10 Reasons to Believe the Houston Texans Can Upset the Ravens on Sunday
With the glow of the first playoff win in team history starting to wear off, the team and the fans have begun to set their sights on another first in Texans franchise history: the second round of the NFL postseason.
With the Ravens heavy home favorites and Tebowmania running wild across the country, no one is even talking about this game and if they do they are giving little chance to the Texans.
But is an upset possible? Sure, anything is possible in the NFL playoffs. But is it likely? Let's take a look at some reasons why it could happen for the resilient Texans.
The Pressure Is All on Baltimore
For all of the talk about how tough of a game it is going to be for Houston, people are forgetting that they're playing with house money right now. The Ravens, on the other hand, have all the pressure in the world set squarely on their shoulders.
In their first home playoff game since the 2000 season, the Ravens entered the season with high expectations. Anything short of a Super Bowl berth and they feel like they have underachieved. But with a first-round bye comes the expectation that you are one of the four best teams in the entire NFL.
With a crowd behind them, that is a huge home-field advantage, but Baltimore fans have been known to get hostile towards an underachieving team, so if Houston can control the noise and get Baltimore on their heels, they could get the Ravens desperate and force them into making mistakes.
Andre Johnson Will Play This Time
A lot of people keep referencing the game that these two teams played back in October, and why not? It's the template for what to expect in a head-to-head matchup in the same stadium. But what people tend to forget about that game is that Andre Johnson wasn't active.
If the stout Baltimore defense has a weakness, it's their shoddy secondary. This was proven the last time these two played and Jacoby Jones caught a long touchdown pass in tight coverage, something he hasn't done much of this year.
With Andre Johnson back and ready to perform on a national stage, you would be a fool to think that he makes little to no difference for Chuck Pagano and how he is going to script his defensive game plan differently than in Week 6.
Arian Foster Won't Play That Poorly Again
Another thing about that 29-14 defeat at the hands of the Ravens earlier this year is that Arian Foster had likely his worst game of the season. Arian was held to 49 yards on only 15 attempts. He also dropped several passes that stalled key drives late in the game. He played so poorly that he apologized to the fans and proclaimed that it would be the last time that he didn't come to play.
While it is very tough to run on Baltimore, it isn't impossible. They gave up 100-plus yards in half of their games this season, including the final three. If Ryan Mathews can have a big game against the Baltimore defense, one would have to believe that Arian Foster could do it with a better offensive line and some dude named Andre back to stretch the field.
With Andre out last time they played, Baltimore simply stacked the box and dared Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones to beat them. It worked once or twice, but the dropoff from Andre Johnson to those guys is immeasurable. No way does Arian Foster play that poorly again, and you can count on the coaching staff to find ways to run the ball that didn't work last time.
The Texans Are Due Against Baltimore
In the history of the franchise, the Texans have never defeated the Baltimore Ravens. In a season of many firsts, including a division title, a playoff berth and a playoff victory, they'd sure love to cross this one off the list, too.
These two teams seemingly play almost every year for whatever reason and the result is always the same: Baltimore finds a way to win. However, dating back to the Monday night thriller these two played last season, Houston has had many opportunities to win the past couple of games and simply didn't execute.
I never say that momentum or heart or any of those other made up statistics are worth anything, but if ever a team was due against another one, it would be the Texans against the Ravens.
This has to be the most glaringly obvious one.
Joe Flacco is probably the most mediocre "winning" quarterback in the league not named Tim Tebow. He has a great arm and can make plays under pressure, but his decision making and ball-handling are both suspect. Not only did he throw 12 interceptions this year, but he fumbled the ball just as much. The guy is a turnover machine when you're getting after him.
What infuriates Ravens fans so much about Flacco is his inconsistency. He will come out and look like a stud one week and then lay an absolute egg the following game. If the Texans have a real shot at winning this game, it all starts with the pass rush in the hopes of making Joe Flacco miserable.
Winning the Turnover Battle
As I mentioned in the last slide, Joe Flacco is quite prone to putting the ball on the turf or in opposing defenses' hands. If you lose the turnover battle on the road, you have no shot. And running a rookie quarterback on the field against a team that has historically harassed young quarterbacks, it would be a safe bet that Yates will turn the ball over at least once.
Both teams are excellent at forcing turnovers, as evidenced by the Texans ending the season plus-seven and the Ravens plus-two. This is always the case with two nasty defensive units like these. But nothing can help an offense get going faster than a sloppy turnover on the wrong side of the field.
For Houston to have even a marginal shot in this game, they have to play about as perfectly as they can on ball protection and force the other guys into making the mistakes.
The Houston Defense Is Just as Good as Baltimore's
For the last decade-plus the Baltimore Ravens have built the reputation of being one of, if not the best defense in all of football and it's still true. But what is also true is that some of their core players are getting quite long in the tooth.
The Texans represent the best statistical defensive unit still left in the playoffs this year. They're young, hungry and playing with a Texas-sized chip on their shoulder. They turn the ball over, get to the quarterback and are quite successful at stopping the run.
So for everyone who thinks the Texans offense will struggle against the Ravens' stellar D while Baltimore rolls hasn't been watching much this season. Houston has playmakers all over the field on the defensive side of the ball and some guy named Wade Phillips undoubtedly working on something extra special for Mr. Flacco.
The Texans Running Game Edges out the Ravens
There is no debating how good of a running back matchup we have this weekend between Arian Foster and Ray Rice. Both are capable of taking a game over and have, at times, put their respective offenses on their collective backs. But what the Ravens don't have is a strong change-of-pace runner like Ben Tate.
Sure, I realize that many of you are yelling "Ricky Williams!" at me right now, but really? Sure, Ricky has cleaned up for Rice a bit this year, but Ben Tate is younger and has game-breaking ability. Remember, he did almost rush for 1,000 yards despite being used quite sparingly after the bye in Week 11.
As far as Rice and Foster, both are what makes their team go. If they have a bad game, both of their units struggle to move the ball. And while both are awesome running the ball, they are both quite dangerous receiving the ball out of the backfield. If one has a big game this week and the other one doesn't. it's a pretty safe bet the former's team will be headed to Championship Sunday.
Catch Baltimore Looking Towards Next Week
I decided to listen to some Baltimore sports talk radio this afternoon because I was looking for some feedback that wasn't a homer message board or website and what I heard kind of surprised me. I won't mention the station, but you can easily find it on iHeart radio on your iPhone, but I digress.
What I heard on there was so little about Houston that it rather shocked me. The hosts, guests and callers were all talking about if they would be facing the Broncos or Patriots on Championship Sunday. Not, "if they beat the Texans" or anything resembling that.
I'm not sure if that's the attitude that the team has in their minds, but if it is the Texans can exploit that. When you're a heavy road underdog, the formula for success is to hang around as long as you can. If the game is close in the fourth quarter, the favorite starts to get nervous and makes mistakes by trying to go for the home run. Houston just needs to stay close and wait for a Ravens' mistake to come to them.
The NFL Loves a Cinderella Story
All season long the Texans have faced, and overcome, more adversity than I can recall one NFL team doing since I've been watching the game. A lot of people like to reference the Packers last season who won the Super Bowl after placing 17 players on the injured reserve and I'm taking nothing away from that. But they never lost Aaron Rodgers for the season. People tend to forget that Houston is on their third-string quarterback who is a fifth-round rookie from the ACC. That's the kind of stuff you can only find in a movie script.
In 17 games this season, the Texans have lost arguably their best defensive player in Mario Williams, their best offensive player in Matt Schaub and maybe the best wide receiver in football in Andre Johnson for the majority of it. Yet, here they are in a position to shock the world...again. But the average fan doesn't know about it because of Tebowmania, which is of course another Cinderella story.
Trust me, hardly anyone in Houston is confident of the Texans' chances this Sunday. But did anyone think the Broncos had a prayer to win against the Steelers last week? The NFL playoffs don't care about what you've done in the past, who the favorite or underdog is or who should win or not.
But it loves a good Cinderella.