The Baltimore Ravens have a big challenge this week as the Houston Texans come to Baltimore. The Texans are one of the best AFC teams this year with a 3-2 record and are hoping to bounce back after a tough loss to the Oakland Raiders last week.
The Ravens have historically had success versus Houston. In 2008, the Ravens, led by rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, beat the Texans decisively in a 41-13 victory, and last season, the Ravens pulled off a 34-28 overtime victory. The game last year was a frustrating game for the Ravens because they allowed the Texans to come back after a 21-7 halftime lead and force overtime.
There were many reasons why the Texans were able to come from behind and nearly win in last year's game, but the biggest reason was the lack of any real pass rush by the Ravens' defense. The Ravens were unable to pressure Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, who threw for nearly 400 yards in the game. As a result, the Ravens' defense was unable to get off the field, and that problem was compounded by the fact that the Texans were going for it on fourth downs in the second half.
Luckily for the Ravens, the defense intercepted Schaub in overtime and ran it back for a walk-off touchdown. The Ravens escaped Houston with a victory, and the Texans left thinking that they should have won the game since momentum was clearly on their side in overtime.
This season, the Texans are looking to start fast against the Ravens and come out of Baltimore with a win.
They are one of the most impressive teams on their first drive of games and have scored in all five of their first possessions this year. On the other hand, the Ravens are extremely tough in the first quarter, and if you don’t count the kickoff return by the New York Jets, the Ravens have not allowed a score in the first quarter so far this season. To be sure, this game will be won or lost when the Texans' offense is on the field. The Texans' best unit is their offense, and the Ravens pride themselves on defense. This will be one of the most interesting aspects of the game and as strength meets strength, something will have to give.
One of the biggest reasons why the Texans have so much success on their opening possession and why they are so dangerous in general on offense is because of their running game and outstanding offensive line. The Houston offensive line is playing as well or better than any line in football, and they're paving the way for Arian Foster, who was the league’s leading rusher last season.
The Houston offensive line will be the biggest obstacle for the Ravens' defense on Sunday. The Ravens have been very successful pressuring quarterbacks and stopping the run this season but may find it difficult versus the Texans.
Everything starts with the running game for the Houston Texans. They use the running game to soften the defense and get the passing game going. It’s a very effective strategy since most teams do not have an answer for the Texans' zone-blocking scheme. On top of having an excellent blocking scheme with great offensive linemen, Arian Foster’s dynamic running style perfectly compliments the blocking scheme.
Foster can run the zone stretch running plays better than any running back in the league right now, and that ability forces defensive fronts to play the run on the Texans' play-action plays. That keeps Schaub free from pressure on play-action plays and will often setup big plays down the field where corners will be forced to cover receivers one on one.
The Ravens actually match up well with the Houston Texans and their offensive line—maybe better than any team in the league. The Ravens' defensive line is extremely strong and athletic. They excel at stopping the run, but perhaps the most overlooked aspect of their run defense is their ability to set the edge.
Setting the edge is often the responsibility of the outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and simply means that the running game is forced back inside and is denied the sideline. It is critical against all running attacks but is particularly important against zone-blocking schemes, which try leading the defensive line one way to open up a backside running lane in the other direction.
The entire defensive line needs to work together to stop this type of attack, but the key players for the Ravens are going to be outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson. Johnson may be one of the most underrated linebackers in the league at defending the run.
The Ravens should be able to stop the Texans' running game by denying them the outside running lanes and forcing the play to the inside, where defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and middle linebacker Ray Lewis can make the tackles. If they can stop the running game, the Texans will become one-dimensional on offense and will be forced to throw the ball. That’s not an automatic victory since Schaub is a good veteran quarterback, but it will still be a huge advantage for the Ravens…especially with the Texans' best receiver, Andre Johnson, sidelined for the game.
The Texans' defense will also be tough for the Ravens to crack. They have improved since last season and have been pressuring quarterbacks so far this season. They have racked up 15 sacks so far but will be without their best player on defense for the remainder of the year after defensive end Mario Williams was recently placed on injured reserve.
The Ravens' offense versus the Texans' defense probably won’t be the matchup that decides the game. The Ravens just need to do enough on offense to put some pressure on the Texans' offense and not lose the game.
The Ravens' offensive line needs to set the tone against the Texans' defense and pave the way for running back Ray Rice. The Ravens should take some shots down the field, but the running game will be the key to success versus the Texans. Getting Rice going versus the Texans' defense will not only keep their pass rush in check, but it will also burn the clock and keep the defense fresh on the sidelines.
The Ravens' offensive line matches up well against Houston's defensive line. The Ravens need to be prepared early in the game because the Houston defense is energetic and fast. They rely on speed more than strength and will get off blocks and outrun blockers early in the game. They are built to play with a lead and pressure quarterbacks that are playing from behind. If the Ravens stay committed to the run and mix up their game plan early, they should be able to wear out the Houston front seven and grind out the game on the ground.
Ultimately, the Ravens match up very well against the Texans on both side of the ball. The game will be decided when the Houston offense and the Baltimore defense is one the field, and with their excellent front seven, the Ravens must love their chances. They should be able to pull off a decisive victory against a quality AFC opponent.