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Texans Vs. Ravens: Seven Thoughts For Monday

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Seven thoughts that have entered my head on the lead up to Monday's Week 14 match-up between the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens.

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After another tough loss in a must-win game last Thursday, the Houston Texans (5-7) find themselves in yet-another must-win game as the Baltimore Ravens (8-4) visit Reliant Stadium for "Monday Night Football." Yes, despite losing four of their last five, the Texans are fortunate enough to still have must-win games on the schedule.

A big Monday night game with playoff implications shouldn't need any more reason to get hyped, but Houston's doing so by making it a Battle Red Day. The special designation started when the Texans organization unveiled an alternate jersey in 2003 - battle red. Since then, the Texans have designated one or two home games, usually prime-time or late-season division rivals, as "Battle Red Days."

While red jerseys and, sometimes, red pants are just a uniform and marketing gimmick, the Texans have done surprisingly well in the battle red uniforms. In ten games, Houston is 7-3 when wearing their alternate uniform. Whether players get hyped up from the color or the more-enthusiastic crowd who embraces the idea, the reds work. Another benefit of the all-red uniforms is...

1) ...they'll hide the blood when things get rough. As the Examiner's Alan Burge points out, the Ravens just came out of a blood-spilling, tough-nosed, beat 'em up with Pittsburgh. Houston has long had a national reputation of a finesse team that doesn't live up to expectations and can be bullied around. Houston, as most finesse teams do, traditionally struggles with the brute strength of a team.

It's something that Texans, like Bernard Pollard, talk about changing. The constant thought is that the Texans have to get tired of being pushed around and need to punch people in the mouth. If Houston is ever to make a leap to the next level, they need to be able to get in a fight and hold their own - which most people think they can't. On Monday night, they have another opportunity to change that perception. If they want to get physical then it needs to start with...

2) ...Arian Foster. I know he gets mentioned a lot, but it's hard to ignore one of the league's best players this season. As Nick Scurfield and Burge have talked about, Foster has broken franchise records, is on the verge of many more, and is leading the NFL in a lot of significant categories. While Houston may not be winning enough for him to be a serious NFL Most Valuable Player candidate, Foster should earn a lot of legitimate consideration for the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award.

His remarkable season aside, Foster needs to set the tone on Monday night. As I pointed out on Battle Red Blog earlier this week, the Ravens allow an average of 4.0 yards per carry. There will be room for Foster to earn his yards, as he did against the similarly stout defenses of San Diego and New York. I firmly believe that the Texans should come out running and show Baltimore they are not intimidated by the mystique of Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, and the Ravens defense. Showing the commitment to Foster will cause the Ravens to cheat run and open things up for...

3) ...Matt Schaub. On message boards, comment sections of the local paper, and blogs and their gameday threads, Schaub has seen a rise in criticism. There are some who don't believe he's a good quarterback and should be replaced. It's understandable that a running game has cut in to Schaub's outstanding 2009 numbers. However, people need some perspective on the franchise's soon-to-be all-time passing leader.

Schaub entered the season as one of 11 quarterbacks with an opportunity to throw three-consecutive 3,000-plus yard seasons and one of six quarterbacks who had a shot to have three-consecutive seasons of a QB Rating of 90.0 or higher. Career-wise, he's in the top-five of NFL completion percentage. This season, Schaub is top-ten in QB Rating, completion percentage, and passing yards. He's just on the outside of top-ten in touchdowns and is why Houston is tied for seventh for fewest interceptions. If this is a slumping season, I'll gladly take it. Schaub is a top-ten quarterback, and Houston fans won't find many better.

If Foster can bring the safeties up, then Schaub should find space downfield for his receivers. When he looks downfield, you know Matt is looking for...

4) ...Andre Johnson. The leading vote-getter among AFC wide receivers, Johnson is entering a time of year where he normally takes it to another level. Yeah, the league's premiere wide receiver can hit another level entirely.

As pointed out on SBN Houston, Johnson loves December football. Over the past 16 December/January games (that goes back to Schaub's first season in Houston), Johnson has 115 receptions, 1,709 yards, and 11 touchdowns. Those numbers roughly translate to a per-game average of 7 receptions, 107 yards, and nearly a touchdown every game which is higher than career averages of 6/79/1 TD every 2 games.

With a big game and less-than-spectacular secondary opposing him, I expect another dominant December performance from #80. It's speculation on my part, but I believe Johnson heats up when it cools down because he wants to...

5) ...make the playoffs. Yes, the Texans can still very much make the playoffs. The easiest way, without breaking down how they can make it in as an 8-8 or 7-9 team, is for them to win their final four games while getting one loss from 7-6 Indianapolis and 7-5 Jacksonville. That'll tie the division at 9-7 which Houston will win off of division, conference, and common opponent tiebreakers.

I know you're either believing in that possibility until it comes true or rolling your eyes at anyone who thinks it is possible. The point is, like last year, there is still a chance at 5-7. If anything, last year's squad need a myriad of losses to get in, so, by comparison, this looks more manageable. Even if the Texans don't win the AFC South, the final four games still very much matter as they could be the difference in simply hiring a new defensive staff or...

6) ...Gary Kubiak becoming the next head coach of the Denver Broncos. After Denver rid itself of the embarrassing Josh McDaniels experiment, the NFL Network's Michael Lombardi had some speculation that Denver could look to bring Kubiak and John Elway back as coach and front office man in order to earn goodwill with their majorly disillusioned fanbase. The big caveat is that Kubiak would need to be fired. To his credit, Kubiak shot it down immediately and didn't seem phased by rumors.

Pick any Texans-related site and you can find an article about the fate of Kubiak, how the 2011 NFL Lockout influences the decision, and what Houston each move by Houston could signify for the 2011 season. Most believe, barring utter collapse, that owner Bob McNair will retain Kubiak for offensive continuity and bring in an experienced defensive coordinator. However, if Kubiak did earn a pink slip it would be because...

7) ...of the Houston defense. They're the cure-all for the ailing Ravens offense, an unfocused group that lets big plays happen late in games, and on pace to be historically bad. It's the same story every week. However, there are times where this group does play well. Dallas, both New York teams, San Diego, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, there are points where the defense just had to make a play to spark the team or stop the opposing team. For whatever reason, no Texans' defender could make such a play. Those missed plays may be the difference from a playoff birth and another season of watching other teams play on TV. In fact, I'm willing to bet the defense will have another moment to step up on Monday night, and that could determine if Houston is playoff-bound or clearing out the locker room on January 3rd.

Between the 10-2 record in the final four games under Kubiak since 2007, the 7-3 Battle Red record, the nature of this team to show up when doubted, and their close games with similar teams (San Diego and the green New York team), I'm going to venture out on the Houston limb. I think this team can pull it together for this big game against the Ravens.

If I have to call my shot, I'm going Ravens 27, Texans 30, and Houston begins reeling in fans for a hopeful playoff run (or the biggest heartbreak of the 2010 season).

For more on the Texans, check out Battle Red Blog.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.