When the schedule was announced earlier in the spring, there was one matchup that I wanted to know more than any other. Sure, a lot of people looked for the matchup date with the Chiefs, but I wanted to know when the Texans played the Baltimore Ravens. Here's the way that I saw it...if the Texans played Baltimore later in the season, that game could/would/should have a playoff type of feel. The would-be hype/build-up heading into a marquee matchup in November or December would be fairly immense and would be one of the more important late game matchups at NRG Stadium in quite some time.
However, if the Texans played them early in the season, it would be a major measuring stick sort of game. Where is the 2020 squad as it pertains to the rest of the league? Well, if the Texans can play and compete with/beat these Ravens, then there isn't a team on this schedule that the Texans can't beat on any given Sunday. The Ravens were 14-2 last year and dominated nearly every team it played over the last 14 weeks of the year.
As it turned out, the NFL schedule makers decided to test the Texans by going with option number two - week two - home opener. So, it's time to strap on the big boy pants and pads and get ready for what will be the most physical game of the year as 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson and the Ravens come into NRG, the first time the Ravens have been here since 2014. That game, albeit six years ago, was one of the most impressive physical performances from the Texans I've seen in this stadium. From play one to zeroes on the clock, the Texans took over the game and THAT'S the type of performance needed on Sunday. It won't be easy, of course, nothing is, but winning the physical battle is imperative in beating this Jackson-led squad.
With no further ado, let's get to know one of the best teams in the NFL - the Baltimore Ravens.
2020 Season (1-0)
W, Cleveland Browns 38-6
Ravens OFFENSE (in 2020 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 107.0 ypg (20th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 270.0 ypg (7th)
Total offense per game - 377.0 ypg (Tied 12th)
Turnovers lost - 1 (1 Fumble lost)
Expected Ravens starting offense
QB - Lamar Jackson
RB - Mark Ingram II/J.K. Dobbins
WR - Marquise Brown
WR - MILES BOYKIN
TE - Mark Andrews
TE - Nick Boyle
LT - Ronnie Stanley
LG - Bradley Bozeman
C - Matt Skura
RG - TYRE PHILLIPS
RT - Orlando 'Zeus' Brown
Other Key Offensive pieces
WR - Willie Snead
WR - Devin Duvernay
RB - Gus Edwards
FB/TE/DE - Patrick Ricard
OT - D.J. Fluker
Bold - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New starter in 2020
Keys to winning v. the Ravens Offense
- TACKLE. It isn't that the Texans had 20 missed tackles against Kansas City. It isn't that quarterback Lamar Jackson is the most slippery runner in the league. It isn't that Mark Ingram and rookie J.K. Dobbins have tremendous contact balance. It's ALL of the above.
- Spill, spill and FLY to the ball - The last thing that the Texans can do is give any of the Ravens ball carriers a direct line to the second and third level. If there's anything that can slow this running attack, it's forcing these runners to run more east-west than north-south. Teams that had any success against Baltimore forced the Ravens running backs to bounce runs to the outside, which allows defenders more time to help make tackles in space.
- Tighter on the tight ends - Mark Andrews is a massive problem but he's a massive problem in a different way than Travis Kelce was for the Chiefs. Andrews made a sterling one hand catch for a touchdown in the back of the end zone for his first touchdown and then was wide open for another nine yard touchdown as the Ravens pulled away from the Browns in week one. Figuring out who's covering Andrews in man coverage is trickier with the way run responsibilities have to be doled out this week. Whoever earns that responsibility must get in Andrews' hip pocket and fight through the catch point.
- Is pressure the answer? - Typically, it is, against most quarterbacks, but that doesn't always work against a dynamo like Jackson. That is the most commonly held thought of most teams. Yet, the Browns sent some 5-man pressures at Jackson that did get home, including a sack by blitzing cornerback/nickel Tavierre Thomas.
- Be the bigger bully, Part one - For all of the flash in the Ravens offense, this unit wins by completely dominating at the line of scrimmage. The Texans must punch back, harder and with more bite than ever.
Ravens DEFENSE (in 2020 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 138.0 ypg (24th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 168.0 ypg (4th)
Total offense Allowed per game - 306.0 ypg (9th)
Turnovers generated - 3 (1 INT, 2 Fumble recoveries - Ravens are +2 in TO margin)
Expected Ravens starting defense
DE - CALAIS CAMPBELL
DT - Brandon Williams
DE - DEREK WOLFE
Rush end - PERNELL McPHEE
LB - PATRICK QUEEN *LB - *MALIK HARRISON
Edge - Matt Judon
CB - Marlon Humphrey
S - DeSHON ELLIOTT
S - Chuck Clark
CB - Marcus Peters
Other Key Defensive pieces
LB - L.J. Fort
LB - Chris Board
DE - Jihad Ward
DT - Broderick Washington
LB - Tyus Bowser
Edge - Jaylon Ferguson
CB - Jimmy Smith
Nickel - Tavon Young
S - Anthony Levine
Bold - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New starter in 2020
Keys to winning v. the Ravens Defense
- Don't fall for shenanigans - Defensive coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale will show a bunch of different pictures pre-snap, then do something completely different post snap. The pre-snap shenanigans and disguises have confused the best of quarterbacks in the league. As such, it baffled Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield last week on his interception early in the game.
- Guard-to-Guard wall - The interior trio of Max Scharping, Nick Martin and Zach Fulton must set up shop at the line of scrimmage and not yield an inch. The Ravens interior players aren't dominant pass rushers, but they're powerful and can push the pocket back into Deshaun Watson's lap.
- Ball. Security - The Ravens defensive backs will punch the ball out, in particular Marlon Humphrey who channels his inner-Peanut Tillman every time he approaches a ball carrier.
- Calais...AGAIN??! - Well, at least, the Texans have experience facing one of the best interior players the league has seen - Calais Campbell. He's also one of the most unique defensive linemen in the NFL, given his 6-8 frame, monster long arms and agility. The man dropped into coverage last week against the Browns and nearly had a pick! Either way, he's tricky to slow down/contain and very few teams have had success against him in his career, including the Texans.
- Be the bigger bully, Part two - Does this key look familiar (see above)? Yeah, thought so. Look, the Ravens are going to play their game - fast, physical and nasty - no matter what and it works for them. Teams can't, or won't, physically match them, especially at the line of scrimmage and, ultimately, those teams lose the game. It's time to unleash the inner-beast, play in and play out, to be successful on offense, which will lead to overall team success.