In their first game under defensive co-ordinator Don Martindale, the Baltimore Ravens couldn’t draw up a better scenario.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman will make his third career start Sunday. In the first one, he threw five interceptions in the first half against the Chargers last November, and for an encore he completed just five passes for 57 yards against the Colts in the snow before he was removed after being concussed.
This time, the second-year pro will be operating behind a restructured line that lost two starters from 2017.
Centre Eric Wood was forced to retire after being diagnosed with a career-ending neck injury. Left guard Richie Incognito, who played a key run-blocking role, forced his way off the roster after having second thoughts in agreeing to restructure his contract.
Ryan Groy takes over at centre and Vladimir Ducasse replaces Incognito.
That bodes well for a Baltimore defence that last year led the NFL with 34 takeaways. The unit did, however, have trouble closing out big games – most notably a 31-27 loss to Cincinnati in the finale that enabled the Bills (9-7) to displace Baltimore (9-7) in the AFC playoffs and end a 17-year postseason drought.
Martindale promises to unleash an aggressive defence that could prove troublesome to the untested Peterman.
“Hopefully, the things that we’ve worked on in the off-season and in training camp have become a positive for us,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We expect to be great on defence, play situational football to a T and win a lot of games. [Martindale] will put his personality on our defence. We are pumped to get out there and see what we’ve got.”
Bills coach Sean McDermott can only hope for the best from Peterman, who beat out Josh Allen, the No. 7 overall draft pick in 2018.
“We all have to understand that he’s still a young player, just in the beginning stage of his sophomore year, if you will,” McDermott said of Peterman. “He’s only going to continue to grow and get better.”
Some things to know about the Bills-Ravens opener:
Bills running back LeSean McCoy has been elected team captain in his fourth year since leaving the Eagles. “I look forward to having a C on my chest Sunday,” he said. A strong ground game can take the pressure off Peterman: McCoy ran for 1,138 yards last year, fourth most in the NFL, and can move into sixth place on the team’s career list with 69 yards against Baltimore.
Coming off a down season, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco intends to rebound with help from a new trio of receivers: John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead. Brown is the deep threat, Crabtree scored 25 touchdowns over the past three years, and Snead is effective out of the slot, especially on third down. “I think it’s definitely worth noting the fact that we do have three different types of guys,” Flacco said. “How well they complement each other is yet to be seen, but I definitely believe it’s going to be a good thing.”
Buffalo’s best chance to win is making this a low-scoring game. The Bills finished 26th in yards allowed last season but were 18th in points against, despite yielding a combined 111 in successive losses in November. Including playoffs, Buffalo was 9-2 when allowing 17 or fewer points. The two losses can be blamed on the offence: 9-3 at Carolina in Week 2 and 10-3 at Jacksonville in the AFC wild-card playoff.
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who turns 36 next month, can’t wait to get started on his 16th NFL season. “I start to get shy or flattered when I hear Year 16,” said Suggs, the franchise leader in sacks. “It’s a pretty long time, but as long as you know you’re still a kid at heart, still out there running, having fun, playing football . that number only means something to y’all, not really too much to me.” It does, however, mean a lot to his teammates. “He’s a legend,” Weddle said.
Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson will play in his first NFL game Sunday, although it’s uncertain if he will get on the field. The fleet-footed 2016 Heisman Trophy winner could see spot duty behind centre in a short yardage situation, or maybe be part of a trick play. “Well, we understand the threat that he brings when he’s on the field,” McDermott said, “so we spent a considerable amount of time in preparing for him.”