First Glance: Texans at Ravens

The Texans (6-3) face the Ravens (7-2) on Sunday in Baltimore. It’s the first meeting between these two teams since 2017, and both squads are atop their respective divisions. Aside from the scintillating talents at quarterback in Houston’s Deshaun Watson and the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, here are five things to watch when they kick off at noon CT inside M&T Bank Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.

1) Score early – In the London win over the Jaguars, the Texans kicked a field goal on their opening drive. It was the only time all season Houston scored on it’s first possession. The Ravens, meanwhile, have scored a touchdown on six of their nine opening drives, and a field goal two others.

Baltimore’s defense picked off a first-possession pass in Week 1 against the Dolphins, and then forced their next eight opponents to punt on the opening drive.

Starting fast, and playing from ahead has been a recipe for success for the Ravens in 2019. The Texans don’t want to be trailing early.

“It's definitely not an ideal situation to be in,” offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said. “It's something that we're trying to improve on each and every week, trying to find ways to come out and start the games better and start the game faster.”

2) Who’s in, who’s out – The Texans were without several key starters two weeks ago in London. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil, cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Lonnie Johnson, Jr, safety Tashaun Gipson and receiver Will Fuller V weren’t able to suit up against the Jaguars. All five of those players practiced some this week, and some will likely play.

Head coach Bill O’Brien didn’t rule anyone in or out for Sunday’s matchup with Baltimore.

Also, the Texans claimed cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, III off waivers from Tampa Bay Wednesday. He was able to practice Thursday and Friday with his new team, and O’Brien said Hargreaves could “possibly” play in Baltimore.

“His first impressions are good,” O’Brien said. “Relative to how he would fit with our defense, we think there’s a potential of a good fit there.”

3) Texans pass catchers vs. Baltimore DB crew – In one of many ‘strength vs. strength’ matchups in this game, the Texans receivers and tight ends against the Ravens secondary will be good theater. All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins is turning in another sterling season, and has the ultimate respect from Ravens’ corner Marcus Peters.

“He doesn’t drop passes, and he’s a competitor,” Peters said. “He has an excellent catch radius, and he loves football. When somebody loves football, that’s all you need.”

Hopkins is aided by Kenny Stills and his 16.7 yards per catch production.

Tight end Darren Fells leads the team, and all NFL tight ends with six touchdown catches this year, and fellow tight end Jordan Akins has averaged 12.4 yards per catch.

Mix in Duke Johnson coming out of the backfield, and quarterback Deshaun Watson has an array of weapons.

Fuller, who’s second on the team with 450 receiving yards, may or may not play, and his deep speed changes how defenses defend against Houston’s offense.

But Peters has four interceptions in 2009, and he’s taken three of those picks back for touchdowns. Baltimore also has veteran leadership at the cornerback position in Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith, to go along with the talented young Marlon Humphrey.

At the back end, future Hall of Famer Earl Thomas, III has been a leader on the Baltimore defense. Watson is impressed with the group against which he’ll throw.

“A group of guys, a lot of veteran guys that have played a lot of football, a lot of experience who are very active, make a lot of plays and playing with a lot of confidence,” Watson said of the Ravens secondary.

4) Run, squared – The Texans run the ball well. So do the Ravens. While the former is fourth in the NFL with 142.8 yards per game, the latter leads the League with 197.2 yards on average. Jackson has 791 rushing yards this year, while running back Mark Ingram, II is right behind him with 619 yards in 2019.

“We have to do what we do and try to put our guys in the best position to make plays and to stop them,” defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said. “Every week you adjust your game plan a little bit. We will adjust it a little bit this week, but we still depend on a team mentality. Everybody's got to get their job done and that gives us the best chance to stop the run that way.”

Carlos Hyde, meanwhile, has rumbled for 704 yards this season, and is coming off a 19-carry, 160 yard performance versus Jacksonville.

“They run the ball well,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “They’ve got a heck of a back. He’s breaking tackles and running that wide zone, stretch zone play about as well as you can run it.”

5) Talented tight ends – The Texans tight ends, as mentioned above, have been a productive component of the offense in 2019. Combined, Fells and Akins have 44 receptions for 493 yards and eight scores.

The Ravens crop of tight ends—Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle and Hayden Hursty—have teamed up to snare 83 passes for 849 yards and seven touchdowns.

“They are good tight ends, first of all,” Crennel said. “They've got size, they can catch the ball, and the way they're using those guys – almost like basketball, they're posting up sometimes, sometimes they're running crossing routes.”

Because of their tight ends’ unique abilities, the Ravens are able to get creative on offense.

“I think they're very diverse players and it just gives you a chance to do different things with the same personnel groups on the field," Harbaugh said.

The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 12/1/2019)

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