The 3-2 Houston Texans come into M&T Bank Stadium to play the 3-1 Baltimore Ravens this afternoon tied for first place in the AFC South but reeling from devastating injuries to two of their biggest stars. The loss of both WR Andre Johnson on offense and LB Mario Williams on defense seems like just too much of a hole for the Texans to dig themselves out of, especially on the road against a tough team that even the benefit of having those two might still not make the difference between winning and losing.
Other than a close win over the unusually average Steelers, the other two wins for Houston have been over the winless Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins. Their two losses have been at the New Orleans Saints and the Oakland Raiders. Despite their solid offense, it appears that the Texans are better than the bad teams but just not good enough to beat the good ones in the league.
What appears to be the case here is that while they can be a fast and high-scoring offense, the Texans are just not a physical team and can be man-handled on both sides of the ball. Even though they beat the Steelers 17-10, the score could have and should have been a lot worse, but Houston constantly hurt themselves with way too many poor and untimely penalties.
The offense is based on the ability of their running game to draw the opposing defense towards the line of scrimmage and then let QB Matt Schaub find one of his solid receivers for big gains. When Andre Johnson was healthy, the quick strike was deadly and effective, but without him, they seem to look more for their capable tight ends in the middle of the field.
Unfortunately, do not expect RB Arian Foster to have anywhere near the success that he has had against the less physical teams, as the Ravens defense is not only much bigger and stronger than anything Houston has faced this season, but faster as well. That means Baltimore will be ready for the Texans passing attack and without that big play guy like Andre Johnson, the thought that two tight ends will strike fear in the Ravens secondary is just not enough to lead the visitors to victory.
Across every national publication, TV and radio show that picks the winners of NFL games, there has not been a single one predicting a Texans victory. Of course, those "experts" are not always right, but this game should not be the tough one that many people expected when they saw the schedule first come out this summer. For the most part, no one really expected the Texans to have these injuries that totally changed their reputation and not too many really expected the Ravens defense to be so strong and opportunistic.
The Ravens defense has scored as many touchdowns (4) as they have given up in 2011, an amazing statistic even after only four games. Leading the league in points-allowed, their defense has confused opponents and caused them to turn the ball over which has led not only to those four defensive TDs but also to short fields for the offense to take advantage of.
The Ravens will be able to run the ball on Houston, which will nicely set up the passing game to move the chains. Ball control has been a huge advantage for Baltimore, and the development of the Ravens young tight ends will show Houston that they are not the only ones with tight ends who can catch and run. However the ravens also have both Anquan Boldin and the rookie speedster, Torrey Smith, who can and will contribute today.
The loss of two big names will not be the reason the Texans will lose to the Ravens this afternoon, but it might be part of the reason they lose by so many points. So far in 2011, the least point differential in the Ravens three wins has been by 17 points and their average margin of victory, the best in the NFL is 25 points.
Baltimore is just much more talented on both sides of the ball, with the defense being so much better than anything Houston will see in 2011. The combination will overwhelm the Texans as the Ravens do not give up the big plays that Houston would need to make the game competitive as Baltimore stays ahead of the pack in the AFC North and moves to 4-1 heading into a week 7 nationally-televised Monday Night Football Game at the Jacksonville Jaguars.