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When the Houston Texans host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, it’ll be the two best teams in the AFC going at each other. Actually, not only that, it’ll be a matchup of the only two teams in the AFC that have a winning record. No other team in the AFC has better than a 3-3 record. There’s a whole division, the AFC East, in which every team has a 3-3 record including the New England Patriots. Even though they play the NFC North and AFC East this season, they aren’t going to be tested too many times this season by teams that are playoff-caliber teams. So let’s take a look at how they’ll matchup against Baltimore in our Playmaker Preview.
Texans running game vs. Ravens run defense
The Texans were dominated at the line at home against the Packers. Arian Foster scored two touchdowns but ran for just 29 yards on 17 carries. Meanwhile, the Ravens allowed the Dallas Cowboys to rack up 227 yards rushing on 42 carries. No one has seen anyone run on Baltimore like that in a long time.
Something’s gotta give.
The biggest difference is that we’ve seen the Houston Texans run better than that this season. But we haven’t seen the Ravens get stops. Only three teams have allowed more rushing touchdowns. Few teams have allowed more yards per game and no team is run on more than the Ravens. It all has to do with the loss of Terrell Suggs. There’s a report today that Suggs may play against Houston, but the Baltimore Sun quickly debunked that rumor. Ray Lewis is also going to miss the game after having triceps surgery. He’ll only be able to come back at the end of the season.
The fact is that the Ravens are being asked to do something they haven’t done all season, shorthanded, and the Texans are going to try and re-establish what they’ve done on the run this year.
Texans passing game vs. Ravens pass defense
Photo by Javi Perez/Playmaker Magazine
Make no mistake. Matt Schaub is capable of carrying the Texans if they’re struggling running the ball. We saw that earlier this season. But he needs help from the offensive line. If he gets time in the pocket to throw and every rusher is marked, he can pick apart defenses. For some reasons, Matt Schaub took some heat for the way he played against the Packers. I think it was because he threw two interceptions, but by the time those picks happened the game was already out of hand.
Schaub was frustrated. There was one play in the first half when the Packers sniffed out a screen and were still about to sack Schaub. The offensive line has to fail at every level for both of those to happen on one screen play call and Schaub just threw the ball at Foster’s feet in frustration. Owen Daniels is emerging as a go-to tight end again. Andre Johnson is drawing coverage away allowing Keshawn Martin and Kevin Walter to make plays.
It’s all on the line, though.
Because Baltimore is run on so much, their numbers against the pass are a bit skewed. But they’re still allowing 260 yards per game and they’re getting interceptions, but they’re not getting to the quarterback much. All of that will be much tougher without Suggs, Lewis, and now without their best cornerback Lardarius Webb. Webb is the kind of guy that virtually takes away half the field. He only had one interception this season because teams rarely throw his way. He hadn’t given up a touchdown in a really long time.
And now he’s done for the season. If Houston can’t get their offense going in this game at home against such a beat up team, then expectations for the rest of the season will have to be severely altered.
Ravens running game vs. Texans run defense
Photo courtesy Patrick Smith/Getty Images
The Houston Texans have not faced a running back like Ray Rice this season. In fact, their numbers against the rush actually significantly improved because Green Bay passed so well against them added to the fact that Cedric Benson didn’t play and the Packers don’t trust any of their other running backs yet. This will be a unique test.
Baltimore’s offense is as balanced as it’s ever been with Joe Flacco and Ray Rice. Baltimore’s rushing yards per game aren’t in the top 10 in the NFL, but Rice is averaging exactly five yards per carry this season. His backup, Bernard Price, is averaging 5.3 yards this year. As a team, that’s 5th best in the NFL. They’re also among the leaders in touchdowns this season with seven and, most impressively, have not given up a fumble as a team.
Given how well Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Reggie Bush ran against them, Ray Rice could be due for a big day in Houston. The only reason those guys didn’t have even better days was because their teams fell behind and they had to abandon the running game.
Ravens passing game vs. Texans pass defense
All the Baltimore Ravens do is make big plays on offense. Although they don’t rank in the top 10 in passing yards per game in the NFL, Joe Flacco is 3rd in the NFL in yards per attempt. He’s also only thrown four interceptions this season. He’s got two great receivers to throw to as well.
After a bit of a slow start, Anquan Boldin is on a roll. In the last three games, he’s got 18 catches for 311 yards. Torrey Smith is the most dangerous pass-catcher they’ve got, though. He’s got nearly as many yards this season as Boldin, but on just 21 catches to Boldin’s 28. He leads the team in touchdown catches with four and is averaging nearly 19 yards per catch.
This all comes down to the Texans defensive line, though. If they can get consistent pressure, the Texans defensive backs will have a much easier time covering a less diverse pass-catching corps than the Packers had last week. If not, expect to see big plays early and often.
Photo by Javi Perez/Playmaker Magazine
If there’s one thing that Texans fans are looking forward to on Sunday, it’s showering Jacoby Jones with boo’s when he returns to Reliant Stadium in a Baltimore Ravens uniform. Last season, Jacoby Jones returned a kickoff for a touchdown and then proceeded to be unspectacular the rest of the season. Then, in the playoffs against the Ravens, Jones muffed a punt that he should have never fielded in the first place and that led to a Ravens touchdown. Houston lost momentum and lost the game.
And then Jones had the audacity to sign with the Ravens.
Now, the NFL is a business. A lot of people understand that the Ravens were one of many teams interested in signing him and likely offered him more money than anyone else. It was a business decision for both sides. But a lot of fans don’t see it that way. Jones signing with Baltimore after handing them a trip to the AFC championship game seemed like a big insult. And now he’s coming off of a game where he returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
The joke was that Jones has been helping them win games in Baltimore even before he signed with the Ravens. Jones’ big splash likely means that he’ll keep those kicking duties after Deonte Thompson was benched following his own fumble earlier this season.
The Texans are still looking for the big play in the kicking game after releasing Trindon Holliday (he fumbled on Monday night with the Broncos) and replacing him with Keshawn Martin on kick returns. Martin is averaging more than 21 yards per return (better than Holliday), but hasn’t broken a big one yet.
As for the kickers, former Texas Longhorns kicker Justin Tucker is having a great rookie season. He’s 12-13 on the year going 6-6 on 40+ yard kicks and 2-2 on 50+ yard field goal attempts. He even nailed a game-winner against the Patriots earlier this year (although it was close). The Texans just don’t match up on special teams.
Photo courtesy Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Considering how well Joe Flacco is playing at quarterback, the reliable receivers, the big plays on special teams, and Ray Rice continuing to play at the top of his game, this may be the best Ravens offense John Harbaugh has ever had in Baltimore. With all the injuries on defense though, we’re going to find out a lot about his coaching ability to hold that defense together. They’ve already played poorly so far, it’s going to take some good coaching to not let those injuries sink their season.
Then there’s Gary Kubiak. I’m really not sure how he allowed the Texans lines to play the way they did on Sunday. But sometimes when you look at the big picture and how they’ve played overall throughout the season as a team, you think that maybe just two parts of the team had bad days. The Packers didn’t appear to do anything special that Houston hasn’t handled in the past.
I’ll give the nod to Kubiak on this one. This performance is so far just an anomaly on the season while the Ravens have had struggles on defense all year.
They don’t get much closer than this. Houston has played in close games this season, but they weren’t supposed to be close on paper. This one looks like it’ll be tight. But with all the problems piling up with the Ravens defense, the Texas looking to bust up whoever is in front of them after last week, and this game being played at Reliant Stadium… I’ll say that Houston wins this one by the slimmest of margins.
Playmaker Prediction: Texans 28, Ravens 27