Ravens (5-3) @ Texans (3-5)
Well, for the 2nd time this season, we get to bring you a Texans-Ravens preview. This one will look a bit different than the last one, however. Since the originally scheduled date of this game, the Ravens have exceeded all expectations, while the Texans have fallen short of theirs. B’More is 5-3, just 1 game out of the division lead, and in the thick of the playoff hunt. The Ravens have a rapidly improving young quarterback who has not turned the ball over in 3 consecutive games and was just named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week. They feature a 3-headed running attack that has helped them become tops in the league in time of possession. They have been able to overcome the loss of 75% of their starting secondary in still ranking #2 in the NFL in defense, and #4 against the pass. We think you’ll agree that all of those things seemed pretty far fetched back in September.
The Texans, on the other hand, seemed poised to improve on their 8-8 2007 campaign, but have won only 3 games so far. People like to hate on the Ravens for not having beaten any winning teams so far, but look who the Texans have picked up their 3 measly wins against: The 4-4 Dolphins (by 1 point!), the 0-8 Lions (by 7), and the 1-8 Bengals (a thorough whooping). So we aren’t as worried about this being a potential “trap game” for the purple-and-black as some around town seem to be.
Houston will be without starting QB Matt Schaub, who is replaced by Sage Rosenfels. That dropoff from #1-to-#2 is probably one of, if not the smallest in the NFL. Rosenfels, in his 8th season, is no scrub. He started 5 games in 2007, completing 64% of his passes, and throwing for 15 TD and 12 INT. This season, he has seen action in 2 games, starting 1, and has completed nearly 68% of his throws for 3 TD and 2 INT. Sage, though, will probably be most remembered in 2008 for his helicopter-spin/fumble that cost his team a game they should have won against the Colts. His most dangerous weapon is WR Andre Johnson, who, unless you play fantasy football, you probably are not too familiar with. Johnson doesn’t get much publicity because he plays in Houston, but he is easily one of the best wideouts in the game. At 6’3″ 223 lb., he will tower over the Ravens’ corners (without C-Mac, Samari Rolle is the Manute Bol of the group, at 6’0″) and demand double coverage all day. Johnson leads the NFL in recieving yards (834) and has hauled in 3 touchdowns. The Ravens will benefit from the return of Samari Rolle, who will play, though nobody is quite sure how much. Basically, the Ravens can only hope to contain Johnson.
As a Maryland Terrapins fan (as I’m sure many of you are too), a familiar face will be lining up for the Texans at running back on Sunday, former West Virginia Mountaineer Steve Slaton. After watching Slaton gash the Terps year after year, it will be especially satisfying to watch Haloti Ngata, Justin Bannan, Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, & Co. beat on Slaton all afternoon. Slaton has impressed in his rookie season, averaging 4.5 yards per carry with 5 touchdowns, but should be no match for the Ravens #1 run defense. Historically, the Ravens especially feast on those small slasher-type backs (think Willie Parker).
When the Ravens have the ball, protecting Joe Flacco from the likes of Mario Williams (6 sacks in his last 5 games) will be priority numero uno. We feel a lot more confident in Jared Gaither’s ability to accomplish this than we did in Week 2, thats for sure. The Texans will be without their leading tackler, LB Zac Diles. They had just the 23rd ranked rushing defense with Diles in the lineup, so his absence should mean even more room for Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and LeRon McClain. A bit unsettling, though, is the fact that all 3 Ravens runners are nursing some sort of nagging injury; The “Mc’s” sore ankles and Rice a sore chest, though all are expected to play. The Texans will also not be able to stack the box as they would have in Week 2, not after that impressive showing by Joe Flacco last week in Cleveland, when he finally hit a deep ball in throwing for 248 yards and 2 scores. Another healthy run-pass balance will see the Ravens’ suddenly potent offense continue to put up points.
On special teams, we have to give Houston the nod. They are averaging 21 yards per return on kickoffs to the Ravens 19.5, and 12.9 with 2 touchdowns to the Ravens 8.7 and 0 on punts. The Ravens let the Browns back in the game last week because of their poor special teams coverage, which desperately needs to improve. Kicker Kris Brown is a perfect 10-10 on field goals in 2008, while Matt Stover, while better of late, is 12-15.
The Ravens have played much better on the road this year than we are used to seeing, and it should continue this week. This is a must-have for the Ravens considering their upcoming schedule, the next stop being a visit to the defending World Champs.
Ravens 27 Texans 16
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