Baltimore Ravens: 5 Bold Predictions for Ravens' Playoff Game Versus Houston
This game will be an entirely different affair. The Texans had a healthy Matt Schaub at quarterback in Week 6, but they lacked Andre Johnson in the lineup.
This time, Johnson is back, but rookie T.J. Yates will line up under center for the Texans.
Meanwhile, the Ravens were without Ben Grubbs, Jimmy Smith, Lee Evans and Chris Carr. Grubbs and Smith especially will help make this a very different game for the Ravens.
These are two different teams from the ones that played Week 6. Here are five bold predictions about how the healthier Ravens will fare against the more-injured Texans.
The Ravens Will Shut Down Arian Foster
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The Texans running game is among the best and most consistent in the NFL.
The one-two punch of Arian Foster and Ben Tate has been dynamic all season, wearing down defenses and allowing the Texans to focus on the running game.
The key to their success is their zone scheme, which features constant stretch plays. This forces defenders to run sideline to sideline, wearing them out and opening up lanes for big plays over time.
The Ravens front seven is perfectly suited to take on this scheme. The Ravens constantly shuffle different players in, so fatigue will not be as much of an issue for the Ravens defense.
The Ravens also have a swarming defense that does an excellent job of setting the edge. Few teams have found success running outside on the Ravens.
Finally, Vonta Leach comes from Houston's zone blocking scheme. He will be valuable in helping the Ravens gain more knowledge on what Houston will do.
All in all, the Ravens are perfectly set up to handle the Texans' running game. They should be able to hold Arian Foster and Ben Tate in check.
Andre Johnson Will Have a Key Drop and a Key Touchdown
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Despite his pretty numbers, Andre Johnson struggled badly against the Bengals. His hands were shaky, and he bobbled several easy balls.
He had a few drops overall, but he also contributed a key touchdown.
Expect more of the same against the Ravens.
Johnson will get off to a rough start against the Ravens. Lardarius Webb has been stellar all year, and he should be able to contain the rusty receiver.
As the game wears on, though, the Texans will probably be forced to start taking some shots downfield. When that happens, Johnson will be the main target, and his size and speed will allow him to reel one in for a touchdown.
Johnson will likely end up with pretty numbers again, but his up and down performance will likely hurt the Texans rather than help them.
T.J. Yates Will Play Like a Rookie
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Yates was decent against the Bengals, and most importantly, he didn't throw an interception.
Still, he misfired on several throws, and the Ravens will be able to capitalize on his errant passes.
Further, the Texans are only average at pass blocking, with Yates getting sacked one in every ten dropbacks.
The Texans will likely keep things simple for T.J. Yates, but the Ravens complex, blitz-heavy scheme will be too much for him.
The Ravens managed four sacks against the Texans in Week 6. Expect at least that many in the rematch, as well as at least one turnover from T.J. Yates.
The Ravens' Receivers Will Break out
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Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith were tremendous in Week 6 for the Ravens, accounting for over 200 combined yards.
This duo should be extra motivated, as most Ravens fans are rumbling for changes in the receiving corps after several tepid passing performances.
Boldin will be coming off injury, but he should be healthy. The Ravens will likely try to get him involved early with some easy completions to get him back into the flow of an NFL game.
The extra attention Boldin receives will allow Torrey Smith to make big plays for the Ravens. When Boldin went down, teams were able to key on Smith, largely shutting him down. The return of Boldin should give Smith room to work with.
The Ravens will likely run the ball a great deal, but when they pass the ball, Smith and Boldin should be up to the task of making plays.
Joe Flacco Will Be Forced to Win This Game
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After losing to the Ravens in Week 6, the Texans' defense clamped down. In Week 6, they were allowing 314 yards per game. By the end of the season, that number was down to 285.
More importantly, the Texans' run defense went from 12th in Week 6 to fourth by the end of the season.
The Ravens will want to run the ball early and often, and the Texans will be ready for it. They will want to force Joe Flacco to win this game with his arm, so their attention will be shifted squarely on Ray Rice.
With the level of talent that the Texans' defense has in the front seven, they should be more than up to the task of handling the Ravens' running game.
With several unproductive performances in a row, Flacco might not seem the best candidate to take over a game, but that is what he will have to do against the Texans.
Flacco should be up to the task. With a healthy Anquan Boldin and a blossoming connection with Dennis Pitta, Flacco should be able to effectively move the ball against the Texans' stout defense.
With an unproductive running game, Joe Flacco will be forced to carry this offense, and he should carry it right into the AFC Championship game.
Prediction: Ravens 23, Texans 16