The Baltimore Ravens play on the prime time stage for the second week in a row, this time on Monday Night Football against the Houston Texans. The Ravens historically have not fared well on prime time as evidenced by last week's demoralizing last minute 13-10 loss to AFC North division rival Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that might have decided the AFC North title. However, the Ravens are still firmly in charge of their own playoff fate and a win on national TV will go a long way to proving their worth.
After last week's poor offensive showing, the Ravens have a chance to right the ship against one of the worst statistical defenses in the NFL. Both Head Coach John Harbaugh and especially Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron were under fire for the questionable playcalling in the Steelers loss. Putting lots of points on the board should give Ravens' faithful confidence that the offensive weapons brought in here in the off season are being put to their best use for a team that has usually earned it's tough reputation on the defensive side of the ball.
The defense is still doing their job and while it may not be up to typical top-rated defenses of season's past, it is still good enough to join in a win if the offense could just put more points on the scoreboard. Houston might be just what the doctor ordered and if the Ravens can get a lead early in the game, they can control the line of scrimmage where the game will be decided. A lead will take the NFL's leading rusher, Arian Foster of Houston, out of the gameplan and force Texans QB Matt Schaub to air it out. While Schaub has perhaps the best target in the NFL in Andre Johnson, if the Ravens can pin their ears back and harass Schaub and double-team Johnson, they can force him into turnovers to put the game out of reach.
Offensively, the Ravens should be able to move the ball on both the ground and through the air. The team needs to know when to use both ways to gobble up yards and control the game clock. Too often the playcalling has been the opposite of what appears to be the right play to call at critical times. In all four of the Ravens losses, they have enjoyed a lead in the fourth quarter, only to see it slip away and lose. That will need to change as the post season is a one-and-done scenario.
Watching the New England Patriots, without a doubt the top team right now in the NFL, dismantle other playoff contenders such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New York Jets and the Chicago Bears, and never take their collective feet off of the gas pedal and score as many points as they could, is what Ravens fas want to see from this team starting tonight. Everyone agrees that the pieces are in place for this type of offensive output, now the only thng missing is the playcalling and the execution of those plays.
The pressure to win is on the coaching staff and most directly, QB Joe Flacco, to remain calm and collected, earning that "Joe Cool" label by having the pocket presence to see the defense and make the call or adjust at the line of scrimmage in the face of adversity. Make no bones about it, the Houston Texans have some solid defensive players in DE Mario Williams and LB Brian Cushing, but they are not the Steelers defense in any way, shape or form.
Expect Offensive Coordinator to do his best to put on a show and release the reins on Flacco to go airborne, and to get Ray Rice the ball on the ground and in the flats on swing passes to test the Texans defense. Defensively, look for Terrell Suggs to continue what is looking to be the best season of his career. Don't forget about Ray Lewis in the middle making the calls and plays that continue to amaze others who are still seeing what us Ravens fans have come to expect as a weekly occurrence from #52.
The Ravens should dismantle the Texans and while their offense is too good to shut down, they should be able to outscore them and wear them down in the latter stages of the game to a point that a last minute comeback is out of the question. A win will keep them firmly in the hunt of the playoff race and within striking distance of the AFC North division leading Steelers.