The Ravens will be a solid underdog going into Sunday’s game against the only other team in the AFC with a winning record, and there’s no way to argue with the oddsmakers after the way the defense gave up big yardage on the ground the past two weeks and lost both Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb to season-ending injuries.
The Houston Texans are probably drooling over the prospect of unleashing their multi-faceted offense on the Ravens, especially after getting their helmets handed to them at home this past weekend by the Packers.
Of course, this is the NFL, so nobody really knows what’s going to happen. The Ravens have faced other challenges like this over the course of the John Harbaugh era and they generally have stepped up and played very tough against good teams on the road.
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This will be a major challenge for Joe Flacco and the offense, since there will be pressure to put up a bunch of points against a Houston defense that was pretty stingy until Aaron Rodgers went all Discount Double-Check on them. If it’s any consolation, the Texans have not played a particularly tough schedule and they gave up big point totals against their two most imposing opponents – the Broncos and Packers.
It will be interesting to see what adjustments defensive coordinator Dean Pees will be able to make between now and Sunday. Stopping Matt Schaub and Arian Foster without Webb and Lewis will be a major challenge for the Ravens, but don’t be surprised if some other guys come up big.
The biggest challenge might be motivational. Losing the emotional leader of the team right before a game of this magnitude is a major blow, especially when it’s possible to look at the standings and figure that there’s nothing wrong with going into the bye week with a 5-2 record.
The Ravens come out of the bye with a pair of very winnable games – at Cleveland and at home against the Raiders – so they figure to be in good shape with 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs hoping to return in the next couple of weeks.
Just a hunch, but I don’t think the Ravens will fall into that trap. They may be at a disadvantage this week in Houston, but they know that a head-to-head win over the Texans could end up meaning home-field advantage against them in the playoffs. Considering how close they came to the Super Bowl in last year’s AFC title game at New England, that should be plenty of motivation.