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Ravens News 1/19: Playoff Preparations

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NFL: Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

How Zay Flowers Is Preparing for His First Playoff Game

Ryan Mink, BaltimoreRavens.com

“The things that [Flowers] did in the first game, you still see today – his athleticism. You saw that making people miss trying to get him in space,” Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken said.

“Where he’s improved dramatically is just playing the position strong. It’s really in terms of what we’re asking him to do, conceptually [with] the routes, spacing and when we move him around, which is hard for a rookie, just being dialed in.”

A former Super Bowl champion and nine-year veteran, Beckham has been talking to Flowers about the mindset needed for the playoffs. He said he sees the rookie “gearing up.”

“I told him, ‘This is where you start your legacy,” Beckham said. “That was all fun and cool – rookie year. We’ll put it behind us. This is where you cement yourself in stone, and this is where your legacy truly begins.’ So, I know that he’s excited for it.”

NFL Divisional Playoff Round Preview: Betting tips, highest-graded players and matchups to watch

Marcus Mosher, PFF

HOUSTON TEXANS VS. BALTIMORE RAVENS (-9)

Matchup to watch: Ravens RT Morgan Moses vs. Texans EDGE Will Anderson Jr.

Moses hasn’t been 100 percent healthy all season as he’s dealt with a shoulder injury. He’s missed more snaps this year than ever before, but he is still one of the top right tackles in the league. Now that he’s had multiple weeks to rest up for the playoffs, Moses should be healthier than ever for this matchup.

The Ravens will need him to have a big game because he’s expected to see a ton of rookie sensation Will Anderson Jr,, who led the Texans in pressures (six) in the wild-card round. Anderson has recorded 26 pressures in his last five games despite playing on a high-ankle sprain. Keep an eye on the Moses-Anderson matchup, as it should be a good one on Saturday.

NFL playoffs: Key matchups to watch in each AFC divisional round game

Ted Nguyễn, The Athletic

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (4:30 p.m. ET Saturday)

Key matchup: Nico Collins vs. Mike Macdonald’s coverages

The Ravens rank 13th in man coverage usage during the regular season. Against the Texans in Week 1, they played the fourth-highest rate of man coverage as they have against any other opponent. With Houston missing receivers Tank Dell and Noah Brown, I’d imagine Baltimore will play man at a similarly high rate as the only receiver they have to respect against man coverage is Nico Collins. The Ravens can shade a safety in his direction or bracket him without having to worry about the other Texans receivers breaking the game.

Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald doesn’t blitz as much as some might think. The Ravens rank 26th in blitz rate overall (19.7 percent) and 23rd in blitz rate (23.8 percent) on third and fourth downs. Rather than sending five or more rushers, Macdonald calls simulated pressures in which they’ll stack the line but will only rush four, but one or more of those rushers will come from the second or third level.

The Ravens play a lot of quarters. They led the league in snaps of Cover 4 and Cover 6 (Cover 2 and Cover 4 combo coverage). That means Collins won’t see a lot of true one-on-ones. There will be times the safety brackets him, but Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik has shown he knows how to beat quarters and create one-on-ones throughout the season. When Slowik dials up his quarter beaters, Collins will have an opportunity to go deep one-on-one with the Ravens’ outside corners. If Marlon Humphrey, who is dealing with a calf injury, can’t go, the Texans might target his replacement, Ronald Darby.

Ravens vs. Texans scouting report for AFC divisional round: Who has the edge?

Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

He will take on a Houston pass defense that ranked 23rd in Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) during the regular season but contributed four sacks and two pick-sixes in the wild-card victory over the Browns. The Texans have a pair of stellar young talents in cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (five interceptions, 13 passes defended in 11 games) and edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. (seven sacks, 22 quarterback hits). Defensive end Jonathan Greenard led the team with 12 1/2 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. The Texans blitz on just 21% of dropbacks, so they won’t give Jackson big-strike opportunities by overcommitting, but they were vulnerable to big plays this year, allowing 6.5 yards per attempt, sixth-worst in the league. Flacco completed 15 of 19 passes for 172 yards in the first half last Saturday before unraveling in the third quarter. Despite their vulnerability, the Texans stood firm on crucial downs, ranking fifth in third-down defense and 12th in red-zone defense.

The Ravens will face one of the league’s top run defenses, led by linebacker Blake Cashman (106 tackles, nine for loss). The Texans allowed an anomalous 227 rushing yards in clinching a playoff berth against the Indianapolis Colts but gave up 79 yards or fewer in five of their past six games. They held the Browns to 56 yards on 20 attempts.

Prediction

The Ravens will enter as heavy favorites and deservedly so given their dominant finish to the regular season. The Texans established themselves as a dangerous team against the Browns. Stroud is a poised, deadly passer, and Houston has young defensive stars to complement him. But Jackson will come out firing against a vulnerable pass defense, and the Ravens will come up with enough different looks to keep Stroud less comfortable than he was against Cleveland. They will begin their Super Bowl push with a convincing victory. Ravens 31, Texans 20

NFL Divisional-Round Playoff Picks Against the Spread

Sheil Kapadia, The Ringer

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (-9.5)

One part of Slowik’s game plan from last week that I loved: The Texans were aggressive on early downs. On first and second downs, Stroud was 13-for-15 for 227 yards. Eight of those completions went for first downs. There have been times this season (see: Week 18 against the Colts) when it’s felt like the Texans have tried too hard to establish the run. You never want to be one-dimensional, but you also can’t afford to waste plays against great defenses. The Texans hit on some explosive runs last week, but in general this has been an inefficient running team (30th in DVOA). I’m really hoping they are willing to put this week’s game in Stroud’s hands early and often if the run game isn’t working.

Two specific things I have my eye on here. One, can the Texans protect Stroud? He’s shown he can create and operate the offense under imperfect conditions, but Stroud will also take some sacks. His 6.8 percent sack rate ranks 22nd in the league this season. The Ravens’ 8.6 percent sack rate on defense ranks second. Houston has to avoid negative plays in this game.

Second, they have to find ways to create explosive plays. Stroud loves to push the ball downfield. His average pass in the regular season traveled 9.2 yards—fourth-highest among starters. But no defense is better against deep passes than the Ravens. They ranked first in DVOA during the regular season when opponents tried to throw downfield. The Browns defense was second, and the Texans did a good job of hitting shot plays on them last week. That will be critical once again in this matchup. It’s going to be tough to be methodical and string together long drives against Baltimore. The Texans are going to need some chunk plays.

On paper, the Ravens should be able to move the ball on the Texans, but the yards might not come easy. The run game is strength-on-strength. The Texans are a tough group up front and finished the regular season second in DVOA against the run. They have physical players who will challenge Baltimore.

Where it gets tricky is the passing game. Jackson was sixth in dropback success rate and 12th in expected points added (EPA) per pass play in the regular season. The Texans ranked 23rd against the pass. Houston is more of a “line up and play” defense than a “disguise” defense. They are zone-heavy, and Jackson has been excellent against zone, ranking fourth among starters in success rate. Keep an eye on the Ravens’ play-action game. They’re not a high-frequency play-action team, but when they do use it, Jackson shreds, ranking third in success rate. The Texans defense, meanwhile, ranks 30th in success rate against play-action passes.