The Baltimore Ravens come into town as more of a paper tiger at this point than an elite team. Old age and now injuries have slowed down their defense and despite the common perception of their defense, I don't think opposing teams fear them like they did five years ago. That combination of old age and injuries have changed this team into at best a slightly above average defense. Coming off a bad game last week, the Texans will look to make a statement on Sunday.
One of the marks of a great team is the ability to find a way to win even when not playing at their best; the Texans showed that ability last Monday against the Jets. Another mark of a great team is the ability to put a bad loss behind them, move forward, and take care of their next opponent; we'll see how the Texans deal with that test this Sunday. The Texans have a chance to deal the beat up Ravens another blow and put some space between themselves and the other AFC contenders. The Ravens and Texans are the only two AFC teams with five wins; no other team even has four wins. If the Texans win on Sunday, that would put them up basically two games on Baltimore by being up one game in the standings and also owning the tiebreaker. A win would put the Texans in a strong position to at least get a bye in the first round, a loss would put them in a chase position by losing the tiebreaker to Baltimore and having to travel to New England later in the season. This may be the most important game of the season.
Texans Offense vs. Ravens Defense:
Last week the Dallas Cowboys rushed for 227 yards on 5.4 yards per carry. The week before that the Kansas City Chiefs ran for 214 yards on 4.3 yards per carry; what happened to the Ravens run defense? Through six games this season the Ravens rank 26th in rushing yards allowed per game, 24th in rushing touchdowns allowed, and 19th in runs over 20 yards allowed. Haloti Ngata isn't getting the same push and penetration, Ray Lewis isn't getting off his blocks, and now they have injuries to deal with.
The Ravens haven't been much better against the pass. They currently rank 22nd in passing yards allowed and look like a completely different team from the one most fans are used to seeing on the field. The Ravens were already without their best pass rusher after Terrell Suggs suffered an Achilles injury during the off-season, and now have major questions to answer after losing their leader and signal caller Ray Lewis, and their best corner back Lardarius Webb. The Ravens gave up a huge game to Dez Bryant last week who had 13 catches, for 95 yards, and two touchdowns. In their playoff game last year Andre Johnson had eight catches for 111 yards against the Ravens, and that was with Lardarius Webb on the field. Without Webb, Schaub and Johnson should have a big game.
Texans Defense vs. Ravens Offense:
It can't be any worse than last week for the Texans who got torched by the Packers. This week they'll face a good offense, but not a great offense. The Ravens rank in the top 10 in offensive yards, but they haven't played as well on the road; particularly Joe Flacco. On the road this season the Ravens have a 1-1 record and are averaging 16 points and 311.5 yards per game; at home they're 4-0 and averaging 32 points and 421 yards per game. Specifically to Joe Flacco, take a look at his 2012 home/road splits.
Home - 67.1% completions, 317.8 passing yards per game, 7 touchdowns/2 interceptions, 106.6 QB rating, 9 yards per pass attempt.
Road - 50.7% completions, 209.5 passing yards per game, 1 touchdown/2 interceptions, 62.4 QB rating, 6 yards per pass attempt
In 2011 his splits weren't as drastic but as a team the Ravens were only 4-4 on the road compared to a perfect 8-0 record at home. For whatever reason, Flacco and the Ravens aren't the same team outside of Baltimore. Part of their problem on the road has been pass protection. In their last road game, a 9-6 win over the Chiefs, the Ravens offensive line gave up four sacks. Overall this year the Ravens rank 23rd in sacks allowed. Any issues in pass protection will likely be exposed against a Texans defense that ranks seventh in sacks including 9.5 from NFL sack leader J.J. Watt. The Texans rank in the top 10 in points allowed, rushing yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and sacks; they're an elite defense.
After losing Cushing to a season ending injury and finding out that Johnathan Joseph isn't 100%, the outside rushers, Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin, have to pick up their level of play. Barwin still doesn't have a sack this season and while Reed has played better, neither player has had much of an impact. Flacco can be forced into mistakes, but if he gets the same amount of time Aaron Rodgers did last week, the Ravens have weapons that will eventually get open. There are a few reasons for concern, namely stopping Ray Rice and Torrey Smith running by a dinged up Johnathan Joseph, but I expect the Texans to make a few plays, get just enough stops, and hold the Ravens under their average in both yards and points.
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