The last time the Ravens played the Texans, it wasn’t pretty.
In Week 7 of last season, the Texans hung 43 points on the Ravens in what was their first-ever win against Baltimore. Houston had the ball on offense for over 38 minutes, they rushed for an average of 4.9 yards per carry and they didn’t turn the ball over.
The Ravens, on the other hand, had probably their worst game of the year. They lost the game, 43-13. Baltimore’s defense gave up the most points they would give up all year and Baltimore’s offense scored the least points they would score all year (playoffs included).
It was certainly a wake-up call for the Ravens, as they went on to win their next four games (three of which were on the road) and of course, Super Bowl XLVII.
Like Baltimore, Houston also had a Week 8 bye followed by a nice winning streak. Houston would win their next five games, but after that they lost three of their final four games which ended up costing them valuable playoff positioning. For the second straight year, the Texans were eliminated from the playoffs in the second round.
So here we are.
Both teams are very talented and feel they have a lot to prove. On Sunday Ray Lewis gets inducted into the Ravens Ring of Honor. It’s also the first day Ed Reed will ever oppose the Ravens—that is, if he’s healthy.
Let’s turn our attention to this year, this game and the players who will be playing in it. Here are my three keys to the game for each team.
THE TEXANS WIN IF…
1) Watt gets his hands in passing lanes
J.J. Watt defensed 16 passes last year, which is an extremely high number for a defensive lineman. He plays multiple positions and can beat offensive lineman in multiple ways. Watt will also play the run very well, and did I mention he was named the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2012?
He’s certainly beatable, as anyone is. One way to neutralize Watt’s defense is to knock his hands down at the line of scrimmage. Of course it’s easier said than done, but if Baltimore can accomplish this task, Joe Flacco will be able to do his job much more easily.
2) Cushing runs free
After only playing in five games a season ago, Brian Cushing has gotten off to a strong start in 2013. In two games this year Cushing has recorded 1.5 sacks.
He doesn’t always blitz, but like fellow USC Trojan Clay Matthews, Cushing knows how to get to the passer and bring him down hard. Flacco has been sacked six times this season, which isn’t horrible, but it’s not good. If the Ravens aren’t careful or focus too much on Watt, Cushing will make them pay.
3) Their offense wins the time of possession battle
In the last two games of this series, the Texans have outrushed the Ravens by 170 yards. When the defense is on the field so often (and a defense that’s still coming together at that), it’s a big advantage for the offense. It makes the defense defend a lot of plays which causes them to accumulate fatigue which in turn makes them susceptible to big plays.
Houston has a talented, balanced and potent offense. There’s no doubt about that. There’s also no doubt that if Baltimore doesn’t get Houston’s offense off the field after third downs, it’s not going to bode well for their chances to win.
THE RAVENS WIN IF…
1) They get Watt’s hands down
It might be overstating it a bit when saying how important it is to give Flacco clear throwing lanes. Then again, when was the last time you saw a tipped pass and thought, “This is going to work out well for the offense?”
Sure Watt isn’t the only talented player on the Texans defense, but he is the best player on their defense. Also, the fact that the Ravens are not on the same page offensively right now makes it more important to keep Watt at bay.
2) They contain Foster
Arian Foster is one of the best dual-threat running backs in the NFL. Whether he’s running, receiving or opening up the defenses to the play action pass, he’s the No. 1 threat to opposing defenses every week.
The Ravens need to set the edge against Foster and the Texans and stay in their lanes, particularly against Houston’s stretch zone scheme (in which Foster has made a living of cutting back and causing defenders to over-pursue).
3) They limit Houston’s play action success
As previously mentioned (whether it’s deep over routes, crossing routes or double moves), Houston has a premier play action offense. There’s so much going on during those plays that if executed correctly, they can make defenses look silly. Though Houston’s play action game starts with Foster and their offensive line, it ends with (who I believe is) the best wide receiver in football: Andre Johnson.
The Ravens don’t have to shut down the Texans’ play action offense, but they should be able to slow it down. They have the athletes and veterans to do so. It’ll depend on their focus and communication.
PREDICTION: Texans 27, Ravens 26
The last time these teams met at M&T…