1. Double Wattage
No 3-4 DE has been as dynamic a rusher as Houston’s J.J. Watt. What makes Watt so special is that he has the power to drive through blockers, and electric burst to get around them. Watt is so good that teams are not only devoting a double team inside, but a third blocker—either a back or tight end—to help chip block.
The Ravens will need to take the same approach against Watt. They will need to lean on two blockers to keep Watt at bay and take their chances with Oher and Osmele blocking without help against edge rushers Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed. While Barwin and Reed are dangerous in their own right, they’ve been pretty ordinary this season. Being able to execute this blocking scheme will be the most critical aspect for the Ravens having success in the passing game.
2. Keep Flacco Rolling
One of the best ways to keep a quarterback upright is to change his launch point. Against a Houston front seven that can demolish the pocket, getting Flacco moving on rollouts and bootlegs could keep the Houston rushers on their heels.
In addition, moving the pocket left or right could also neutralize some of the intricate overload blitzes Wade Phillips likes to run.
3. Spread the Sauce
Flacco should have the green light to run the no-huddle offense throughout the game. In this contest the offense needs to push the tempo, build an early lead, and put the onus on the Houston offense to keep up.
The Packers stayed in a lot of spread formations to create favorable matchups against nickel corner Brice McCain and safety Glover Quinn. In instances when Quinn moved into the box to support the run, the Packers ran the ball right at him.
Like Green Bay, the Ravens have the personnel to operate out a three wide, one tight and one back formation, and stay in that formation all game. Look for Jacoby Jones to be a big part of the offensive attack against his former team.
1. Defend the Stretch
It’s no secret: The Texans are going to use Arian Foster and their zone, stretch-based running scheme to ram the ball down the Ravens’ throats.
Obviously, the past two weeks would tell you the Ravens have no chance. But the good news is defending the stretch is all about maintaining discipline and gap integrity. Which means that if a defensive front can play under control and stick to their gap assignments they’ve got a shot.
The Texans showed that when they can’t generate substantial yardage on the ground on early downs, they will struggle to convert in third-down passing situations. Conversely, the Baltimore defense has been atrocious against the run on early downs. Something will have to give on Sunday afternoon.
2. Pollard in the Box
Cover One coverage with Ed Reed as the roving centerfielder may be the predominate mode of operation on Sunday. Pollard will be needed in the box early and often to support the run. Playing against his former team, Pollard could be a valuable cog for deciphering where the stretch plays are headed.
Moreover, the Texans’ wideouts—Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter—have not shown consistency against single coverage. Johnson in particular has turned into more of a possession receiver. Even without cornerback Lardarius Webb, the Baltimore corners have the size/speed combo to hold up without Pollard’s assistance on the back end.
3. Watch the Boot
Given the dynamic element of Houston’s stretch game, the Texans complement the run with play-action bootlegs. In fact, Houston designs and executes these plays better than any other team in the league. Shaub’s ability to throw on the run is highly underrated, and he’s got the rare versatility to throw accurately moving to his left.
Defending the bootleg will be critical point of emphasis for the Baltimore edge defenders. Linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Paul Kruger can’t crash too hard to protect Arian Foster’s backside cut or Shaub will have pure freedom to throw off the play-fake.
One-on-One Matchup of the Week
Marshall Yanda vs. J.J. Watt
Watt’s influence on this game has been discussed at length and the man in front of him is a Pro Bowler in his own right. Yanda will stay competitive, but he’ll need to play at a different speed to keep Watt from beating him inside. The Houston superstar packs a few quick-twitch rip moves to get past interior linemen. If Yanda oversteps too far left or right, he’ll pay the price.