By Jeff Zrebiec
10:00 AM EDT, September 20, 2013
Ravens Passing: Quarterback Joe Flacco had a solid game last week, completing 22-of-33 passes in the victory over the Cleveland Browns, and rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown continues to impress. However, this group has yet to hit its stride, held back by drops and a lack of big plays. Wide receiver Torrey Smith leads the Ravens with 11 catches for 177 yards despite seeing double teams. The Ravens are desperately trying to get tight ends Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark more involved in the offense.
Texans Passing: Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has made a few questionable decisions this season but it’s hard to argue with the results: six touchdown passes, 644 yards passing and a 92.8 quarterback rating. Five of his six touchdowns have gone to tight ends Owen Daniels (three) and Garrett Graham (two). Andre Johnson is tied for league lead with 20 receptions while rookie DeAndre Hopkins is coming on fast. If Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown (toe) can’t play, Schaub could be vulnerable to the Ravens' pass rush.
Ravens Running: Ray Rice will be a game-time decision though players who don't practice all week traditionally don't play on Sundays under head coach John Harbaugh. If he can't play, Rice's ability in the passing game and in picking up blitzes will be missed as much – if not more – than his ball carrying. Even if Rice does play, Bernard Pierce figures to get more carries. The Ravens recommitted to their running game last week but they're still averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. Only four teams average fewer.
Texans Running: The Ravens know how dangerous Arian Foster is as the three-time Pro Bowl selection has rushed for 247 yards and two touchdowns and caught 11 passes for 82 yards in three regular-season games against them. However, Foster's backup, Ben Tate, has added another dimension to the Texans' ground attack. He leads the Texans with 148 yards on 18 carries, an 8.2 yard per carry average. The Texans, who use a zone blocking scheme, are currently third in the NFL in rushing (146 yards per game).
Ravens Rush Defense: The Ravens have surrendered just 65 rushing yards per game – the eighth lowest total in the NFL – and they held then-Browns running back Trent Richardson to 3.2 yards per carry last week. Inside linebackers Josh Bynes and Daryl Smith lead the team in tackles, but the group's success stopping the run starts up front where nose tackle Haloti Ngata has been extremely disruptive. The Ravens will be challenged this week by the Texans' two-headed rushing attack and a good Houston offensive line.
Texans Rush Defense: Through two games, Houston is allowing 99.5 rushing yards per game, ranking 18th in the NFL. However, the Texans haven't allowed a rushing touchdown. They also ranked seventh in run defense last year and that was while playing much of the season without middle linebacker Brian Cushing. Returning from a significant knee injury, Cushing currently leads the Texans with 24 total tackles. J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith head a big and versatile defensive front.EDGE: RAVENS
Ravens Pass Defense: The Ravens made some changes in their secondary from Week 1 to Week 2, replacing free safety Michael Huff with rookie Matt Elam and cornerback Corey Graham with Jimmy Smith. The group played better last week, but there were still some coverage issues. Led by Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, the Ravens are tied for fifth in the NFL with eight sacks. They are still looking for their first interception. Covering tight ends remains a problem for the Ravens and the Texans have two good ones.
Texans Pass Defense: All eyes will be on former Raven Ed Reed as the safety is expected to make his debut with the Texans after having offseason hip surgery. Reed probably will be used more in a situational role. The Texans have plenty of other defensive players to worry about. Watt, the NFL's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, gets to the quarterback and clogs passing lanes with his wingspan. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph has intercepted Flacco four times in his career.
Ravens Special Teams: It's not been a great start for the Ravens' kicking duo as Sam Koch had a punt blocked in Week 1 and Justin Tucker missed two field goals last week. Tucker missed only three field goals all of last season. With Pro Bowl returner Jacoby Jones sidelined indefinitely, Tandon Doss gave the Ravens a big lift last Sunday, averaging 14.3 yards on three punt returns. Injuries have forced the Ravens to juggle their coverage teams, but both groups have mostly held up well.
Texans Special Teams: Signed in the offseason after establishing himself as one of the top punters in the league during his time in Oakland, Shane Lechler has been everything the Texans had hoped, dropping eight of his 10 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. There is concern though with kicker Randy Bullock who is just 1-of-5 on field goal attempts this season. Three of those five attempts are from 50 yards or beyond. Keshawn Martin handles punt and kick returns.
Ravens Intangibles: Harbaugh's Ravens are 42-20 against AFC foes over the past six seasons. They have been especially dominant at home, winning 25 of their last 28 games at M&T Bank Stadium. They haven't lost a home game in September since the 2006 season. The Ravens should be buoyed emotionally by the return of former teammate and team leader Ray Lewis who will be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor at halftime.
Texans Intangibles: Texans coach Gary Kubiak was quick to point out this week that his team could very easily be 0-2 instead to 2-0. But Houston has made the plays down the stretch, becoming the first team since the 1970 merger to win each of its first two games on the game's final play. The Texans are 1-5 in six career meetings with the Ravens and they've never won in Baltimore. However, they blasted the eventual Super Bowl champions, 43-13, last October at Reliant Stadium.
PREDICTION: The Ravens are a far different team than the group that was overwhelmed in Houston last year, but the fact remains that the Texans provide matchup problems for them on both sides of the ball. A resurgent Ravens’ pass rush can only cover up so much. Until the Ravens find both chemistry and consistency on offense, it’s going to be tough for them to beat the league's elite teams. The bet here is that they’ll do enough to keep it close but they’ll fall short in the end.
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