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Texans at Ravens: Key Matchups

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The marquee battle of Week 11 presents major playoff ramifications. The 7-2 Baltimore Ravens will host the 6-3 Houston Texans with a chance to claim a tiebreaker advantage for a valuable postseason bye.

Bill O’Brien’s Texans exit their bye week leading the AFC South and have an impressive Arrowhead victory on their resume. John Harbaugh’s Ravens rebounded from a September slump with back-to-back statement wins in Seattle and over New England before delivering a beatdown in Cincinnati last Sunday.

This is an exciting showdown with two outstanding quarterbacks and many intriguing matchups.

Texans Offense vs. Ravens Defense

Houston boasts a well-rounded, efficient offensive attack quarterbacked by MVP candidate Deshaun Watson.

The Texans traded for Laremy Tunsil and selected offensive lineman in both the first and second rounds of the draft. These investments have paid dividends, a previously porous pass blocking unit has become an average group this season. Matthew Judon should find some success against rookie right tackle Tytus Howard, but bringing the elusive Watson to the turf is a difficult task.

Carlos Hyde is having a fine season as their lead back, Houston fields a top-five rushing offense. It will be important for Brandon Williams to hold his ground against powerful center Nick Martin. Baltimore will also need Jaylon Ferguson to set the edge and their inside linebackers to tackle well. Devoting extra numbers can effectively stop the run, but that strategy can lead to coverage issues.

Houston’s trio of wide receivers are among the best in the game. DeAndre Hopkins is an elite possession target who wins at the catch point. Will Fuller V, who is expected to return from injury, and Kenny Stills are dangerous vertical threats. Tight end Darren Fells and receiving back Duke Johnson are viable underneath options.

Fortunately, the Ravens excellent secondary personnel can matchup against their weaponry. Marlon Humphrey has the tools to shadow and limit Hopkins. Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith can run with the burners while Chuck Clark marks the underneath threats, allowing Earl Thomas III and Brandon Carr to take turns patrolling the backend.

Nevertheless, the Texans pose arguably the defense’s greatest challenge since their Week 3 trip to Kansas City. Watson’s dynamic skillset coupled with Houston’s versatility can move the ball against any alignment. Coordinator Don Martindale may be better off saving his most aggressive blitzes for the red zone.

Halting a couple possessions with takeaways should be the goal for this improving, opportunistic defense.

Ravens Offense vs. Texans Defense

Romeo Crennel’s defense is considerably better against the run than the pass.

The strength of their unit is at the second level with stout ‘Mike’ Benardrick McKinney, rangy ‘Will’ Zach Cunningham and edge rush specialist Whitney Mercilus. With J.J. Watt on injured reserve, nose tackle D.J. Reader leads their defensive line. Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards will probably not be as effective as usual against their strong front.

Without Watt, top shelf bookend tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. can be trusted to keep their bottom-third pass rush at bay. Coordinator Greg Roman should be able to deploy more pass catchers downfield. Even with the addition of Gareon Conley, the Texans secondary overall is below par.

Safety Justin Reid has done an admirable job of limiting tight ends this season, Mark Andrews could be a secondary target this week. The Ravens best matchup is the speed of rookie receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin. The offensive gameplay should feature route combinations that put the wideouts in space and allow them to uncover deep.

Houston will surely try to keep Lamar Jackson in the pocket, but without an exceptional defensive line, that aim has proven impossible. Lamar’s combination of supreme quickness, agility and speed is basically unstoppable. A few rare players are truly indefensible.

Roman could attack the Texans weakness with more three-wide personnel than usual. The Ravens can also pass to Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst from their heavy formations. The complexity of this offensive scheme will surely keep Houston guessing.

Lamar will have another opportunity to show off his intermediate and deep passing accuracy against a playoff contender. Executing the routine play calls and making the proper decisions on option runs should be enough to maintain the NFL’s top scoring offense.

Prediction:

These combatants feature two potent offenses capable of providing a shootout. They almost mirror each other, both are efficient in the air, on the ground and in the red zone. Jackson and Watson share some similarities as well.

The defenses, however, are quite different. Houston is built to stop the run while Baltimore is constructed to stop the pass. Expect the Ravens to prove that even when the weather turns, pass defense is undeniably more valuable than run defense in the modern NFL.

Ravens 30, Texans 20