The 2023 postseason is officially about to get underway for the Baltimore Ravens who will host the Houston Texans in the divisional round of the playoffs. In a recent interview with Baltimore Beatdown, FTN Fantasy analytics expert and creator of the DVOA metric, Aaron Schatz shared his thoughts on the matchup, potential areas of the field and weakness the home team could exploit to advance to the AFC championship game, and how the rest of the weekend will play out.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out all of Aaron’s work over at FTN Fantasy.
How did the Ravens sitting starters for their meaningless regular season finale loss to the Steelers impact their standing in the all-time DVOA rankings? What’s the biggest drop or jump a team has ever made in a similar situation?
Their all time ranking dropped from third to fifth because of sitting the starters in Week 18. There have been plenty of teams that have sat people. Seattle in 2015 in the last week they played Arizona and the Cardinals sat everybody and the Seahawks won by like 50 points or something. There have been some of those sit the starters games get a little ridiculous. When I’m making picks against the spread and doing playoff odds I’m not counting Week 18 against the Ravens because they sat so many people.
The Ravens will be without top cornerback Marlon Humphrey and Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews for the seventh straight game against Houston in the divisional round. Can DVOA be swayed in a significant way by the absence of a single player?
It’s really hard to determine just how much a single player is worth other than a quarterback. There have just been too many other changes. Certain players miss this game, some players miss this game, and then some players miss this game. It’s a constantly moving number of players that are missing different games. To come up with an exact number for what every player is worth is pretty difficult
How has the Ravens’ offense performed while Andrews has been out? Do you feel like they haven’t missed a beat since he’s been gone because of the emergence of Isaiah Likely?
Likely was really good this year. I don’t think they’ve missed a beat since he’s been gone. Their offense has been better since he’s been gone. Although I think that that’s the receivers getting healthier. I don’t think that’s because Andrews was gone but Likely played very well this year. It’s good to have (Andrews) back if he does come back for next week but I don’t think it’s a huge bonus.
It seems like the only time Likely goes off and is given a shot to shine is when Andrews is out of commission. Do you think they will find a way to consistently incorporate them both as potent pass catchers in the playoffs and beyond?
They’ve got a three wide personnel group they want to use and they’ve got (Patrick) Ricard they want to use so they just don’t do too tight ends that much.
The Ravens have grown accustomed to playing without Humphrey at times and for stretches this season and thankfully, third-year pro Brandon Stephens has answered the call and stepped up and played well against some of the league’s best. How do you think he’ll fair against Texans breakout wide receiver Nico Collins?
Stephens had a good year and Humphrey, when he was healthy, he was very good this year. But I do think they’ll miss Humphrey. They were 12 against number one receivers this year and not having Humphrey to cover Nico Collins is definitely a problem. I can definitely see Nico Collins having a big game.
Given what we saw in Kansas City last weekend in the Wildcard round when the Dolphins, a primarily warm weather team, struggled to move the ball with consistency. How much do you feel like the weather in Baltimore is going to impact the Texans who primarily play in dome stadiums or in warm climates?
It’s cold, there’s supposed to be a little bit of wind you know, cold keep scoring down. There’s no question. It’ll be harder to kick for example, but I don’t think it’s gonna be too bad of an inclement weather game. Houston is definitely not used to it.
What are some keys to helping the Ravens avoid getting upset at home in the playoffs by another red-hot AFC South team?
Whether they can cover Nico Collins is a big deal, making sure receivers can hold onto the ball, and Baltimore is better. You can lose to an inferior team but Houston is the inferior team. They cannot run the ball very well and their pass defense is not good. Their pass coverage is not good so as good as Stroud has played in recent weeks, Baltimore is just better.
What are some specific areas that you think the Ravens could or are going to take advantage of? Last week’s tape showed wide gaps over the middle of the field for Houston’s defense.
Throwing to the left. Lamar Jackson was the number two quarterback throwing left and the Texans were the worst defense in the league against passes to the left on Steven Nelson’s side.
How far have you seen these two teams come since their Week 1 matchup to open the season?
It’s been interesting because if you look at the cornerback numbers, the Houston cornerbacks have all been kind of good that year. I think the problems are when their linebackers and safeties are in coverage. I think that Baltimore will want to try to work as many ways out that they can get linebackers and safeties and into coverage.
Houston had one of the best run defenses in the league this year and held the Ravens to their third-lowest total of the season in their first matchup. How much of a challenge will that be to overcome?
Oh yeah, it’s a challenge. The Houston run defense is very good. That’s a challenge but on the other hand, they miss a lot of tackles. So if Jackson gets scrambling, he’s going to be elusive.
Are there any weaknesses in the Ravens defense that you feel like Stroud might be able to exploit?
No. Humphrey’s injury means the cornerbacks are not as good but there isn’t one cornerback that’s like “That’s the guy, that’s the guy you target.” Yes, you wish Humphrey was healthy, but there isn’t a specific weakness that I’m like “That’s the thing that Texans are going to attack.” A lot of the Texans’ strengths match the Ravens strengths. There isn’t a place where you’re like, “Oh, there it is. That’s the thing. Baltimore is bad at (doing).”
We talked about some of the biggest threats to the Ravens in the AFC the last time we talked and now the field has shrunk. Of the ones that are left standing, who do you think poses the biggest threat and is still the Buffalo Bills who take on the Chiefs on Sunday?
Honestly, the toughest opponent is whoever wins that game right? Because Buffalo has lost players to injury. Its’ either Buffalo or Kansas City. It’s not a cakewalk. It’s gotta be a tougher opponent than Houston. But hey, you know no championship without a challenge.
Of those, Which one do you feel like, as currently constructed, is the biggest threat to the Ravens right now?
I guess buffalo but it’s, it’s hard to know, given I don’t know who’s healthy and who’s not healthy on their defense right now.
What’s the best DVOA matchup of divisional round weekend of the team’s left standing?
Kansas City and Buffalo, oh, yeah. Buffalo is third and Kansas City is fifth. That’s the best matchup of the weekend. It’s gonna be close and the injuries are going to matter. Absolutely. For Buffalo and they’re going to blitz Allen so there’s sort of a high variance kind of possibility for the Buffalo offense. And I think what’s interesting is the Kansas City offense has really, like widdled things down to where they’re trying to go mostly through (Rashee) Rice and (Travis) Kelce and (Isiah) Pacheco and Buffalo is very good against number one receivers, especially if Rasul Douglas is healthy enough to play. Is that going to mean that (Patrick) Mahomes has to go away from Rashee Rice and go to his other receivers and hope they catch the ball?
The longest odds of anybody to prevail is probably the seventh-seeded Green Bay Packers versus the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers over in the NFC. Does Green Bay have a snowball’s chance in hell to pull off the upset in that game?
I think they have a better chance than Houston because their offense has been so good over the last few weeks. They’re the number two offense weighted DVOA which gives more weight to recent games, but their defense is terrible. But if their defense plays reasonably and that offense is good enough, they actually have a puncher’s chance.
How do you feel the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions game is gonna play out? Much like the Ravens and Texans, their first matchup of the season was lopsided in one team’s favor but was in the first half of the season and both teams have come a long way since then.
That was Week 6 and Tampa has gotten better since then. Detroit has consistently declined since then. Tampa doesn’t run well and Detroit is really good against the run. So they might as well hardly run the ball at all and just pass the ball and put it in Baker Mayfield hands and hope that he can do it. He is so good this year on third down and Detroit is so bad on third downs I think that he might do it.