NFL Playoff Picks: Andre Johnson and Houston Texans Will Shock Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore is tough to beat at home, too. In fact, the Ravens are undefeated there this season.
However, Houston has a few tricks up its sleeve.
Quarterback T.J. Yates has been playing with confidence, and after a victory in the Wild Card Round, he is ready to have a big-time performance.
The Texans' ground game is ranked second in the NFL. Andre Johnson is back to full speed, and the Houston defense is stingy against both the run and the pass.
The Return of Andre Johnson
The Baltimore Ravens had the fourth-ranked pass defense in the regular season, but the return of Andre Johnson brings an explosiveness to the Houston Texans' offense that is hard for any defense to stop.
When the Texans lost to the Ravens in Week 6, Andre Johnson was out. Johnson was dealing with a hamstring injury all season, and he only played in seven regular-season games.
The Ravens have let a few receivers torch them this season as well. Mike Wallace had 109 yards in Week 1, and Antonio Brown burned them for over 100 yards in Week 9. Kenny Britt dropped 135 yards on the Ravens in Week 2. Jerome Simpson had 152 receiving yards in Week 11 even though A.J. Green was out, and both Malcolm Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald had solid performances against them, too.
So while the Baltimore pass defense is good, it isn't impenetrable, and Johnson is set to have a big day.
Luckily for Arian Foster and Ben Tate, the threat of the deep ball with Johnson is so great that it will open up the running game.
The Houston Texans couldn't get much going on the ground in Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens.
Arian Foster and Ben Tate combined for just 90 yards, but there are a couple of reason why the running backs will have a better game on Sunday.
First, attention will have to be paid to Andre Johnson.
If the Ravens stack the box, then T.J. Yates will send the football downfield to Johnson. Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard won't be able to creep up with Johnson's ability to burn them for a long touchdown.
In Week 6, Foster was coming off of a hamstring injury (earlier in the season). Since his 49 yards on 15 carries against the Ravens, Foster has had six games in which he ran for over 100 yards, and he scored a touchdown in all but one game.
And Foster is coming off his best game of the year against a tough Cincinnati Bengals defense. He finished the day with 153 rushing yards and will carry that momentum with him Sunday.
Tate has played well all season, too. He is averaging 5.4 yards per carry and should get quite a few carries against the stout Baltimore defense.
So while it won't be a cake walk, Foster and Tate can play off of the passing game and have a much better showing than they did last time.
The Baltimore Ravens' pass defense is good, but the Houston Texans' pass defense is better.
Houston had the third-ranked pass defense in the regular season, and it could give Joe Flacco fits.
Anquan Boldin may return from a torn meniscus on Sunday, but it is hard to imagine he will be at full speed. If he doesn't return, then Johnathan Joseph, the Texans' best cornerback, will cover Torrey Smith, the Ravens' only real deep threat.
Flacco has been up and down all season, too. He has had a few solid games, but in others, like the 137-yard performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 7, he struggled mightily.
It depends on which Flacco the Texans see, but if he isn't on top of his game, Houston will be sure to take advantage of his shortcomings.
Flacco will also have to deal with a superb pass rush which sacked him twice in Week 6, forced a fumble and helped cause an interception.
And it isn't like the Flacco will get much help from his run game.
The Houston Texans, like the Baltimore Ravens, have a great all-around defense. The Texans are ranked fourth against the run and give up an average of just 96 yards per game.
When the two teams faced each other in Week 6, Ray Rice ran for over 100 yards.
Since then, Houston hasn't given up 100 yards in a game to a running back and has stifled the ground games of most of the teams it has gone up against.
The Texans can expect the Ravens to try to establish the run early, but with the way Houston has been playing against the run, Baltimore and Ray Rice won't have an easy time doing so.
Rice did have an amazing 191-yard performance against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17, but the Texans won't be as generous.
Emergence of T.J. Yates
T.J. Yates has been a pleasant surprise for the Houston Texans.
Will he challenge Matt Schaub for a starting job next season? No.
But is he good enough to win another playoff game? Yes.
Many have been skeptical of Yates because the Texans lost three straight games coming into the playoffs, and he hasn't had stellar numbers. But those losses weren't all his fault (and he didn't even really play in Week 17).
Truth is, Yates has really only been asked to be the game manager for the majority of his six regular-season appearances.
When the game rested upon his shoulders in Week 14 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Yates took the Texans down the field for a last-second victory.
Ironically, it was against the Bengals last week in the Wild Card Round that he was tested once again.
Andre Johnson has really helped open things up for the rookie quarterback, and although Yates only completed 11 passes for 159 yards, he didn't throw a pick and found Johnson down the sideline for a 40-yard touchdown.
Yates will be up against one of the best defenses in the NFL, but playing with confidence, the youngster won't be intimidated.