I got to talk to Brett Kollman about the Houston Texans and what they have going on. After answering a few of his questions, Brett answered some of mine. I got to learn a lot about the Ravens' next opponent, the Houston Texans and their quarterback situation as well as what the Ravens can do to minimize the ability of superstar J.J. Watt.
Q1: The top storyline going into this matchup is exactly who will be the quarterback for the Texans. Given the fact that whoever is lined up behind center is going to have the Ravens defense coming for them hard and fast, who do you think gets the nod and do you think they can do something against a Ravens secondary that is the most banged up in all of the NFL?
A: My best guess is Case Keenum will get the start because he spent the entire summer in Bill O'Brien's system and at least has a modicum of chemistry with the receivers, but it is still very much up in the air. O'Brien said he will not announce the starter until kickoff, which is likely an attempt to try to get the Ravens to prepare for two quarterbacks at once. Either way, I don't anticipate Keenum or Thad Lewis having a ton of success against a Baltimore front seven that is playing out of it's damn mind right now. This might not be pretty.
Q2: JJ Watt is in the major running for the MVP award and should get it based on how much of an impact he has made for the Texans all year long. How can the Ravens minimize his impact in this matchup?
A: I have gotten this same question several times this season, and as a response I have developed a somewhat form answer. "I used to give somewhat realistic answers to this question, but over the course of this season it's become pretty apparent that you simply can't stop J.J. Watt. It just doesn't happen. That option no longer exists. He will do what he does, and the opposing offense generally just has to sit there and take it. Short of triple teams and three step drops on every pass play, it's virtually impossible to slow down Watt let alone stop him outright. As a Ravens fan, you have seen what he can do before plenty of times, but there have been multiple occasions this year where opposing fans who had never seen him play live before -- namely fans from NFC East teams -- refused to believe that one man could do all that damage. Without fail, after every matchup with those NFC East teams the same opposing fans would return with a completely opposite outlook on Watt. "Oh there is no way Watt can stop us by himself," Washington fans said. "He is not as good as Lawrence Taylor," asserted the Giants faithful. "Tyron Smith will shut him down," bragged the Cowboys supporters. "We will wear him down by half time," thought the Eagles. Each and every one of them were more wrong than the last, and some of my personal highlights of the season have been watching their initial reaction to Watt's greatness every week. It was like seeing children open Christmas presents for the first time... if those Christmas presents were shock, disbelief, and despair."
Q3: Gary Kubiak is coming back to play his former team. With how the Ravens have responded in these types of matchups this year, what new wrinkles do you expect from this offense going against a team that Kubiak should know fairly well and how do you see the Ravens attacking?
A: Gary Kubiak and "new wrinkles" never really went well together in Houston. He did the same thing each and every week without fail and pretty much refused to adjust anything ever. I expect Kubiak to do the same thing he's always done - zone stretch, zone stretch, bootleg with a deep crossing route to Owen Daniels and/or Torrey Smith. It's what has always worked for him, and it's what he will always do. Lucky for him, it's (mostly) always worked.
Q4: Andre Johnson has played his entire career in Houston and is seemingly becoming more agitated at the idea of finishing his career there. He clearly isn't the same guy he was earlier in his career, but do you think he can have a Steve Smith type of resurgence if he were to change locals?
A: I think he can have a Steve Smith type of resurgence if he changes quarterbacks rather than locals. Matt Schaub, T.J. Yates, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, Thad Lewis, and Tom Savage are all bad signal callers in their own unique ways. The only good passer he has had an opportunity to play with in the last two years (in my opinion) was Ryan Mallett, and he lasted exactly one game before getting hurt. If and when Mallett comes back strong next season, I expect Andre's production to spike once again.
Q5: What is your prediction for this game?
A: I honestly expect the Texans to lose this one. The Ravens may be absolutely decimated by injuries, but at least their quarterback isn't Case Keenum or Thad Lewis. That alone should give them a huge advantage. Ravens 20 - Texans 9.