ORCHARD PARK — Appreciating how difficult it is to contain Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens’ bull-dozing offensive attack, Bills defensive tackle Jordan Phillips was put at ease watching TV last weekend.
After averaging 405 yards offense and 36 points in winning their previous seven games, the Ravens hit a speed bump in the form of the San Francisco 49ers. Though Baltimore eked out a 20-17 win on a rainy, windy afternoon on Justin Tucker’s 49-yard field goal as time expired, Phillips took note how the 49ers limited Baltimore to 283 yards offense, including 125 in the second half.
“When San Fran’s defense got going, that’s all I needed to see,” Phillips said. “That put things in perspective.”
If the NFL’s top-ranked defense could put a dent in the run-and-gunning Ravens (10-2), then why not the Bills (9-3) on Sunday, when the two AFC playoff contenders meet at Buffalo.
“We’re built for an offense like this,” Phillips said of a defense that’s allowed the third-fewest yards in the NFL this season. “Now, we just have to go out there and execute. Simple as that.”
Simple might not be the operative word when confronting Jackson’s dynamic ability. The second-year starter leads the league with 32 touchdowns (25 passing) and oversees an offense that has scored a league-leading 49 TDs. Baltimore has an opportunity to become the first in NFL history to finish a season averaging both 200 yards rushing and passing.
The Bills defense appears to have cleaned up its issues against the run. Since allowing 492 yards over a three-game stretch, Buffalo has given up 211 — including 103 in a 26-15 victory at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day — in winning its past three.
Promising as that might sound, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier knows he’s got his hands full in preparing to face a quarterback he compares to Michael Vick.
“Once he got out in the open field, there was really no catching Michael,” Frazier said. “And it’s similar when you’re watching Lamar.”
Frazier is also familiar with Ravens coach John Harbaugh; the two spent time together on Andy Reid’s staff in Philadelphia. Frazier sees the Ravens adopting Harbaugh’s aggressive mentality.
“It seems like they have a ton of confidence in their ability to run the ball on anybody,” Frazier said. “They play with a bravado about them, and I’m sure that has a lot to with their head coach.”
Harbaugh’s confidence in Jackson was apparent when asked whether he believes any defense can stop him.
“Well, I don’t know what it means exactly,” Harbaugh said. “If it means that they’re going to solve him as a player or shut him down, no. I don’t think that’ll ever happen until he retires, because he’s that good.”
The challenge, Harbaugh said, is continuing to adapt his offense to stay a step ahead of opposing defenses.
A number of things to look out for in a game that also features Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who was selected seventh overall in the 2018 draft, 25 spots ahead of Jackson:
The Ravens can clinch the AFC North with a win and a Steelers loss or tie. They can also clinch with a tie and Steelers loss.
The Bills can clinch their second playoff berth in three years with a win and an Oakland loss or tie, an Indianapolis loss or tie, and a Houston loss.
Jackson recalled playing cornerback in youth football when he was burned by Bills rookie running back Devin Singletary.
“He was like a little stocky, cocky running back and I’m like `I’m not about to hit him by myself,′ so I tried to brush him off, and he just ran up the sideline and scored,” Jackson said.
Bills coach Sean McDermott laughed upon hearing the story, and said: “Ï think if Lamar’s playing corner, we’d be better off.”
Ravens punter Sam Koch hasn’t seen much action. With Jackson guiding a relentless offense and Baltimore going for it on fourth down 19 times, Koch has only 24 punts this year.
That doesn’t mean he’s been taking it easy. One of his two punts last week was downed at the 1 by Chris Moore. Koch also serves as holder for Tucker, who hit two field-goal and two extra-point attempts.
McDermott confirmed a report by NFL.com of the Bills placing a waiver claim for kicker Chase McLaughlin, only to lose out to Indianapolis, which was higher in the claim order.
McDermott denied the team’s interest in McLaughlin reflected concerns in kicker Stephen Hauschka, who missed a 50-yard field goal and extra point at Dallas.
“It’s just like any position, us continuing to try to add a player to our team that we feel could help us,” McDermott said.
After winning five straight by a combined 202-62 margin, the Ravens had to squeeze past San Francisco. Baltimore held the ball for the final 6 ½ minutes before Tucker’s field goal. The 3-point margin of victory was the smallest for Baltimore this year.
“These games are needed,” defensive tackle Michael Pierce said. “When you’re trying to go on a run and get to the playoffs, you never expect a blowout. You need to be in those tight games to see how players respond at some point.”