The Baltimore Ravens cruised past the Bengals (as they should have) and now look forward to a much different opponent in the Houston Texans. This Texans team will certainly not be a cake walk by any means. Led by Bill O’Brien and Deshaun Watson, they are in the midst of a tight division race and playing for another playoff berth.
A name that you won’t be hearing on Sunday is J.J. Watt. Watt is out for the remainder of the season with a pectoral tear. This Texans team is a threat to put points on the board at any time with the offense that has been implemented. Watson is in the race with Lamar Jackson for MVP, for legitimate reasons. He’s the type of quarterback that puts the team on his back and carries them when necessary.
Baltimore did make some quick additions this week to bolster their defensive line with Domata Peko and Justin Ellis. These are both veterans that will look to help the depth moving forward for a playoff push with Michael Pierce potentially sidelined.
The Ravens will have to play a tough, smart and physical football game to come out with a win at “The Bank” on Sunday. Players from both sides of the football will need to get adjusted to the style of the game quickly without any hiccups. Let’s look at five players that you should be watching Sunday.
The combination of Domata Peko and Justin Ellis:
As noted above, the Baltimore Ravens signed a few more veteran pieces to the mid season roster by adding Domata Peko and Justin Ellis. This doesn’t bode well for the availability of Michael Pierce, but Peko and Ellis play a very similar game and have been around for a long time. You may remember Peko from his time with the Cincinnati Bengals during his 11 year run with the organization. Justin Ellis was a former Raider that manned the defensive tackle position during a time when the organization was in flux. Both players are physical at the point of attack and are able to be stopgaps against the run and bring interior pressure. These are great depth moves for a team lacking defensive line players.
The question is, how will these players be used moving forward? Sunday will be a great opportunity for both players to be involved, with Michael Pierce possibly not playing or at the least being limited. When you’re watching the game, look for Peko and Ellis to get significant game reps to see what they’re made of.
The Ravens recently released Cyrus Jones who was their primary punt return man. This move clearly shows the confidence that the Ravens coaching staff has in De’Anthony Thomas. Thomas was a former Kansas City Chief that had troubles with turning the ball over, but always had the speed to make up for the turnovers. The Ravens picked him up before the Bengals game to insert him immediately into the starting punt return role. Baltimore simply needs someone who isn’t going to muff punts and turn the ball over. The Ravens can rely on Lamar Jackson and the offense to do the rest.
This is a lot of weight on his shoulders in the ladder part of the season. How will Thomas respond to being handed the job after short weeks of practice and only one game of action?
Lamar Jackson has won three Offensive Player of the Week honors this season and two in back-to-back weeks. Jackson is clearly the most exciting player to watch in the NFL this season and he continually improves in both the passing game and his decision making. Jackson is able to gain a rematch against his former conference foe in Deshaun Watson. Both of these quarterbacks are in the MVP conversations for good reason. How will Lamar respond to all of the MVP talk? Jackson is a player that seems to be focused on winning and no other outside noise. As the pressures of the season mounts, this can change with a blink of an eye. Lamar must continually press forward against a team that he may see again in the playoffs.
A lot of players in this league grow big headed when they silence doubters, but Lamar seems to be a different breed. Watch Lamar’s growth this week against a team pushing for a division title and another playoff berth.
Whoever covers DeAndre Hopkins:
Whether it’s Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters or Jimmy Smith, the corner who covers DeAndre Hopkins will be spotlighted all day. One would have to assume Humphrey takes this role with his play this season, but it could be rotational based on the situation of the game. Hopkins is a security blanket for Deshaun Watson, and will be looked at when protection breaks down. Hopkins is a freak athlete that catches everything and has good field awareness. The cornerback covering him must be physical in order to win this matchup against arguably one of the best wide receivers in the league.
Look for Watson to target Hopkins regardless if he is open or not. He will give DeAndre the opportunity to make plays that stun Ravens fans in front of their home crowd.
The Baltimore Ravens have had a bit of a surprise this season in regards to Tyus Bowser. Pernell McPhee was manning the starting outside linebacker position for the first half of the season until a torn triceps injury derailed his season. Insert Tyus Bowser. Bowser has played rather well when given the opportunity that he deserved this year. Bowser has shown improved pass rush and run stopping ability. Tim Williams and Tyus were always lumped together because of their draft year. Bowser separated himself from Williams with the latter being waived. He has continually gotten better with every snap that he’s taken and simply wanted the job more than Tim Williams. Bowser has been a spark that the Ravens needed when they had no one else.
Tyus Bowser has been close to recording multiple sacks in multiple games. Look for him to add to the stat sheet not only this week, but in weeks to come.