Houston Texans: 5 Keys to Getting Back on Track Against Baltimore Ravens
The Texans are licking their wounds this week after a pounding from the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football. The team appeared guilty of reading its own press clippings a bit too much, and the reality check could serve as a positive going forward.
Baltimore squeaked past the Dallas Cowboys at home last week, but suffered a few serious blows off the field. The face of Baltimore's franchise, Ray Lewis, will miss the rest of the season, as will Pro Bowl cornerback Lardarius Webb.
The injuries to these two will be felt by the Ravens' defense, and it doesn't help having to go on the road to face the Texans.
The Texans are dealing with injuries of their own, as the team is still reeling from the loss of Brian Cushing.
Houston's magical season took an ugly turn last week, but there are reasons to believe it can fix its issues.
Here are five keys to the Texans getting back on track this week against Baltimore.
Attack Ravens Up the Middle
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This is an ideal week for the Texans to get their inside running game going. Not only has Baltimore lost Ray Lewis for the season, but Haloti Ngata has dealt with nagging injuries all year and doesn't appear to be at full strength. Attacking the Ravens up the middle should be a point of emphasis for the Texans offense.
The Baltimore Ravens losing Lewis to a triceps injury was devastating. The team allowed a shocking 5.4 yards per carry last week against the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ran the ball 42 times for 227 yards.
With the Texans dealing with their own injury issues on defense, it would make sense for Gary Kubiak to keep the ball on the ground and Baltimore's offense on the sideline. The less Ray Rice the defense has to see, the better.
Houston also needs to incorporate Ben Tate back into the rotation. He was healthy for the Green Bay Packers game after missing the previous week with a toe injury, but only carried the ball three times. Tate is a physical inside runner, so this could be a game where sees a heavy workload.
It's six weeks into the season now, and the Houston Texans running game isn't nearly as good as it has been in past seasons. Regardless of the new bodies on the right side of the offensive line, the running game shouldn't be as unproductive as it has been to this point.
Improve Return Game
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The Houston Texans are struggling on special teams this year more than any team in the league. Matt Schaub and the offense have been given poor field position all season, and it's starting to take a toll.
Gary Kubiak spoke about his disappointment in Houston's special teams to the Texans' official website after Monday's practice:
Yeah, I’m disappointed because we’re not carrying some stuff from the practice field to the game. That’s my biggest concern. Our return game, especially kickoff return has been poor, extremely poor. We work on these things during the week, and we’re not getting them done on the weekend. We may have to change our train of thought there and some of the things we do.
The Texans need to get more out of their return game, especially on kickoff returns. The team waived return specialist Trindon Holliday before last week's game, and his replacement, Keshawn Martin, stepped in with mixed results.
Houston's special teams coach Joe Marciano is one of the most respected on the entire staff, but his job could be in jeopardy if the Texans special teams continues to underperform as it has this season.
Jared Crick Is the Next Man Up
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The Houston Texans defensive line rotation took a hit this week when it lost defensive end Tim Jamison for the season. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips uses his second-string defensive line often, and Jamison usually saw around 15-20 snaps a game.
Jamison's pass rush will be missed, but it's a perfect time for rookie Jared Crick to take on a bigger role. The fourth-round pick will have more opportunities to flash the pass-rush ability he showed as a Nebraska Husker.
It's important for the Texans to keep J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith fresh. Backup nose tackle Earl Mitchell is also capable of playing defensive end in the Texans' 3-4 base defense, so he will also need to step up in Jamison's absence.
The team also brought up former Houston Cougars defensive lineman David Hunter from the practice squad to fill Jamison's roster spot and provide depth.
Crick will be relied on the most right away, but the team will need contributions from its entire second-string defensive line going forward.
J.J. Watt Needs Help
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The other members of the Houston Texans defense not named J.J. Watt need to join the sack party. No one player should have more sacks than the rest of his entire team through six weeks, but that's just the case for Watt and this defense.
The Texans' defense has had no problem dominating the weaker offenses, but clearly had serious issues against the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers. The passing attacks from each of those teams exposed pass rush and coverage issues on the Texans' defense.
The defense has the talent capable of holding those offenses down, but it hasn't shown up enough on the field.
Through six weeks, Houston's outside linebackers have combined for just 2.5 sacks. Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin should be rushers who register 10 sacks a year each.
Sacks aren't everything, and there have been plenty of quarterback hits and hurries. Barwin has been close to landing a few sacks this year, and a questionable penalty took a strip-sack away from Reed.
Almost good enough isn't going to cut it, however, and the team will continue to have issues with elite offenses if Watt doesn't get help.
Clean Up Protections
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The Houston Texans offensive line hit rock bottom last week against the Green Bay Packers. It wasn't just one or two linemen ruining it for the bunch—the whole unit was slapped around by Green Bay's defense. Even the Texans' best offensive lineman, Duane Brown, had issues with Clay Matthews.
It was a horrible day for Houston's offensive line, but fans shouldn't expect a repeat poor performance this week against the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore doesn't pose nearly as much of a threat in pass protection as the Green Bay Packers did.
Paul Kruger, Courtney Upshaw and Albert McClellan have combined for just two sacks through six weeks. The group lacks explosive edge speed, which is exactly what the Texans have struggled with offensively.
The Texans need to clean up their protections and make sure Matt Schaub has a clean pocket to throw from. When the Texans protect Schaub, it usually means a big day for Houston's offense.