Now that the NFL season is here, I’m putting a twist on my weekly Blogger on Blogger series. Each week, I hope to enlist a blogger who regularly writes about the Ravens’ opponent to help me break down the game. This week, I exchanged emails with Stephanie Stradley, who blogs about the Houston Texans for Ultimate Texans.
MV: J.J. Watt was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, recording a ridiculous number of sacks for a player who is predominantly a defensive end in a 3-4 front. In what ways can he be even better going forward?
SS: It’s hard to fathom. Watt is a great combination of athleticism, size, hard work and the desire to be great. But there are three things that could likely improve his play. One would be just another year of experience playing the position, where defensive ends tend to improve with time. Two, last year he dislocated his elbow during training camp, causing him to miss the preseason. A season of full health would be handy. And three, better play around him. Typically outside linebackers can excel in this system, but we haven't seen that yet with the Texans’ inexperienced outside linebackers.
MV: Much has been made about Arian Foster splitting carries with Ben Tate and some in the national media have predicted that Foster's productive years may be coming to an end. But with Foster still getting significantly more snaps than Tate and still running effectively, is some of that hitting-the-wall talk overblown?
SS: I think it is. Some of his statistical decline over the last few years has been situational. In 2011, the Texans relied on him with workhorse yards due to the injuries to Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. In both 2011 and 2012, when the Texans had early leads, he was running into unfavorable fronts late in games. Coach Gary Kubiak trusts him for the tough, need-to-have-em yards, particularly late in games and at goal line, and he's the preference when pass protection is essential. The Texans were being very careful with him during training camp and the preseason.
MV: It's only been a couple of games, but what has DeAndre Hopkins brought to the offense? Ravens head coach John Harbaugh remarked Monday that the Ravens liked the rookie wide receiver when he came out this spring.
SS: The Texans value catching skills more than potential and pure speed. If DeAndre Hopkins ran faster at combine, he'd be drafted higher given his college productivity. He is a perfect fit for the Texans offense. He has huge hands, is great at catching contested footballs and can move the chains.
MV: Do you think this is the week that Ed Reed makes his Texans debut and what do you think he will bring to the defense? Reed struggled with his tackling his last couple of years here, but there is no questioning his football IQ.
SS: Ed Reed is like a lagniappe for the Texans defense. They drafted D.J. Swearinger to replace Glover Quin, who left for Detroit. Quin was a solid safety but not a game-changer like Reed was at his best. The Texans pursued Reed as a risk/reward choice. The thought is that with enough of a pass rush, Reed could make plays with his smarts and make opposing quarterbacks account for him. Quin had some rough games against the Patriots, and perhaps Reed helps in some matchups. And there’s that mentor/leadership/platinum-walker thing.
MV: It seems like the Ravens play the Texans every year now, a product of each being perennial contenders in the AFC. The Texans have yet to break through, though. Might this be the year they get over the proverbial hump?
SS: As Ravens fans know, the Super Bowl is often about key players getting experience and a team having great timing with injuries, play and luck. Before Wade Phillips became defensive coordinator, the Texans never were a credible Super Bowl threat because their defense was so terrible. Their first playoff year Matt Schaub didn't play due to a season-ending foot injury so he didn't get experience then.
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