Ravens vs. Texans: 10 Keys to the Game for Houston
The most recent of which is the egg they laid against the Packers before a prime-time viewing audience on NBC Sunday Night Football. Trying to come back from that 42-24 beatdown should be enough incentive, but there is more to the story.
To go into their off-week with a single blemish on their record, some suggestions might be worth considering.
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The basis of any successful NFL defense today is a relentless pass rush combined with effective pass coverage. This places a tremendous burden on the cornerbacks to blanket the outside receivers.
When this formula does not work, as in the Texans’ loss to Green Bay, the alternative is pass defense in depth. Better known as zone coverage, the safeties must help the cornerbacks when they lose track of the men they are covering.
The difficulty for the Texans is they rely on one safety, Glover Quin, to back up the run defense and help on the pass rush. Just ask Jake Locker how well this approach works.
This leaves Danieal Manning as the lone safety to lend a hand. Johnathan Joseph is hurting and needs some assistance for the first time in his brief career with Houston. Kareem Jackson is still vulnerable to getting beat and having to recover with his back to the passer.
Manning also displays this same tendency, which is why he plays safety. Once he gets turned around, he is unable to make up the gap between him and the intended receiver.
If there is a page in the Texans’ defensive playbook where both safeties drop back and divide the field between them, it is now time to implement it.
Inside Linebackers Must Stop the Run
This connects directly to the zone coverage issue. Now that Brian Cushing is a casualty, Bradie James and Tim Dobbins are under the gun.
They must stop the run without the frequent support of Glover Quin...and be able to stunt on the pass rush when down and distance demands it.
These were the skills lost when Cushing went down, and few expect either one to fill his shoes for a full 60 minutes. But every so often, they must look like No. 56 is still on the field.
It can be debated whether Ray Rice is a 5’9” version of Arian Foster, with a similar set of running and receiving skills. This is one game where the Ravens back must be made to look more like Condoleezza Rice on the field.
A Five-Man Pass Rush
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Another link in the chain of adjustments that now compel everyone, short of J.J. Watt, to step their game up.
Should John Harbaugh, the Ravens head coach, decide Joe Flacco is able to pull off a reasonable impersonation of Aaron Rodgers, the Texans will have to step up their pass rush.
After falling behind 21-10 to Green Bay, the four-man rush that previously terrorized inferior quarterbacks turned into a vulnerability. Flacco and his big arm are the focus of a lot of attention, and his 8.1-yard average per attempt shows why.
Watt has 9.5 sacks and the rest of the defense has 6.5 between them. Connor Barwin’s shot at an eight-figure deal is slipping away, so time’s a wasting for his breakout game. It would also be the opportune moment for Whitney Mercilus to put all his observations from the sideline to good use.
Wade Phillips Must Open Up the Playbook
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We arrive at the final connection that completes the defensive chain. A man who has coached in five decades has seen all the NFL has to offer. If Phillips has been holding any tricks or exotic formations in reserve, he now must release the Kraken.
A loss to Baltimore, even a close one, would have Houston going into their bye week 5-2. Mathematically, the season would not be over. Psychologically, it might be so.
If this defeat comes down to not stopping the Ravens’ offense, the impact compounded with the losses of Brian Cushing and top DL backup Tim Jamison, could signal a death spiral.
Wade has watched his squads backslide in his second year, and it would be a shame for history to repeat itself.
Do Not Let Jacoby Jones Avenge His Release
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The Texans’ kick coverage team has been doing a great imitation of a cheap colander, ranking 26th in punt returns and 20th in kickoff returns. Somehow, it seems worse.
It is that one blown coverage that seems to happen every game. Last week, it was the 46-yard kickoff return by Randall Cobb that gave the Packers good field position. This was just after the Texans made the score 28-17.
Two plays later, a 48-yard Rodgers-to-Crabtree TD put the game further out of reach at 35-17.
Hopefully, Jones' record-tying 108-yard kickoff return got the long one out of his system. Don’t you know he would love to stick it to the home crowd that ran him out of town in the offseason.
Instead of a return, maybe he will do it with a catch-and-run Houston fans have seen him do in the past. That would definitely be “death spiral” material.
End Rotation on Right Side of OL
A concussion suffered by Antoine Caldwell put an end to it in the first quarter of the Packers game. It is not known at this point whether Caldwell will be cleared for the Ravens game. If he is good to go, put him in the lineup and leave Ben Jones on the pine.
The same holds true for the Derek Newton/Ryan Harris roulette affair. One of the keys to zone blocking effectively is the coordination of all the participants. Jerking players in and out of the game defies this principle and should be stopped.
If Gary Kubiak and OL coach John Benton do not know by now who are the best selections for the positions, they never will.
Decide Whether Martin or Jean Is the No. 3 Receiver
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Keshawn Martin was in for half the offensive snaps (36) Sunday night, and Lestar Jean had 14. Now that Jean is healthy again, do not short Keshawn’s time even though he only caught two of his six targets. Martin’s speed is a quality in short supply for Houston’s passing game.
Jean has the kind of physique the Texans look for in their wideouts at 6’3” and 210 lbs. But he is not a deep threat, and that is a missing element opposing teams are well aware of.
Subbing Martin for Kevin Walter more often would be an interesting strategy. It might even help the running game by forcing a safety to respect the long ball and not stack the line.
More Double Tight-End Sets
More two-TE sets, you say? But the Packers game featured that formation over half the time, and it failed to help the offense at all.
Poor execution does not mean it was a poor choice. It worked well enough in the five wins to start the season. Why abandon it now?
Maybe a new wrinkle needs to be added, just in case defenses are catching on. Instead of Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham together, pair one of them up with James Casey.
Casey has turned into a better blocker than expected, and pulling him out of the backfield might disguise the run somewhat.
Keep Foster out of the 'I'
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What ails Arian? The production is there, placing him fourth in the league with 633 total yards. But the efficiency is lacking.
In 2011, he averaged 5.56 per touch, but only 3.95 this year. The culprit of choice is the retooled offensive line with its revolving door on one side, and his all-plant diet runs a close second. If the line is the primary factor, maybe something other than turning vegan is to blame.
Foster is consistently lining up behind the quarterback seven yards off the line of scrimmage. Known as the “I” formation, it does allow the running back to build up a head of steam before hitting the hole. It also entails the linemen hold their blocks just a little longer for the ball carrier.
If the line is having trouble sustaining their control at the point of attack, then why not have the QB and RB get closer together in the formation? That could shave a half-second off the exchange of the ball and allow the back to make his cut sooner.
The Ravens rank 26th stopping the run. So if there are any looks where Foster can line up more like a halfback, this is the chance to spring them on an unsuspecting foe.
It may be too late in the season to do something more suited for training camp. But if the “I” is meant to be the “meat” of the running game, maybe the coaching staff should follow Arian’s lead and throw in a few veggies.
Forget the Packers Game
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So they stunk it up for the first time this season. And the defense was exposed for the first time since the Saints put 40 up last year. And they ran the ball so unconvincingly the 17th-ranked run defense of the Packers looked like it belonged to the 1985 Chicago Bears.
Like the relief pitcher who gave up the walk-off homer in the ninth, the breakaway steal that ended up in a missed dunk, or the goalie who let the game-winner slip through his glove, they have to put it out of their minds!
There is more to prove in this one game than any this franchise has played up 'til now.
In six meetings, the Ravens have always emerged the victors. They knocked the Texans out of last season’s playoffs largely because of a fumble by Jacoby Jones. Insult was added to injury when Baltimore turned around and picked him up after being released.
These remembrances are all the motivation Houston should require. All those No. 1 rankings that appeared beside their name in the preceding weeks make them look like paper tigers now.
Now take a page from Ozzy Osbourne: Go out there and bite the Ravens' head off!