The Baltimore Ravens will open their 2023 regular season campaign at home where they’ll be hosting the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon. They are favored to win by double digits going up against a first-year Head Coach in DeMeco Ryans and a rookie quarterback in 2023 second overall pick CJ Stroud. However, games aren’t won on paper or decided by betting odds.
There are some pivotal matchups between individual players, units, and players and coaches that will go a long way in determining the outcome of this Week 1 contest.
Below are a handful of those key battles that could prove to be deciding factors.
QB C.J. Stroud vs. Mike Macdonald
The Ravens’ second-year defensive coordinator built a strong reputation in the NFL circle for being an up-and-coming future head coaching candidate after his debut in that role last year. He showed a penchant for being creative when it came to utilizing his personnel, disguising pressures, and dialing up deceptive coverages.
Stroud couldn’t have asked for a tougher test to make his NFL debut against. Macdonald was able to confuse, confound, and stymie the likes of Joe Burrow and the high-powered Cincinnati Bengals’ offense three times last season. Expect to see Texans’ first-year Offensive Coordinator Bobby Slowik call a more conservative game for his inexperienced signal-caller, going against what many believe will be one of the best defensive units in the league.
Ravens’ outside linebackers v Texans’ backup right tackle
There are a lot of outside questions surrounding the Ravens’ ability to rush the passer off the edge and what some fear might be a lack thereof. While Odafe Oweh will have his hands full going up against three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil for most of the game, the Texans will be starting a backup at right tackle after placing Tytus Howard on injured reserve earlier this week.
The #Texans have placed starting OT Tytus Howard (hand) on Injured Reserve, and he is out the first four games of the season.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 6, 2023
Therefore, second-year edge defender David Ojabo, who is listed as the starter at the SAM spot in place veteran Tyus Bowser (knee), and Jadeveon Clowney will be up against less a formidable adversary in pass rush situations. The Texans plan to start fourth-year pro Josh Jones, who was recently acquired via trade in late August in place of Howard. The 2020 third-round pick has started 21 games the past two years with the Arizona Cardinals at guard and tackle Replacing Howard, who just inked a new three-year deal worth $56 million, is easier said than done.
LB Roquan Smith vs. RB Dameon Pierce
These two physical tone-setters will be meeting at the line of scrimmage often, as the Ravens’ hard-hitting defensive captain and Houston’s bruising ball carrier look to give their teams the best chance to win. Smith plays with an old school, hard-nosed tenacity and Pierce runs the ball like a throwback bell cow.
Their collisions will be loud and vicious and if they get matched up in the open field. Smith has the ability to blanket him in coverage or wrangle him down if he breaks into the second or third level. The Texans will want to establish the run to take pressure off of their young rookie quarterback. It’s paramount that Smith and the Ravens force them to be more one-dimensional, since they don’t have the requisite weapons to threaten them as much through the air.
S Kyle Hamilton vs. TE Dalton Schultz
The Ravens’ 2022 first-round pick is slated to be a full-time safety after mostly being a hybrid nickel during the second half of his standout rookie season. However, don’t be surprised if Macdonald has him reprise his former role in certain situations to cover the veteran pass-catching tight end.
Although both Smith and starting WILL inside linebacker Patrick Queen are adept in coverage, Hamilton was excellent in coverage of tight ends especially last season. At 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds, he matches up well from both a physical and athletic standpoint with Schultz, who is 6-foot-5 and 244 pounds.
Ravens’ wide receivers vs. Texans’ secondary
The season opener will be the first time that the team’s revamped wide receiver room gets to see the field together in a live game. It will be entertaining to see the likes of Zay Flowers, Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman, and Nelson Agholor against what many pundits believe is an up-and-coming secondary. Houston’s secondary features last year’s third overall pick Derek Stingley Jr. and pair of dynamic safeties in veteran Jimmie Ward and second-year pro Jalen Pitre.
Both Bateman and Beckham Jr. are seeing their first action since suffering serious injuries, while Flowers and Agholor will be looking to build off their standout training camp and offseason program showings.