As the Baltimore Ravens travel to Orchard Park, New York this week to take on the Buffalo Bills, defensive coordinator Dean Pees will probably dial up schemes to incorporate second-year outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw into the mix more than previous weeks.
The former Alabama Crimson Tide defensive standout hasn’t had the impact that was expected of him coming out of college. But just because he isn’t putting up flashy statistics early on, it doesn’t mean the Ravens don’t value his contributions. Upshaw has been relegated more to early-down duties as his specialty thus far in his second season in Baltimore has been to set the edge in the running game.
This is a role that former Raven Jarrett Johnson was accustomed to and it helped him extend his stay in Baltimore for quite some time. Upshaw isn’t a big talker and seems like a humble enough guy to fit the mold of the run stopper the Ravens need, but it will especially be crucial this week against the Bills.
The 23-year-old, at least in my eyes, should rotate more often in this game than in the first four games of the season as the Bills tend to rely on a ground game that hasn’t quite gotten started on the right foot just yet. Led by rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel, this offense runs an option scheme that isn’t a prototypical pro-style offense and this week is one of the only times the Ravens will face such a scheme this season. Given that running back C.J. Spiller has yet to take that next step and truly emerge as a No. 1 back in this league, it has been more of a duo with his counterpart Fred Jackson. Neither of them have really set themselves apart in the early going, but look for the Bills not to give up on them just yet and put more pressure on Manuel.
This puts the contributions of a guy like Upshaw in perspective, especially because he is an early down player. The Bills are one of the worst offensive teams in the league in terms of third-down efficiency, converting only 14/45 attempts — good for 31.11 percent and 28th in the NFL. If Upshaw can keep contain on a speedster like Spiller and keep Manuel in the pocket, the Bills will have to rely on the north-south style of Jackson, favoring the Ravens and their highly regarded front seven. Expect Upshaw to receive more reps this week than normal and if all goes well for the Ravens, big plays will be at a premium for the young, athletic Bills.