Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Ravens (8-4) @ Texans (5-7)

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The Ravens head to Houston for the second time in three years on Monday night, hoping for a repeat of the 41-13 drubbing they put on the Texans in 2008. Thanks to Carson Palmer being the worst quarterback in the history of anything ever, they need a win to stay within one game of Pittsburgh atop the AFC North.

The 2010 Texans, despite their 5-7 record, look to be a more formidable opponent than the 2008 version, which was quarterbacked by good old Sage Rosenfels when the Ravens played them. Matt Schaub will be on the field this time around, along with the NFL’s leader in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage, running back Arian Foster. The Ravens will have to put up similar resistance to Foster as they displayed against Michael Turner of the Atlanta Falcons and Rashard Mendenhall of Pittsburgh last week to give themselves a chance on Monday Night Football. If Foster gets untracked, the already daunting task of keeping Schaub and the rest of the Texans’ high-flying aerial attack – which includes All-World wide receiver Andre Johnson – becomes all the more difficult.

Although this was supposed to be the year that the Ravens’ offense finally outshined – or at least, kept up with – the defense, it has been more of the same. The defense enters Week 14 ranked seventh in the NFL, and seems to really be hitting their stride of late. Since the Buffalo game in Week 7, when they gave up 34 points and dropped to 10th in the league in total defense, the Ravens have given up just 14.4 points per game (if you take out the Atlanta game, that average drops to 11.5 ppg). Terrell Suggs had arguably the best game of his life – and one of the most dominant games by any Ravens defender in their history – in last week’s losing effort against Pittsburgh. The Ravens will likely be wearing their black pants again in Houston, so hopefully Suggs could be in for another huge prime-time performance (for whatever reason, he is better in the black pants).

While they’ll be hard pressed to keep Houston under say, 20 points or so, they should at least be able to force a few turnovers to keep the Texans from lighting up the scoreboard to any appreciable degree. Houston has put up at least 20 in five consecutive games, so the onus will likely fall on the Ravens offense to break out of their recent funk.

Speaking of the anemic offense, to say that it’s been a frustrating struggle as of late would be an understatement. Reiterating that its been “business as usual” in Baltimore this season, the offense again finds itself ranked considerably lower than the defense. Despite all the shiny weapons, the Ravens offense has sputtered and spit since the bye week, culminating in last week’s disastrous performance in front of the home crowd with the division title in the balance. Since the Week 8 break, Joe Flacco & Co. have managed more than two offensive touchdowns in just one game – Atlanta, and that was after getting completely shut out in the first half of that contest.

John Harbaugh wants to get the run game on track down the stretch, but Houston looks to be capable of much less resistance through the air (worst in the league in pass defense) than on the ground (#10 against the run). The Ravens’ inability to effectively run the ball has certainly had a lot to do with their struggles this year. As the Sun’s Ken Murray breaks down here, the Ravens are just barely ahead of the Indianapolis Colts for worst rushing average in the league.

Only one NFL team has a worse rushing average per carry than the Ravens’ 3.6, and that’s a team that can’t run the ball at all — the Colts, who averaged 3.47 going into Thursday night’s game.

The Ravens rank 31st in the league in rush average (3.623), percentage points behind the Seahawks (3.648).

The Ravens’ inefficiency is not for lack of trying. They rank seventh in the league in rush attempts (359). But 13 teams have rushed for more first downs than the Ravens; only nine teams have scored fewer rushing touchdowns than Baltimore.

It’s apparent that this team is missing Jared Gaither far more than we would have hoped. The big tackle’s absence is also being felt in pass protection, where the Ravens have allowed 17 sacks over the past five games (Flacco is just five sacks away from a career high in that area, set last year at 32). It’s disappointing that Oneil Cousins can’t get on the field, as though Marshal Yanda has played well at RT, he is still far more suited to move inside and play guard. The return of Le’Ron “Ankle Sprain” McClain, who missed the Steelers game, could help open up some holes for Ray Rice.

His final two attempts aside, Flacco played a fairly good game against the Steelers, connecting on deep passes to Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth, and extending the play nicely on his only score of the night, a 14-yarder to Boldin. He should be able to have a field day against the Texans though, who are allowing over 287 yards per game through the air, and a league-worst 27 passing touchdowns. Fans who like to get on the case of members of the Ravens’ secondary should be thanking their lucky stars that we don’t have Houston’s defensive backfield. Seriously – they’re awful. If Flacco can’t find a comfort zone Monday night at Reliant Stadium, it seems unlikely that this offense will come together at all this year.

Hell, they put up 41 down there two years ago with Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, and damn Yamon Figurs as the WRs. It would be a good night to start those Ravens wideouts in your fantasy football playoffs.

A nice side effect of the offense getting their shit together (besides, you know…winning)? More kickoff attempts for Billy Cundiff. The Ravens’ placekicker needs just seven more touchbacks to set a new NFL record. The temperature-controlled, warm weather conditions in Houston are a great chance for Billy to really cut into that number before finishing the season with likely three cold weather games in outdoor stadiums (two in Baltimore, one in Cleveland).

Come on guys, do it for Billy.

Although Pittsburgh won, at least the New York Jets lost on Sunday, so the Ravens can move up from the #6 AFC Playoff spot where they sit now to #5 by pulling even with Gang Green at 9-4.

Since they fumbled away their best shot at winning the division (and a home playoff game or two), the Ravens will have to beat playoff-caliber teams on the road in January. To even have that opportunity though, they’ll still likely need to beat a non-playoff team (or two) on the road in December. The “road warrior” mentality needs to set in now.


Ravens 31 Texans 20

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