFL in both receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535). Limiting him is going to be a tall order, and I expect most of that burden to fall on cornerback Marlon Humphrey. That's the kind of big-time matchup you expect to see in the playoffs - a pair of Pro Bowlers lining up against each other with the season on the line.
Now the bad news for the Ravens is I don't think that beating the Bills is as simple as stopping Diggs. Sure, that would help, but Buffalo has other weapons on that offense. Allen is an MVP candidate who can hurt teams with his arm and his legs, Cole Beasley caught 82 passes for 967 yards, and former Ravens big-play receiver John Brown is back in the lineup after missing time with injuries earlier this year. Buffalo had the NFL's second-ranked offense this season, and those gaudy numbers weren't all because of Diggs. Yes, the Ravens need to slow down the former Maryland receiver, but it's going to take more than that to take down Buffalo.
Mink: The Bills have a couple of Pro Bowlers on defense, cornerback Tre'Davious White and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. I'm going to spotlight Edmunds as an especially key player in Saturday's game. Edmunds is a super-athletic linebacker who will have a huge role in sorting out the Ravens' rushing attack and will probably take on at least some of the "spy" responsibilities on Lamar Jackson. So whether that's Jackson vs. Edmunds, or J.K. Dobbins vs. Edmunds, or some combination of blockers trying to wall off Edmunds, it's going to be a big matchup.
Downing: The Ravens signed safety Jayron Kearse to the practice squad a few weeks ago after he was released by the Detroit Lions, and it was a quality move to get a player who started seven games this year on the practice squad so late in the season. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound defensive back was an intriguing addition because of his size and experience, and some reporters have speculated that he could make an impact for this team in the playoffs.
The Ravens have yet to elevate him from the practice squad for any games, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility. He had 59 tackles in 11 games for the Lions this year, and his size allows him to match up against big tight ends in coverage. Now even if the Ravens were to elevate Kearse, I'm not sure how big of a role he would play. Veteran defensive back Jimmy Smith just returned to the lineup last week after being sidelined for multiple games, and he's a proven option in matching up against big targets. The secondary is in much better shape compared to a few weeks ago, now that Smith, Marcus Peters and Anthony Averett are all healthy. Maybe the Ravens opt to use a gameday elevation for Kearse this week since the Bills are more pass-heavy, but I'm not sure how significant that would be either way.
Mink: Matthew Judon had an excellent game against the Titans, but one game is not going to make this decision. The Ravens will look at the totality of Judon's impact on and off the field when making the determination on his future. Remember when Paul Kruger lit up the stat sheets in the 2012 Super Bowl run? He walked the following offseason. I'm not saying that's what's in store for Judon, but just pointing out that while a hot playoff stretch would of course help, it wouldn't be the deciding factor this offseason.