"Behind Enemy (Side)Lines" is an ongoing series with the opposing team's beat writer. This week, Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun gives insight on the Texans upcoming opponent, the Baltimore Ravens.
How much difference do you see in Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense since the arrival of Gary Kubiak this year?
"Yeah, it's been a big difference. Last year, Joe Flacco had arguably the worst year of his career. They turned the ball over a lot and Flacco was sacked more than any other quarterback in the league but Ryan Tannehill. They couldn't run the football at all, hitting a franchise low in rushing yards. A lot of those things have been turned around and quickly too. I would still not call it a great offensive team. They still have some issues in some areas but, overall, they are running the ball much better and are a top-five rushing team. Joe Flacco has now been sacked the second-least among any quarterback in the league, Peyton Manning is number one.
"The big thing is that Flacco is not turning the ball over as much. He set a franchise record in interceptions last year. This year, he's on pace for a career low. He doesn't take as many shots down the field; they work underneath a lot more and run the ball a lot more. Flacco's numbers aren't going to blow anybody out of the water, but if you look at what he's done in his career, he's on pace to have a career year in most categories. I think Gary Kubiak has to get a lot of credit for that."
The Ravens run game has had to step up with no Ray Rice and a familiar name is leading the way in Baltimore, Justin Forsett. Has his success this year been a surprise or could you have seen it coming, heading into this season?
"No, the consensus and popular belief heading into training camp was that Justin Forsett would make the team as the No. 4 running back. When Ray Rice was done with what initially was supposed to be a two-game suspension, Rice would likely come in and take Forsett's roster spot. Baltimore drafted a guy in the middle rounds, they still had Bernard Pierce, Rice was supposed to come back, and everyone thought Forsett would be the odd man out. Obviously, we know what happened with Ray Rice and he won't be playing and he's done with the Ravens.
"No one expected Forsett to emerge as their primary back – I would be lying if I told you that. He was impressive in training camp. It's clear he has really flourished in this zone-run game scheme that Kubiak loves. Still, we're talking about a guy that has never had this much responsibility, this much production, never really got the opportunity for an extended season to be a lead back and he's probably on his way to the Pro Bowl. I don't think anybody would have predicted that.
"I don't know if it's the number of carries he's gotten or that he's been dealing with a knee injury but he has slowed down a little bit the past couple of weeks. He hasn't been as explosive, maybe it's the knee. He's clearly been nursing it, but still they've gotten way more than anybody could expect out of Justin Forsett. He's probably, with two games to go, their most valuable player on the team."
Ravens have a formidable pass rush, 8 sacks last Sunday against Jacksonville. What's been the secret for such a strong defensive duo in Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil? They've always had success but is there something different this year that really clicked for them?*
"I think so. I think Suggs was pretty honest last year. He wasn't feeling that great; he was in bad shape by season's end. He had a great start but I think wore down in his first full season after the Achilles injury. This year, he's done a much better job of staying in shape, staying healthy, and he's gotten better as the year's gone on.
"Dumervil, on the other side, has also stayed healthy. That's always something with everybody this time of year. The big thing with Dumervil is that he's sort of accepted his role. When he got here last year, he was more of a situational pass rusher. Courtney Upshaw was the starter and used on running downs, then Dumvervil would come in and rush the passer on obvious passing downs. That wasn't a role Dumervil was used to – he played every down in Denver when he was with the Broncos. So, I think it took Dumvervil a little while to come over and accept how he was being used.
"Now this year, he sees all the other pass rushers the Ravens have (Pernell McPhee, Timmy Jernigan – inside) and he really came to grips with the fact that I can really flourish in this role. he can take advantage of all the attention paid to Suggs and be fresh. He stayed healthy and the combination has him ready to eclipse his career-high in sacks. He's having a career year for the Ravens and they've really needed both him and Suggs, especially with the issues they've had in their secondary."
What about Jacoby Jones? What's his role on offense or has he been mostly used on special teams?
"It's sort of been a disappointing year for Jacoby Jones. He's turned the ball over a couple of time, made some questionable decisions on special teams, and he has been phased out on offense, really. They brought in Steve Smith, still have Torrey Smith, and drafted another receiver. They had Marlon Brown who tied a franchise record last year in touchdown catches. They had a lot of receivers and Jacoby sort of went to the back of the depth chart on offense. However, the last couple of weeks they have had some injuries and he's back playing a few more snaps on offense.
"In saying that, he has made a couple of mistakes on special teams but he's still No. 1 in the league in kickoff return average. Every time he gets the ball, the Ravens feel pretty good that he can go the distance. He's still a guy that every week we watch teams try a variety of kickoffs to either avoid him or just mix things up to try and neutralize his skill set. Obviously, other teams are still planning for him. He's still effective on special teams. He just hasn't had that sort of impact on the offensive side of the ball."
The (7-7) Texans will host the (9-5) Ravens on Sunday at NRG Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 12 p.m. on CBS KHOU-11 and SportsRadio 610.