The last time that the Houston Texans visited the Baltimore Ravens they left with a loss. However, the also left with a preview of what they should expect to see from the Ravens this Sunday. While the Texans held their own in the first half of the game it was the second half in which they began to really lose control of the game. What began as a one point advantage over the Ravens, early in the third quarter, turned into a 15 point loss when time expired. But the Texans that are traveling to Baltimore this weekend are not those Texans.
Andre Johnson Returns
Andre Johnson did not play in the last meeting between these two teams. The fact that he will play this week will force the Ravens to gameplan differently than they did in week six of the regular season. If they place too much focus on Johnson, at wide receiver, then they leave RB Arian Foster open to create huge problems in the rushing game. Conversely, if they back off of coverage on Johnson and try to grind it out against Foster too much then Andre could break free for some huge plays down the field.
This fact alone makes the Texans a much more dynamic team. Previously the Texans were a more one-sided team, having to lean heavily on Foster’s ability to break off big runs. Unfortunately the Ravens had planned on that and held Foster to only 49 yards with no TDs. What this also meant is that the majority of the passes would be short or medium-yardage passes. WR Jacoby Jones did manage to run a great post route and capitalize on single coverage which netted him a 32-yard catch and TD but that was the only offensive highlight of the game.
Adding Johnson back into the mix not only creates match-up problems but also opens up the playbook for Coach Gary Kubiak and QB T.J. Yates. They will be able to stretch the field more and implement a more effective play-action pass game. Altogether, Johnson’s presence on the field is sure to contribute to a more successful offensive outing for the Texans this week.
The Linebackers Did Not Have an Identity Yet
If you consider some of the most effective defenses in the league you will surely be able to name at least a few linebackers who make that defense so successful. Think about the Ravens you think Ray Lewis; Green Bay Packers, Clay Matthews; Pittsburgh Steelers, James Harrison…and so on and so forth. For the Texans, though, they did not have that identity of being a great defense yet. Sure, they were steadily improving but they had not arrived yet.
This Sunday will be much, MUCH different. The Houston Texans line-backing corps, AKA The Bulls on Parade, has developed quite an identity. Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed occupy the OLB positions and have accounted for 17.5 sacks, 10 PDef, one forced fumble, and 70 tackles for the Texans. Barwin has been so disruptive this year, in fact, that he broke Mario Williams (and the franchise’s) previous 3.5 sack record for a single game when he accumulated four of his own against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
At the ILB are two of the most explosive linebackers in the league with DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing. These two players have amassed four sacks, two INTs, nine PDef, three forced fumbles, and 127 tackles. They have been the heart and soul of the line-backing corps and have been a major driving factor behind the defense’s success.
Altogether the linebackers for the Texans are evolved forms of their former selves. Ryans has continued to develop his technique and skill throughout the season, Cushing has become a vocal and physical leader of the defense, and both Reed and Barwin have grown almost exponentially in terms of football skills. This will be a new front seven that the Ravens will face in this week’s game!
This is a More Complete Defense
Going into this game the Texans defense will know approximately 30% more of Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips’ playbook than they did in their first meeting with the Ravens. What this means is that they have developed new looks, assignments, and coverages which will be implemented in this game. They will line up in ways that will force Ravens QB Joe Flacco to second-guess the plays that are being called and will disrupt the Ravens offense.
Additionally, the Texans defensive unit has continued to improve throughout the season. Both CB Johnathan Joseph and FS Danieal Manning have continued to develop into more complete, shutdown type players while assisting in the growing process of CB Kareem Jackson and SS Glover Quin. DE J.J. Watt has become a one-man wrecking crew while his counterpart, Antonio Smith, has done his part in making huge plays as well. Meanwhile, DT Shaun Cody is having one of his best seasons with a sack, two PDef, and a fumble recovery.
In years past the Texans have been known as a “finesse” team who was able to win games with a great offense and mediocre defense. This year they have both a great offense and a notorious defense. They have become a more complete team on both sides of the ball and, because of the “Next Man Up”, they will be the team to beat come this Sunday!