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Preston: Texans present opportunity Ravens receivers can’t afford to pass up

The Ravens offense has evolved but there is still one more phase to develop. The Ravens need more impact from their wide receivers.

They don’t need the Amari Cooper or Antonio Brown type but someone besides rookie Marquise Brown who can deliver a big play or stretch a defense. Brown can do that but health concerns limit his plays.

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If that player is on the roster then Sunday’s game would be the perfect breakout time.

The Houston Texans are ranked 29th in pass defense allowing 277.3 yards a game and their secondary has been hit hard by injuries. The Texans also are playing without one of the league’s best pass rushers in J.J. Watt, out for the season with a torn pectoral.

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The timing is right and the conditions couldn’t be better.

“Looking back, we’re comfortable. Looking forward, we want to do whatever we can do to win the game. It’s whatever it takes,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re going to need those guys to make plays. I sure appreciated Marquise’s [Brown’s] plays in the game [versus Cincinnati]. Willie [Snead IV] had a big third-down conversion. So, in terms of the numbers, heck yes. We want those guys to make as many catches as they can.

“And I do believe that in the course of playing, that defenses take away what they’re going to take away,” Harbaugh said. “Lamar [Jackson] reads it out. The schemes are set up the way they are that those plays are going to happen when they kind of present themselves.”

The Ravens scheme is working to near perfection. They want to run first, which sets up the play-action passing. Jackson has been successful throwing to tight ends Mark Andrews (44 catches for 523 yards), Nick Boyle (21, 250) and Hayden Hurst (18, 176) because linebackers and safeties have to honor the run first, especially with Jackson, which allows the tight ends to gain a step on them in pass coverage.

The Ravens also might want to stay with the short to intermediate passes more because as Jackson’s mechanics improve, so does his accuracy down field.

But eventually, opposing teams will start to counter the Ravens’ strengths. They’ll figure out that Boyle isn’t just a blocker on first and second downs, but a prime target on crossing routes underneath. Or they’ll start bracketing Andrews, especially inside the red zone.

Well, who is going to be that receiver that steps up?

Brown might be that player but a stiff wind can knock him out of action. Snead (19, 250) is a good blocker and a tough competitor, but is more of a possession receiver than a down-field threat.

Seth Roberts, Miles Boykin and Chris Moore have all disappeared.

“Absolutely. That’s what they’re here for,” said Jackson, when asked if he wanted to get his receivers more involved in the offense. “They’re here to catch passes from me, score touchdowns, feed their families; and that’s my job. And I tell them that if I don’t do it, I’m going to be ticked off. I’d rather not rush [for] a touchdown. I’d rather pass it, but we’re trying to win at the end of the day.”

The goal is always to win and the best way to do that is to have balance. The Ravens don’t need to go away from their strengths but a team always has to be prepared and that opportunity will come Sunday against Houston.

The Texans secondary has been hit hard with injuries forcing top players such as cornerback Bradley Roby (strained hamstring) and safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. (back) to miss the last couple of games even though both might play Sunday.

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Cornerback Johnathan Joseph is well respected throughout the league but is 35. He is good in run support and playing zone but can be taken advantage of in man-to-man coverage.

Fellow cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr. has great speed and range, but is a rookie. Dime back Jahleel Addae is a big blitzer and is good at run support, and what is interesting is that he was on the field with the Los Angeles Chargers last season when they defeated the Ravens in the opening round of the playoffs.

He probably has tipped off Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel about the defense the Chargers used, as if a veteran assistant like Crennel needed help.

It’s an intriguing matchup, especially since the Texans are coming off the bye week. They’ll hit the Ravens with some new wrinkles, something that wasn’t on film in recent weeks.

And the Ravens could hit them with a play or two from the receivers, which hasn’t been on film in recent weeks, either.

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