Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
1. The Ravens and Texans squared off in Week 1, back on September 10. It’s been a hearty four months since their regular season opener. What has changed about the Texans most?
The biggest difference is C.J. Stroud. They have taken the training wheels off and the offense is fully his. Like most teams, you spend the first few games trying different combinations and late in the year they had a group that clicked. On offense, it was replacing Dameon Pierce with Devin Singletary. Singletary has been one of the top five rushing backs in football since becoming the starter midseason. That changes the total complexion of the Texans offense. There have been similar moves on defense that have produced similar results. Derek Stingley and Blake Cashman have come on in addition to Christian Harris. This gives the defense three or four borderline Pro Bowl performers where they really had none playing like that in week one.
2. When looking over DVOA numbers, nothing on the Texans is particularly dominant. Their offense ranks No. 14. Defense is ranked No. 16. But nonetheless, they’ve been putting up 20 or more points for four straight weeks while allowing 18 points per game defensively, with half of them coming in a single game back in Week 16. Is everything just clicking for them?
Stroud makes fewer mistakes so the turnovers haven’t been there. Additionally, they seem to be more efficient in the red zone on both ends than they have been in the past. The defense definitely practices a bend but don’t break approach which can allow opponents to rack up yards without points. They set the franchise record in sacks and that has been almost exclusively in the second half of the season after adding Derek Barnett. Will Anderson also came on late in terms of adding sacks to his resume.
3. The wide receiver corps for the Texans appears to be pretty banged up with Tank Dell and Noah Brown out and Robert Woods dealing with lingering injury. Who has stepped up and what can you expect to see the Texans do against the Ravens defense?
It’s essentially Nico Collins, Nico Collins, or maybe if they are creative Nico Collins. In all seriousness, they have utilized Dalton Schultz and Brevin Jordan as pass catching tight ends, but their other receivers have been a disappointment. In particular, John Metchie never took off as he was expected to. He had three catches in the wild card game and I am reasonably certain that’s a career high. Xavier Hutchinson has been a threat on jet sweeps (usually one or two a game) but has not been a consistent target in the passing game. This is an area of concern as I feel that Collins could be neutralized and leave the Texans searching for answers on Saturday that simply aren’t there.
4. What, to you, must the Texans do to win on Saturday?
The Texans need to play a clean game. That includes turnover, penalties, and simply taking advantage of opportunities as they come. That includes busted coverages or opportunities to turn over the Ravens. That is an easy answer this time of year as no one remaining in the playoffs is going to make a ton of mistakes. However, the strength of the Texans will likely be negated due to those injuries in the wide receiver core. We really haven’t been turnover prone, but we have had games where we committed stupid penalties, had silly drops, or made mental mistakes on defense, Those things can’t happen on Saturday.
5. The Texans are heavy underdogs in this game (Texans +9.5). Do you think this is a fair estimate? What are your thoughts on the line?
I think the line is ridiculous. I think the Ravens should win the game, but considering Jackson has a 1-3 record as a playoff starter I just don’t see the huge margin. I certainly think a blow out is possible, but that would involve Stroud completely cratering and that only happens if the weather is simply too awful for him to get going. He has played well in cold before, so it is really only about precipitation. Even then you have to think that the team will have a backup plan to keep them in the game.