The Ravens travel to Houston this week (or they might not, if Hurricane Ike has anything to say about it) to take on the Texans. Houston is already on my shit-list this season for coming out and laying down against the Squealers last week to the tune of 38-17. For a team that was supposedly improved after last season’s first .500 mark in franchise history, they sure looked like the Texans of old.
Gary Kubiak’s squad allowed “Slow” Willie Parker and the ‘yins’ ground game to rack up 183 yards on the ground, at the rate of 4.7 yards per carry. They only “allowed” 122 yards to Baby Ben through the air, but don’t be fooled: he was 13/14, and 2 of those went for touchdowns. The low output of the air attack was mainly because the game was over by midway through the 3rd quarter. On offense, the Texans were just as bad. Quarterback Matt Schuab was sacked 5 times and picked off twice, and they managed only 75 yards on the ground.
It was a rough day in Steeltown for Houston, and they will certainly be looking forward to coming home and showing their fans that they are a much better team than they showed in week 1.
The Ravens, unlike Houston, were on the right side of an absolute beat-down last week. The defense played like it was 2000 (or at least 2006), and will look to show that the performance was no fluke. Helping the cause will be Kelly Gregg, who practiced today and will get his first reps of 2008 coming off arthroscopic knee surgery. B’More also gets two players back from suspension, cornerbacks Derrick Martin and Fabian Washington. Washington, however, is still bothered by a neck injury, and may not play. Rex Ryan’s guys did a great job of putting the pressure on Carson Palmer last week, and will need to do more of the same. The Texans have 2 legitimate studs on their roster, one on each side of the ball. On offense, it is wideout Andre Johnson. Johnson doesn’t get much recognition since he has spent his career in Houston, but he has as good a combination of size and speed as any WR in the league. The Ravens could really use another strong performance by Chris McAlister, who was reportedly a bit hobbled on that injured knee earlier in the week.
The Texans’ other star is defensive end Mario Williams. Even in the sorry showing by his team last week, Williams still managed 2 sacks and a forced fumble. He will truly be a test for the Ravens’ 3-headed tackle monster of Jared Gaither, Adam Terry, and Willie Anderson, who will get some playing time this week. I mention all 3 of them because Williams doesn’t just come from one side – rather, he will jump from side to side on the line to cause matchup problems. Look for him to see which of the three gives him the least trouble, and attack from that side. Because of Williams, rest assured that Joe Flacco is having the mantra of “protect the ball!” beaten into his head ad nauseam this week in practice. Flacco’s calm, poised effort last week was definitely impressive for a rookie in his first NFL game, but it will be interesting to see if he can remain “Joe Cool” on the road in a VERY loud stadium in front of 70,000 fans trying to get in his head. You think they don’t know the value of rattling a rookie QB in Texas? These people live for football (admittedly, more high school than anything else, but still).
Also working against Flacco will be the fact that Coach Kubiak knows exactly how the Ravens will try to protect their rookie signal caller, especially after all the success the purple-and-black had on the ground against Cincy: run, run, run. Kubiak sounded very impressed with the Ravens’ ground game in an interview this week, so Houston will be ready for it. After one week, it looks like the “running back by committee” approach is in full effect in B’More. Ray Rice and “Le’Run” McClain split the carries last week, and now Willis McGahee is coming back into the mix, participating fully in practice on Wednesday. McGahee may have been “unofficially benched” by Coach Harbaugh last week, and he is probably chomping at the bit for his chance to regain his starting spot. While we’d all like to see Flacco take some more shots down the field (his longest completion in week 1 was 15 yards), look for Cam Cameron to continue with the quick routes, especially at the start of the game, to try to keep Williams at bay. Another thing Cameron is sure to have noticed is that the Squealers had success running right at Mario as he crashed upfield to try to get at the QB.
The first 20 minutes or so of this game will probably decide it. If the Ravens can jump out to an early lead, the will be able to get to work teeing off on Matt Schaub and using their very capable 3-man rushing attack to pound the Houston D into submission as they did to Cincy. If, however, the South Park Cows are able to get ahead, the prospects of Joe leading his first comeback victory on the road against a pass rush like Houston is capable of generating are….well, let’s just hope we can get the lead.
I picked a 2 touchdown loss last week, and we won. So I hesitate to do this, but….
Ravens 20 Texans 16