Ravens vs. Texans: A Matchup Preview for the Most Important AFC Game of 2012
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Are the Houston Texans a dominant force in the AFC or just a pretender feeding on the weak and infirmed of the AFC South?
The Week 7 showdown with the 5-1 Baltimore Ravens should help settle that question for the time being.
Here's everything you need to know about the biggest game the AFC will see this year.
What It Means
The Ravens hold the tiebreaker over the New England Patriots.
The Texans hold the tiebreaker over the Denver Broncos.
The winner of Sunday's game will hold the tiebreaker over the other.
With the entire conference languishing, the team that emerges victorious on Sunday will have the inside track on the top seed in the AFC. The winner will hold a one-game lead plus a tiebreaker.
If the Ravens win, it will be a sign that they've overcome their defensive injuries. It will mean serious questions still remain for the Texans.
If the Texans win, they'll sit atop the standings heading into their bye week, staring down a second half of the season featuring four winnable division games and only a few contests hearty enough to give them pause.
Matchup to Watch: Torrey Smith vs. Johnathan Joseph
A few weeks ago, this matchup would be seen as a strength for the Texans, but after the thrashing Aaron Rodgers delivered and the news that Joseph is battling a groin injury, it's now a serious concern for Houston.
Smith is as dangerous as any receiver in the league. He's not a high-volume target and has had three or fewer catches in four of his six games.
Instead, he's a big-play machine, averaging nearly 19 yards a catch on his 21 receptions. Despite the high YPR number, his catch rate is a strong 58 percent.
The Ravens will try to lull the Texans to sleep and then strike long with Smith. They'll also look for ways to get him the ball in space on short bubble screens.
Joseph has got to keep up with Smith and can't allow the kind of over-the-top reception that he surrendered to Jordy Nelson in Week 6.
If Smith get loose for big gains, the Texans could struggle to keep pace offensively.
Stat that Matters: 3.8
As much as the Texans want their offensive identity to revolve around the run game, they aren't a great running team. Their DVOA is only 10th in the NFL, and their yard-per-carry average is just 3.8, 25th in the league.
Baltimore's defense is middle of the pack when it comes to run-stopping, but its yards per carry allowed is also 3.8, 13th in the NFL.
If the numbers hold, it would seem that the Texans will likely struggle to run the football for much more than 3.8 yards a carry against the Ravens.
Biggest Advantage for the Texans
Baltimore is injured.
The Ravens defense was already nothing more than mediocre at best, but injuries to Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb have only further weakened it.
Houston doesn't have a great offense, and it becomes painfully pedestrian when forced to play from behind.
Against the Ravens, however, the Texans should have no problem generating long drives. The Ravens likely won't be able to shut down Andre Johnson the way most teams have attempted in 2012.
Johnson is on pace for one of the worst seasons of his career, in part because teams are keying first on taking him out of the game, knowing the awful Texans receiving corp is incapable of doing damage.
Though he had eight catches against the Green Bay Packers, they totaled just 75 yards. In his four previous games, he totaled just nine receptions.
Look for him to have a huge game against Baltimore.
Biggest Advantage for the Ravens
The Ravens have a strong special teams unit, and it'll need to take advantage of the Texans if they want the victory.
Houston has been bad in virtually all areas of special teams play, ranking above average only in field-goal kicking.
The Ravens have been outstanding at running back and covering kicks, as well as in kicking and punting.
In what promises to be a high-scoring game, the extra yardage on kick returns could be the boost the Ravens need.
Best Video Only Tangentially Related to the Game
Language not safe for work, but funny nonetheless.
Houston Will Win If...
Houston is going to put up 24-plus points in this game, but the victory will rest on the defense.
The Texans need to find a way to get pressure on Joe Flacco. Obviously, J.J. Watt is going to be disruptive, but the Houston blitz will have to land with pressure from more than one angle.
Flacco loves to look long and has a passer rating over 100 when throwing the ball 20 yards or more downfield.
With the secondary struggling, the best way to keep the Ravens off the scoreboard will be to get in Flacco's face and force checkdowns.
If Flacco is under pressure all game long, the Texans will come out on top.
Baltimore Will Win If...
If Baltimore can put up 30 points and force the Texans to pass more than they want, the Ravens could pull the upset.
Ray Rice is dynamic running and receiving, and Houston gives up yards in the middle of the line to good backs.
The Ravens are going to have to hit long plays. Houston doesn't mind giving up slow, methodical drives, because eventually J.J. Watt will make a play.
The key to beating Houston is quick-strike offense. Rodgers hit up the Texans for plays of 41, 24, 21, and 48 yards and picked up another pass interference call for 28 yards.
Look for the Ravens to try the same formula.
If Baltimore was healthy, it would be easier to like its chances.
The Texans are unlikely to drop consecutive home games. In the end, Watt will be the difference in a close contest.
Houston 28, Baltimore 24
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