With more than 35 percent of the 2012 NFL season complete, trends are becoming established patterns.
Baltimore’s win came at a steep price as they lost cornerback Lardarius Webb (knee) and linebacker Ray Lewis (triceps) for the year. And although 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs began practicing this week, he’s not expected to play for at least a month (side note: I’ve heard too many people say that the Ravens can’t afford to lose Lewis while those same people had previously said that he was too old and slow.)
Last season, the Ravens beat the Texans twice (both games in Baltimore). Further, the Ravens are undefeated against the Texans with an all-time record of 6-0 including the playoffs.
This week, Houston is favored by 6.5 points. The sentiment is shared by fans around town.
To avoid losing their second road game of the year, here are four keys to the game for the Ravens.
1. Follow the Packers’ game plan
Coincidentally, the strength of this Ravens team is offense. Baltimore’s receivers are fast, physical, savvy and are able to defeat press coverage. If they get going, it’s likely that Houston’s elite pass rush would be hindered.
Between the no-huddle, ‘spread-you-out’ offense that Joe Flacco has been engineering and Ray Rice gaining 5.9 yards per touch this season, Houston is going to have to defend a more versatile offensive attack this week than they defended last week.
Especially with Houston losing their middle linebacker (Brian Cushing, Week 5) for the year, Rice could gain 200 yards from scrimmage in this game.
Defensively, the Packers held Arian Foster to 29 yards on 17 carries (and two touchdowns). If the Ravens have anything close to that kind of success—minus the touchdowns, of course—it would be a good day for them.
2. Get off blocks
The Ravens have given up a combined 441 yards rushing to their last two opponents. That used to be six game’s worth for a Baltimore defense.
Nevertheless, Foster may be the best running back in football, and his offensive line is elite as well.
If there’s a silver lining, it's that the Chiefs and Cowboys ran similar schemes to what the Texans use. But if the Ravens want to stop the proverbial bleeding, they will have to stifle Foster—and Ben Tate—early.
To do that, Baltimore's defenders will have to get off of blocks. Their lateral movement has been fine, but they’ve been struggling to shed their blockers and clog running lanes.
As far as a complete rushing offense, this is the best that the Ravens will face all season. To win their matchups, Ravens defenders must win at the point of attack, impose their will and complete their assignments on every single play.
3. Communicate well
With their up-tempo offense and without Lewis aligning the defense on the fly, Baltimore will need to communicate very well in what is sure to be a noisy, hectic environment at Reliant Stadium.
Since training camp, Flacco has been able to organize the offense using a variety of signals and snap counts. The Ravens frequently practice with loud music and crowd noise. Sunday will obviously be a much tougher challenge, which will require them to remain focused on Flacco and his snap count at all times.
Baltimore has endured a raucous crowd before. Last year at Pittsburgh and at New England, both the offense and the defense were able to respond to their opponents making big plays by making big plays of their own.
Flacco will organize the offense, and Ed Reed will organize the secondary as usual. The only real change will be seen when fifth-year linebacker Jameel McClain is in charge of calling the defensive plays and organizing the front seven (McClain was able to do just that in 2011 when Lewis was out for four games—Baltimore was 4-0 during that span).
However McClain performs and communicates on Sunday will go a long way in determining if the Ravens can limit or even stop Foster and the Texans.
4. Make Houston stop your running game
Here are the averages for each player per rush and reception thus far in 2012:
Average yards per rush/reception:
If the Ravens get the lead early, they’ll be able to use their multiple formations to attack Houston’s defense, which will allow them to dictate tempo. If you control the run game, you control the clock.
In Week 5, Houston showed a vulnerability to the deep pass. While Flacco and his receivers have the tools to take advantage of such a flaw, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron would be well-served to keep Rice, Pierce and Leach heavily involved the offensive game plan.