Find Andrews Over the Middle
In the Ravens’ Week 1 win over the Cleveland Browns, Lamar Jackson found immense success as a passer. In a performance that was good enough to earn him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors, Jackson completed 80% of his passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns. One noteworthy aspect of Jackson’s Week 1 performance was the success that he found over the middle of the field. Eight of his passes and two of his touchdowns were completed between, or just outside, the hashes.
Tight End Mark Andrews was one of Jackson’s favorite targets against the Browns. The Oklahoma product finished the afternoon with five catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Four of Andrews’ five catches, including his spectacular one-handed grab in the end zone, came in the middle third of the field.
In his team’s Week 1 win over the Texans, Baltimore’s opponent this weekend, Chiefs TE Travis Kelce caught six passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. That touchdown, his team’s first of the 2020 season, was caught on the left hash from six yards out. After seeing the success that Kelce had against Houston in Week 1, the Ravens should target Andrews early and often in Week 2.
If Jackson and Andrews can combine to carve up the middle of the Texans defense on Sunday, the Ravens have a great chance to leave Houston with a 2-0 record.
Run Between the Tackles
As a passer, Jackson has developed immensely since his rookie season. After completing 57% of his passes at Louisville, he completed an impressive 66.1% of his passes in 2019. He led the NFL in passing touchdowns and touchdown percentage. He finished 1st in QBR and 3rd in passer rating. He torched defenses through the air on his way to an NFL MVP at just 23 years old.
Despite the Ravens’ immense success through the air, Greg Roman’s offense is a power rushing attack at its core.
Kansas City rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the talk of the NFL on Friday morning after the Chiefs’ win. The 1st-round pick out of LSU gashed the Texans’ defense for 138 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries in front of a national audience. Including his 28-yard touchdown run, Edwards finished the night with three runs of at least 15 yards between the tackles.
When they decide to put the ball in the hands of the RBs, the Ravens need to learn from the Chiefs’ success and attack Houston up the middle. The ability to run behind the likes of Tyre Phillips, Orlando Brown Jr. and Pat Ricard gives Baltimore a major advantage in the inside run game. If the Ravens can get consistent yardage between the tackles from Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, selected just 23 picks after Edwards-Helaire, the Texans will be hard pressed to keep Baltimore out of the end zone on Sunday.
Find Watt on Every Play
On the very first drive of their Week 1 game against the Chiefs, Texans DE J.J. Watt lined up outside the Right Tackle, over the Right Tackle, over the Right Guard and over the Center. At the end of the night, Watt had started 49 of his 63 snaps lined up over or outside of Chiefs Right Tackle Mitchell Schwartz. So, while he did spend 77% of his snaps at his preferred left Defensive End position, he spent the other 23% of his snaps illustrating his ability to succeed from all over the defensive line.
Even though Watt is in his 10th season and three of his last four have been severely affected by serious injuries, he’s still a massive challenge for opposing offensive linemen. Watt has a rare combination of size, strength and speed that makes him effective against the run and the pass.
Against Baltimore, Watt will likely spend most of his time battling Brown Jr. On those snaps, Brown Jr. can enlist the services of Ricard and Nick Boyle to help him. When Watt slides inside and lines up over Tyre Phillips or Matt Skura, the Ravens offense needs to be extra aware. Phillips will be playing his second professional game and Skura is still recovering from a devastating injury. Watt’s skillset and experience make him one of the few players on the Texans defense who could throw a wrench into the Ravens plans on offense. It’s important that the Ravens offense identifies where Watt is aligned before every snap.
Pointing Watt out on every play allows the offense to adjust to him and helps to minimize his opportunities to make game changing plays.
Attack the Right Side of the Houston Line
In the 2020 season opener, the Kansas City Chiefs sacked Texans QB Deshaun Watson four times. Pro Bowl DT Chris Jones registered 1.5 sacks and Pro Bowl OLB Frank Clark added one of his own. In addition to their sacks, Jones and Clark kept significant pressure on Watson throughout the night. The bulk of the Chiefs sacks and pressures came against the right side of the Texans offensive line.
Manning the right side of the Houston offensive line are RG Zach Fulton and RT Tytus Howard. Fulton is a veteran who is starting at RG for the Texans for the third straight season. Howard, the Texans’ 1st round pick in 2019, is in his second year as the starting RT. On Sunday, Fulton and Howard will be trying their best to keep Deshaun Watson upright.
Wink Martindale should, and will, learn from the weaknesses exposed by the Chiefs and attach the right side of the Houston offensive line. The Ravens best pass rusher and franchise-tagged OLB Matt Judon will most often be lined up across from Howard. On the interior of the line, free agent acquisitions Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe should be able to find success against Fulton. Besides the fact that they’re both very talented interior defensive linemen, Campbell and Wolfe can be particularly effective as pass rushers.
In last year’s matchup, the Ravens got to Watson effectively, sacking him six times for a combined total of 49 yards lost, and forced a fumble that the defense recovered.
Apart from the standard pass rush created by the Ravens down linemen, Martindale should also focus blitzes and overloads on the Texans right side. Getting to Deshaun Watson will go a long way towards stifling him and the rest of the Houston offensive attack.
Keep Watson Contained
When it comes to NFL quarterbacks using their legs, Jackson stands head and shoulders above the rest. The second tier of runners includes QBs like Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Watson. While Watson only tallied about a third of Jackson’s 1206 rushing yards in 2019, he still provides an extra dimension to the Houston offense.
Whether he’s escaping the pocket or taking off downfield because he can’t find an open receiver, the Ravens must make containing Watson a top priority. If he gets away from defenders in the open field, Watson can make the big play. Perhaps more concerning, though, is his ability to pick up the 1st down with his legs. When the Ravens have the Texans in an unfavorable 3rd and long situation, they need to get off the field. Martindale could accomplish this by instructing his pass rushers to rush under control on 3rd downs or by using players like Patrick Queen or Chuck Clark as occasional QB “spies.” A similar performance to last year’s 2-for-10 3rd-down “success” from Houston would certainly be acceptable.
The Ravens go into Houston as the favorites to emerge with a victory. After beating Houston 41-7 in 2019, many pundits expect a convincing Baltimore win. However, a handful of 10-yard runs from Watson that extend drives is one of the few things, in my mind, that might keep the Texans in the game.
Flood the Shallow Zones
In Week 11 of the 2019 season, the Ravens defense held the Texans to just seven points. Watson completed 18 of 29 (62%) of his passes for 169 yards. Fourteen (78%) of his completions were caught less than ten yards downfield. Five of his completions were caught behind the line of scrimmage. Only four of his completions traveled more than six yards downfield.
Against the Chiefs in Week 1, Watson completed 20 of 32 (62.5%) of his passes for 253 yards and a touchdown. Sixteen (80%) of his completions were caught less than ten yards downfield. Five of his completions were caught behind the line of scrimmage. Only four of his completions against the Chiefs traveled more than 10 yards downfield.
Against the Texans on Sunday, the Ravens should scheme to take away the deep ball and force Watson to “dink and dunk” them through the air. Getting pressure on Watson is good first step. Forcing him to get the ball out of his hands quickly will limit his opportunities to connect with WRs like Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks deep down the field. The Ravens’ duo of All-Pro CBs should have little problem sticking with the Texans WRs while the pass rush closes in on Watson. With that in mind, Ravens inside linebackers and safeties should flood the underneath zones to defend quick-hitting passes.
If guys like Clark, Queen and Elliott can be secure tacklers and limit run-after-catch opportunities, the Texans have little chance to have a big afternoon against the Ravens.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Texans WR Will Fuller versus Ravens CB Marlon Humphrey
In a March 20th move that shocked the NFL community, the Texans traded all-world WR DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for RB David Johnson and a handful of future NFL draft picks. The move was largely criticized. Houston gave up Watson’s best target, one of the best WRs in the NFL, and didn’t even receive a 1st round pick in return.
If Bill O’Brien hadn’t traded Hopkins away, this week’s matchup would present a clash of titans. Hopkins and Ravens’ CB Marlon Humphrey are widely considered to be top five players at their respective positions. Instead, the all-pro CB will find himself lining up opposite of Will Fuller. Now in his 5th professional season, the former 1st round pick out of Notre Dame is the Texans’ number one option. Against the Chiefs in Week 1, Fuller caught eight passes for 112 yards.
If Humphrey can shut Fuller out like he did to Odell Beckham Jr. in Week 1, Deshaun Watson will have to target a far less appealing group of targets in the passing game.