NFL Nation: 2013 Week 4 BAL at BUF

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Running back Ray Rice said no one should push the panic button on the Baltimore Ravens' struggling ground attack. He's wrong. It's time to sound the alarm after the Ravens' disappointing 23-20 loss at the Buffalo Bills.

There was nothing wrong about the Ravens not being overly concerned when they could not run the ball against Denver, Cleveland and Houston. But the Ravens cannot say "it's going to get better" after failing to run the ball against the Bills.

Buffalo has the third-worst run defense in the league. The Bills have given up more yards rushing than any other team in the league since 2009. In other words, the Bills stink at stopping the run. The Ravens, though, showed they stink worse at running the ball.

Once known for a physical running game, Baltimore gained an embarrassing 24 yards on the ground. That's 131 yards less than the Bills defense's average in the first three games. New York Jets running back Bilal Powell, not exactly a Hall of Famer, ran for 149 yards against the Bills just seven days ago. Rice couldn't break a run longer than seven yards.

The most telling part about all of this is no one complained that the Ravens only ran the ball twice in the second half. The Ravens finished with nine rushing attempts. That's the fewest in the 18-year history of the Baltimore Ravens. No Ravens team had ran the ball fewer than 12 times in a game before, and that includes the pass-happy Brian Billick.

"When you get behind, it's hard to pound the rock," said Rice, who indicated his hip injury wasn't a factor in the performance.

It's not like the Ravens were behind by four touchdowns. The Ravens never trailed by more than two scores in the second half. By no one calling for the Ravens to run the ball more, it says to me that no one has confidence in the running game right now. It's like everyone agreed that the Ravens should throw the ball 31 times after halftime because they knew the running game was done.

"We're not running the ball well. We've got to run the ball better," coach John Harbaugh said. "You saw the difference in the first half with (Buffalo). They're running the ball for four, five yards at a time and putting themselves in manageable third downs, and we're not doing that. That's tough on everybody. That's tough on the passing game, on our quarterback. We've got to get to the point where we can execute in the running game.

Last week, Harbaugh said it's more complicated that the Ravens drive defenders off the ball. Still, on Sunday, the offensive line couldn't budge the Bills. It doesn't matter if you have Rice or Jamal Lewis in the backfield. You're not going to consistently gain yards if there is no where to run.

"We maybe have to become a little more physical," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "We’re just not good enough right now. That’s probably as simple as I can make it."

The Ravens have been held under three yards per carry in each of their first four games. They're averaging 64 yards rushing per game.

It's time to hit the panic button. But, as everyone saw Sunday, hitting isn't exactly a strength for the Ravens offense right now.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw a career-worst five interceptions in the 23-20 loss at the Buffalo Bills. He was the reason why the Ravens flopped at Ralph Wilson Stadium, right?

Flacco signed a $120.6 million contract six months ago. He should be throwing five touchdown passes, not five passes to the other team. But Flacco is hardly the problem.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
AP Photo/Gary WiepertJoe Flacco was sacked three times, hit 12 times and threw three interceptions.
"Joe Flacco is not to blame; I'm going to put that out there," running back Ray Rice said. "He's our guy. Without him, we don't get down the field. Guys need to make plays. Joe is our leader. We've been down this road before. We don't point fingers around here, but the last person I'm worried about is Joe Flacco. He's a Super Bowl MVP. He's a Super Bowl quarterback. As long as Joe goes, we go. You saw it for yourself. As bad as we played, Joe Flacco still led us [to] march down the field and we were that close."

The Ravens still can't run the ball. Their longest run was 7 yards against the second-worst run defense in the NFL.

The Ravens couldn't stop the run. The Bills ran it up the gut of the Ravens' defense. The Ravens were outgained 203-24 on the ground, which underscores how both sides of Baltimore's lines got their tails whupped.

The Ravens couldn't protect Flacco. The Bills hit Flacco a dozen times, and a lot of those drove him into the turf.

And, on those instances when Flacco had time to pass, whom should he target? Ed Dickson and Tandon Doss cannot catch. One interception went right off Dickson's hands. Tight end Dallas Clark has trouble getting consistently open. Marlon Brown (thigh) and Deonte Thompson (concussion) left the game after getting hurt, joining Jacoby Jones (knee) and Brandon Stokley (groin) on the growing injury list.

It's not a stretch to say Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso, who had two interceptions, showed better hands than many of the Ravens receivers. The only receiver Flacco can have any confidence in is Torrey Smith, who will likely draw triple-teams from now on.

Flacco needs to play better, especially when the other team had three starting defensive backs inactive because of injuries. But it's not like Flacco is throwing the ball to Pro Bowl receivers or even experienced ones. Just look at his four top wide receivers Sunday. Two are undrafted (Brown and Thompson) and another was not on the team in the season opener because he was cut (Doss).

No one should take this as absolving Flacco from accountability. If he had been smarter with the ball, the Ravens probably would have won, or at least gone to overtime. His vision and decision-making were as poor as I've seen them.

If Flacco hadn't been picked off in the end zone in the third quarter (he underthrew Smith), the Ravens could have hit a 36-yard field goal, which would've been huge in a game decided by a field goal. And if Flacco hadn't been intercepted on his final pass (it came on third down), the Ravens would've had one more shot to go 15 yards to get into field goal range. In total, the Bills converted 13 points off Flacco's mistakes.

"We are definitely going to get better. We have to get better," Flacco said. "A lot of that falls on me today ... throwing the ball to the wrong team. If we don't do that, this game probably goes a little different."

It's easy to put all of the blame on Flacco. The Ravens have lost their past 12 games when he throws multiple interceptions.

"I believe we have a quarterback that can keep you in any game at any time," coach John Harbaugh said.

The problem is Flacco doesn't have the supporting cast right now to come back on the road this season. He could not in Denver. He could not in Buffalo.

If you really want to fault Flacco for something, it is the fact that the NFL's third-highest paid quarterback could not carry his team when everything else was falling apart around him.

Battered Bills secondary comes up big

September, 29, 2013
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills' secondary has been ravaged by injuries early this season, with their top two cornerbacks and top safety inactive for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Expectations for Buffalo weren't high: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, the defending Super Bowl MVP, was supposed to have a field day.

But apparently the Bills' cast of back-end replacements didn't get that memo. Flacco threw five interceptions, was sacked four times, and Baltimore's offense was 3-for-16 on third downs as the Bills defeated the Ravens, 23-20.

Leading the charge was Aaron Williams, who has been tossed around in the Bills' defense. Drafted as a cornerback in 2011, Williams struggled in his first two seasons and was converted to safety this offseason. But McKelvin's injury last week forced Williams back to cornerback, where he started Sunday.

Williams intercepted Flacco twice despite himself being hobbled by an early-game shoulder injury and, later, a lower back contusion. He did not finish the game and said he is unsure of his status for Thursday's game in Cleveland.

"Last year, I wasn't really aggressive about getting the ball," he said. "If you really want to be great, you need to go get that ball."

Williams was flagged for a horse-collar tackle that set up a Ravens touchdown in the third quarter, and also was beaten on a 74-yard completion in the fourth quarter. But the Bills have to be pleased with Williams' overall performance, switching positions in a pinch.

"I can't complain about two interceptions, but at the same time, I can't give up the big plays like that toward the end," Williams said.

Head coach Doug Marrone said the Bills would like to have Williams return to safety, but they also want him to settle in at one position instead of worrying about when McKelvin or Byrd may return.

"We made a commitment saying we're going to put him at corner and then we'll take care of the safety positions," Marrone said.

Safety Jim Leonhard, who has become a full-time player when Williams returned to cornerback, also had an interception, but was quick to praise Williams after the game.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "There are not many guys in this league that can go back from safety to corner and play the way he did and gut it out. He's nowhere near 100-percent right now, but to go out there and play the way he did, you have to give him a lot of credit. I think he's earned a lot of respect."

Locker Room Buzz: Buffalo Bills

September, 29, 2013
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Observed in the locker room after the Buffalo Bills' 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens:

Explaining late-game tension: With 57 seconds remaining, the Bills opted to take a knee three times to burn Baltimore's three timeouts. Ravens defenders, still playing with an edge, broke through the line and tried to disrupt the kneel-downs, resulting in a Courtney Upshaw penalty on the third play. Bills coach Doug Marrone said EJ Manuel was trying to take extra time off the clock by not kneeling right away, something that Ravens coach John Harbaugh said should have been done more quickly. Harbaugh said he was disappointed that Terrell Suggs didn't cause a fumble and that he "did the right thing." Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who was on the sideline for the series, said that Manuel was "clearly" taking a knee and that he should be treated as a defenseless player.

Spiller, Jackson hobbled: The status of both members of the Bills' two-headed rushing attack may be up in the air for Thursday in Cleveland. C.J. Spiller, who only ran twice after returning from an ankle injury, was limping around the locker room after the game. He said X-rays revealed no structural damage to his ankle and that he believes it is just a sprain. Meanwhile, Fred Jackson said he sprained his MCL, the same injury he had last season, but that it is "less significant" and he expects to play Thursday.

Easley limping: The Bills can't afford more injuries, but receiver Marcus Easley also was limping around the locker room after the game. Like the pair of running backs, Easley came back into the game after being hurt, but on a limited basis. The short week may put his status against the Browns in jeopardy. Easley has emerged as a special-teams presence and has filled in at kick returner in Marquise Goodwin's absence.

Locker Room Buzz: Baltimore Ravens

September, 29, 2013
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Observed in the locker room after the Baltimore Ravens' 23-20 loss at the Buffalo Bills:

Taking accountability: Coach John Harbaugh was the first of many to shoulder the blame for the upset loss. "We didn't play well. We didn't play well at all," Harbaugh said. "I will take responsibility for that. It was a poor performance." But Harbaugh added this: "The team we’re going to be two months from now is not the team we are right now." He was shocked by the team's play, especially after a good week of practice.

Taking accountability, Part II: Joe Flacco also put much of the loss on him after he threw a career-worst five interceptions. He was visibly disappointed in his play but he wasn't beating himself up over the mistakes. "We're definitely going to get better but a lot of that falls on me today ... just throwing the ball to the wrong team," he said. "If we don't do that, this game looks a little different."

Abandoning the run: The Ravens only ran the ball twice in the second half despite never trailing by more than two scores. But there was no one griping about the pass-heavy game plan. "We got behind," said running back Ray Rice, who indicated he came out of the game healthy. "When you get behind, you can't pound the rock. You can't do it. We had to find a way to score quick."

Injury report: Cornerback Lardarius Webb (thigh) left in the second quarter and didn't return. Already without two receivers -- Jacoby Jones (knee) and Brandon Stokley (groin) -- the Ravens had two more get banged up. Marlon Brown has a thigh injury and Deonte Thompson has a concussion.

Rapid Reaction: Bills 23, Ravens 20

September, 29, 2013

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills:

What it means: Undone by interceptions and no ground game, the Ravens (2-2) were upset by the banged-up Bills (2-2). Baltimore didn't show up in the first half just a week after routing the Houston Texans. The Ravens fall into a three-way tie for first place in the AFC North with the Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) and Cleveland Browns (2-2).

Picked apart: Quarterback Joe Flacco threw a career-worst five interceptions against a makeshift Buffalo secondary, and the Bills converted those turnovers into 13 points. The most interceptions Flacco had previously thrown were four (Week 2 in 2010 at Cincinnati). His fourth interception came late in the third quarter, when the Ravens were down six points (20-14) and in Bills territory. His last one occurred in the final minute of the game when the Ravens were within 15 yards of a game-tying field goal.

Stock Watch: Rising -- wide receiver Torrey Smith. The Ravens' top playmaker caught five passes for 166 yards and scored his first touchdown of the season. It makes you wonder why the Ravens didn't go to Smith more often. Falling -- the Ravens' run game. Even with the return of running back Ray Rice, the struggling ground attack couldn't get anything going against the second-worst run defense in the league. The Ravens managed 24 yards on the ground and couldn't break a run longer than 7 yards. Baltimore completely abandoned the run game after halftime, running the ball two times in the second half.

Streak ends: The Ravens saw their streak of not allowing a touchdown end at nine quarters. Cornerback Corey Graham, who replaced injured Lardarius Webb, was beaten by Robert Woods for a 42-yard score. It was the first touchdown given up by the Ravens' defense in 30 drives. The Ravens then gave up another touchdown in the second quarter after a Flacco interception (which went off Ed Dickson's hands).

What's next: The Ravens stay on the road next Sunday, visiting the Miami Dolphins (3-0), who play at the New Orleans Saints on "Monday Night Football." Baltimore is 0-2 on the road this season.

Rapid Reaction: Bills 23, Ravens 20

September, 29, 2013

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

What it means for Bills: Another nail-biter for Buffalo at home, but they were able to come away with a victory over the defending Super Bowl champions. The Bills intercepted Joe Flacco five times, but came away with only 13 points off the turnovers. However, Flacco's last interception was his biggest. In a three-point game with less than a minute remaining, linebacker Kiko Alonso came up with his second interception of the game, sealing Buffalo's victory. The Bills gained only 147 yards on offense, limited by a 10-for-22 performance by rookie EJ Manuel, who threw two interceptions. But with the Ravens' turnovers, it was enough to win.

Stock watch: Rising -- Aaron Williams. The former second-round pick came up big for the Bills, intercepting Flacco twice. With Leodis McKelvin not active due to injury, Williams started at cornerback Sunday after beginning the season as a safety. Williams briefly left with a shoulder injury in the first half, but later returned to the game and had a strong performance when the Bills needed it. He later departed with a lower back injury in the fourth quarter.

Spiller, Jackson hobbled: The Bills had a pair of injury scares in their backfield. C.J. Spiller left briefly with an ankle injury before returning, and Fred Jackson also left with a leg injury but returned. Buffalo leaned heavily on its running game Sunday, and it paid off. Spiller and Jackson combined for 39 carries for 164 yards.

Third-down defense improves: Buffalo has struggled on third downs both offensively and defensively this season, but the Ravens' third-down performance will help the Bills' defensive ranking. Flacco and the Ravens' offense were just 3-for-16 on third downs, and 1-for-4 in the red zone. Doug Marrone stressed the importance of these stats earlier in the week, and they were part of the difference Sunday.

What's next: The Bills (2-2) have a short week coming up. They'll travel to face the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night, their lone prime-time game of the season.

C.J. Spiller injures ankle

September, 29, 2013
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller left in the third quarter of Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens with an ankle injury.

The team announced his return as questionable.

Spiller limped off the field after a run for no gain. After swatting at the bench in frustration, he remained on the sideline and tried to jog off the injury.

Prior to being hurt, Spiller rushed 21 times for 65 yards.

Spiller was limited to nine yards on 10 carries last week against the New York Jets before leaving with a quad injury.


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