The Baltimore Ravens travel to Houston to face the Texans in a game that was originally scheduled for week two, but Hurricane Ike had other plans for the Gulf Coast that weekend. Both teams were forced to take early Byes, and are now in the midst of playing an NFL long 15 straight weeks without a break. However, the Ravens might be catching the Texans at a good time for us, as the injury bug has hit them real hard over the past week or so. Both starting QB Matt Schaub (knee) and leading tackler, LB Zac Diles (broken leg), have been placed on IR and are out for the remainder of the season. The Texans lost at Minnesota last week (28-21) and enter the game with a 3-5 record, tied for last place in the AFC South, while the Ravens are coming off an impressive comeback win on the road in Cleveland and enjoy a 5-3 record, good for second place a game behind the division leading Pittsburgh Steelers.
So then, how do the Ravens go on the road for the second week in a row and third in the last four games, with the hopes of extending their winning streak to four straight? All they need to do is come here to Baltimore Beatdown and follow the opinions in this posting and those of the well written comments that soon will follow at the end of this rant. So, Coach John Harbaugh, lead your staff here, as I'm sure you follow us at Baltimore Beatdown, as it appears that you have gameplanned recently based on our recommendations and while we need no recognition for the credit of your success, it would be nice to know you're welcome.
Defensively, the Texans rank 17th overall, allowing 328 yards per game while their scoring defense is 27th, giving up over 26 points each game. Their run defense ranks 23rd, giving up an average of 126 yards/game, while their pass "D" is 14th, giving up just over 200 yards per game. The Ravens have faced a couple of top five defenses so far in 2008 (Pittsburgh, Tennessee) and look forward to moving the ball like they did last week when they led the entire NFL in scoring (37 points-yes, that's not a typo!). As noted above, the Texans also lost their leading tackler, yet still have former overall first pick in the draft in defensive end Mario Williams, who is well on his way to another Pro Ball season.
However, the Ravens should be able to move the ball against the Texans, combining a mixture of running the ball with their three-headed rushing attack. Normally I'd add, led by Willis McGahee. However, after rookie Ray Rice's 154 effort in last week's win, and Le'Ron McClain's five rushing TD's this season, it's hard to pick a leader in the rushing attack. The good news is that it appears that no matter who receives the handoffs from Joe Flacco, they will enjoy success as they have all season, as the Ravens running game is ranked #4 in the league. Speaking of Joe Flacco, the Ravens QB was named the Offensive Rookie-of-the-Week for the second time this season based on his stellar game against the Browns. He has gone three straight games without a turnover and it is no coincidence that the Ravens have won all three. If they hope to continue this streak, he will have to continue his growth by showing the remarkable poise and calmness he has shown so far. If he does, then the combination of the run game along with the huge strides in the air attack should propel this team to victory for the fourth game in a row.
Of course, we cannot end a breakdown of how to beat the Ravens' opponent without continuing to promote the league's #2 ranked overall defense (#1 against the run, #4 against the pass), who is giving up just over 17 points per game (6th in league). If the Ravens can get a handle on their lone weakness in Special Teams, then they can lower their points allowed, as they have permitted the opponents to start with great field position due to their inability to contain the punt and kickoff returners who have consistently broken off huge returns against the Ravens. On the flip side, the Texans offense is ranked fourth in the NFL (16th-run; 5th-pass; 10th points scored), but of course, that was before starting QB Matt Schaub was lost for the season to injury. However, replacement Sage Rosenfels has started before and still has All Pro wideout Andre Johnson and reliable tight end Owen Daniels as targets. Johnson is enjoying perhaps his finest season ever and has been very difficult to shut down. Hopefully the Ravens defensive backs will get help to contain him, and can pressure Rosenfels enough so as not to give him the time to find the open receiver. Rookie Steve Slaton leads the Texans in rushing, but should be shut down by the Ravens who have not allowed a 100 yard rusher in 27 straight games.
All in all, the stats are there for all to see that if both teams play to their levels, the Ravens should leave Houston's Reliant Stadium with a 6-3 record, and head back on the road for one more week against the NY Giants before finally returning home to host the Philadelphia Eagles in Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium on November 23rd.
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