The Baltimore Ravens, sporting a 5-3 record and looking to extend their current winning streak to four games, head into Houston's Reliant Stadium for a rematch of the game originally scheduled for week two, that was postponed due to Hurricane Ike. Ike's devastation tore huge chunks out of the roof of the stadium and reduced the city of Houston to a windowless metropolis through it's gale force winds.
The Ravens hope to tear huge chunks of holes in the Texans front line of defense to open the door for their three headed rushing attack to dart through. Baltimore's Willis McGahee, Le'Ron McClain and rookie Ray Rice will have to decide between them who will have the stellar game this time around, as all have earned or shared that opportunity when it has been offered. If they continue their big games, then the pressure will be taken off of rookie Joe Flacco to go over the top to win this game for the Ravens. Not that Flacco can't or won't air the ball out. He has thrown 13 completions of over 20 yards in 2008, while the Ravens QB's of 2007 only had something like three in all of 2007 (can someone verify this stat?).
The Ravens offense has been maligned for years, but has come to life over the past three games, averaging 31 points. Of course, some of the credit must go to the defense, who has stepped it up this year, ranking #2 overall, and #1 against the run. Expect the Ravens to shut down Houston's rookie Steve Slaton, who has been having a good season. That leaves it up to backup QB Sage Rosenfels, who takes over for the injured Matt Schaub. The Texans have the 4th ranked offense in the NFL and had been putting up points in chunks themselves. However, that was behind Schaub, who was having a great year, helped out in part by thge NFL's top receiving threat, Andre Johnson. Johnson is big and fast, with great hands and will be tough to stop, despite the loss of Schaub. The Ravens will need to slide coverage towards his side of the field. At the same time, they can't neglect tight end Owen Daniels, who is quietly having a Pro Bowl season.
For the Ravens to win, they cannot give up the big plays, which have hurt them in their losses. While we know the Texans will have to throw to win, the Ravens will still be compromised with the loss of CB Chris McAlister to season ending knee surgery. Samari Rolle's return should be huge, and allow him and Fabian Washington to man the corners, with Frank Walker in the nickle and Corey Ivy in the dime packages. Anything we can do to slide those other corners further into secondary roles can only help our pass defense. Furthermore, putting pressure on Rosenfels should force him into the mistakes that the Ravens defense feasts on and would love to present as gifts to Flacco and the offense.
I expect the defense to step up once again and while I expect Johnson to get his touches and perhaps even a TD, they should be able to keep them off the board when it counts. This defense has been a bend-but-don't-break type of "D" and I expect the same today. Rosenfels will put up yardage, but his mistakes will be costly, as the Ravens offense is in sync and the running game should allow us to control the tempo and the clock. Flacco will be successful through the air, as his favorite target, Derrick Mason, is one of the best possession receivers in the game.
Ravens win and head into the Meadowlands next week for a tough battle with the New York Giants that will be a brutal defensive war. Let's get this one in the bag and go home to rest and get ready for the Giants.