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Ravens vs. Texans: 5 Key Matchups

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Green Bay Packers Appleton Post-Crescent-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens host the Texans in primetime on Monday night. The majority of AFC contenders were unimpressive on Sunday and the Ravens currently find themselves a half game back of Buffalo for a wildcard spot. As healthy favorites at home against an injury ravaged team, this is absolutely a must win game for Baltimore.

Five key matchups:

RB Alex Collins vs ILB Benardrick McKinney

Collins has earned the role of Ravens feature back. He logged 20 carries along with his first touchdown last week against Green Bay. Collins runs with power and burst, which has helped him average five yards per carry behind an inconsistent offensive line. McKinney, an All-Pro last season, leads Houston’s 6th ranked run defense. This thumper with range has 62 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble this season. The battle between these two will likely determine if the Ravens offense receives manageable third down situations.

LT Ronnie Stanley vs OLB Jadeveon Clowney

Stanley is expected to return after missing Week 11 due to a concussion. The former 6th overall pick has been a better run blocker than pass blocker this year. He will square off against former #1 overall pick Clowney, who is equally adept against the run and pass. He paces the Texans middle of the road pass rush with eight sacks in ten games. Season ending injuries to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus have left Clowney as their only remaining feared pass rusher on what was expected to be a ferocious front. If Stanley can neutralize Jadeveon, Joe Flacco should have ample time to go through his progressions.

WR Mike Wallace vs CB Kareem Jackson

Wallace has just 323 yards this year for Baltimore’s struggling passing offense. However, he has scored touchdowns in each of the last two games and has a prime opportunity to make some plays downfield against a Texans defense that has allowed the most 40 plus yard receptions in the league. Jackson is a speedy 8 year veteran who has become their top corner following A.J. Bouye’s offseason departure. The Ravens will attempt to isolate Wallace on Jackson to create chunk plays.

CB Jimmy Smith vs WR DeAndre Hopkins

This marquee matchup features the best player of each team. Hopkins has been one of the top receivers in the NFL this season, with 62 catches for 879 yards and nine touchdowns through ten games. He has continued to produce at a high level with Tom Savage under center and posted 76 yards with a score against star cornerback Patrick Peterson last week. An uptick in press man coverage has enabled Smith to develop into a bonafide shutdown corner. Three interceptions paired with his extremely impressive coverage results prove Jimmy is an All-Pro caliber defender. Coordinator Pees will hopefully allow Smith to shadow Hopkins all over the field.

SS Tony Jefferson vs TE C.J. Fiedorowicz

Fiedorowicz was activated from injured reserve before Week 10, but has secured just two catches per game after a breakout season in 2016. The big tight end will serve as Savage’s second option because #2 receiver Will Fuller has been ruled out for the game. Baltimore has tightened up their coverage on tight ends after being gashed early in the year. Jefferson in particular has become more comfortable in the defense recently while utilized closer to the line of scrimmage. Eric Weddle will be roaming the backfield at the free safety position, leaving Jefferson to mark Fiedorowicz underneath. Solid coverage on the tight end should allow the Ravens pass rusher to have success.

Prediction:

Joe Flacco continues to underperform despite downfield opportunities. Nevertheless, the Ravens defense proves their worth by completely stuffing the run, keeping Houston out of the end zone and generating three takeaways. Ravens 13, Texans 6