Ravens v. Texans, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
Texans favored by 2, Over/Under 45
Who are the 2013 Baltimore Ravens?
For the moment, we don’t know. Clearly they are a team seeking an identity on both sides of the football, an identity that will come in time.
Offensively they aren’t exactly a passing team just yet given the limited rapport between Joe Flacco and a few of his receivers. Defensively, they are faster and more talented than the Super Bowl Champions yet yielding 7 touchdown passes in a single game is not exactly a performance that a stalwart defense can hang its collective hat on.
The Ravens will look to manage the season, to remain relevant and stay in the playoff mix. If they can and as the pieces of the team fall into place and they gain better traction on both sides of the football, the Ravens can be a dangerous team, particularly in a watered down AFC.
But until that traction kicks in the Ravens will be a work in progress and they’ll take their lumps and bruises and on Sunday, they are likely to get plenty of them.
On offense, coordinator Jim Caldwell will have to contend with 2012’s Defensive Player of the Year, JJ Watt. To help neutralize Watt the Ravens will need to run the ball effectively against the league’s 18th ranked rushing defense. Given the struggles of the Ravens offensive line in the running game coupled with the unavailability of Pro Bowler Ray Rice, establishing the ground game won’t be easy.
That means the Ravens will have to rely upon the arm of Flacco, particularly on first down. If the Ravens can manage short second downs of 6 yards or less it will open up their playbook and keep Watt and the formidable blitzer Brian Cushing at bay.
On defense the Ravens will have to contend with a very balanced Texans attack. They can hit you on the edges with one of the league’s best WR’s, Andre Johnson. If you double down on Johnson impressive rookie DeAndre Hopkins can make you pay on the opposite side. Then of course there’s arguably the league’s best one-two punch in the backfield of Adrian Foster and Ben Tate who lead the NFL’s third best rushing attack.
Doubling up on Johnson (20 catches), isolating on Hopkins (probably with Lardarius Webb) and investing resources to stop the run will really open up the play action game for Matt Schaub who is an outstanding ball handler. This approach should invite opportunities for Texans’ tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham as well as Foster in the passing game. The Ravens have struggled to cover tight ends and RB’s so far this season.
It’s a lot to ask from a Ravens team still trying to gel. They may make positive strides in the game that will make them a better team in December but for now, the emotional boost provided by Ray Lewis’ Ring of Honor induction won’t be enough. The Texans at the moment are the better team and they’ll prove it on Sunday.
PREDICTION: Texans 27, Ravens 20
Last Week: 1-0 v. Winner, 1-0 v. Spread
YTD: 1-1 v. Winner, 1-1 v. Spread
WHAT’S YOUR PREDICTION?