WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
Oakland was unable to fend off the Texans last weekend despite 473 yards of offense for Houston, including 416 passing yards from Schaub (1377 passing yards, 9 TD, 5 INT). The quarterback completed 24 of his 51 pass attempts, getting picked off twice while throwing touchdown passes to tight end Joel Dreessen (8 receptions, 1 TD) and wide receiver Kevin Walter (9 receptions, 2 TD). Schaub extended his own team record of 13 straight games with a touchdown pass and helped Houston feature four players with at least 80 receiving yards in a game for the first time in team history. Running back Arian Foster (256 rushing yards, 10 receptions, 1 TD) led the way for Houston’s eighth-ranked offense with his first 100-yard receiving game, logging 116 yards on five catches and another 68 yards on the ground over 22 carries. Dreessen and Walter both had five catches, with the tight end logging a career-high 116 yards and Walter having 81. Tight end Owen Daniels (21 receptions, 3 TD) added 89 yards on a team-leading seven receptions. Fullback James Casey suffered a pectoral injury in the game and is day-to-day. Lawrence Vickers would start in his place if he can’t go.
The Texans could struggle to overcome the loss of Johnson (25 receptions, 2 TD) again this weekend, given that the Ravens rank third in total defense at 284.5 yards allowed per game and are yielding an NFL-low 14.3 points per contest. Turnovers have been key for Baltimore, which leads the league in takeaways per game and have scored 55 points off mistakes this year. Twenty-one of those came versus the Jets, with linebackers Jameel McClain (11 tackles, 1 sack) and Jarret Johnson (8 tackles) both returning fumbles for scores and cornerback Lardarius Webb (27 tackles, 2 INT) adding a 73-yard pick-six. Safety Ed Reed (17 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT) and tackle Haloti Ngata (13 tackles, 1 sack) logged sacks in that win, while cornerback Cary Williams (23 tackles) had eight tackles. Linebacker Ray Lewis (30 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) added five stops and needs 28 more interception yards to pass Derrick Brooks (530) for the most all-time by a linebacker, while Reed is 20 interception yards shy of the all-time record held by Rod Woodson (1,483). Lewis also needs just another half-sack to become the first player ever with 40 sacks and 30 interceptions. Safety Haruki Nakamura missed Baltimore’s last game with a knee injury and Tom Zbikowski (14 tackles) left the Jets contest with a concussion. Both are questionable after being limited in practice.
WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL
Baltimore’s offense will look to move on from the Jets game after logging only 267 yards of offense. The Ravens rank 14th in total offense (358.5 ypg), but are still scoring at a healthy 29.8 points per game clip. Dual threat Ray Rice (297 rushing yards, 16 receptions, 4 total TD) had over 100 yards of offense versus the Jets, notching 66 yards on 25 carries with the lone offensive touchdown for the Ravens, and compiling another 64 through the air on a pair of catches. The back is averaging 134.8 yards per game from scrimmage. Flacco (973 passing yards, 7 TD, 3 INT) completed only 10 of his 31 passes for 163 yards two weeks ago and was picked off once without a touchdown pass. He was also sacked twice, bringing his season total to eight. Flacco tried a number of times to get the ball to tight end Ed Dickson (16 receptions, 1 TD) in the team’s last game, targeting him 12 times. Dickson came up with four catches for 45 yards, while receivers Anquan Boldin (15 receptions, 1 TD), Torrey Smith (6 receptions, 3 TD) and LaQuan Williams were held to one catch each. Baltimore hopes a few offensive pieces got healthy over the break, with guard Ben Grubbs and receiver Lee Evans both practicing on a limited basis this week. Grubbs has missed the last three games with a toe injury, while Evans has sat out two straight due to an ankle issue.
Houston’s defense ranks seventh in the league with an allowance of 314 yards per game, thanks in part to a much-improved secondary that is yielding only 208.2 passing yards per game that ranks sixth. The Texans will be looking to hold an opponent under 20 points for the fourth time in 2011, but will look to do so with rookie linebacker Brooks Reed replacing Mario Williams. The Texans still have two other playmakers at the position in Brian Cushing (36 tackles, 1 sack) and DeMeco Ryans (21 tackles), however. The former matched cornerback Jason Allen with eight tackles against the Raiders to go along with a sack, while Ryans had four stops. Allen (25 tackles, 2 INT) had an interception for a second straight game and will try to log three picks in a row for the first time in his career. Defensive end Antonio Smith (10 tackles, 4.5 sacks) logged a half-sack against the Raiders, leaving him 1 1/2 shy of his career high set in 2007. Smith and rookie end J.J. Watt (15 tackles, 1 sack) will try to get more pressure on Flacco in Williams’ absence, while corners Kareem Jackson (13 tackles) and Johnathan Joseph (15 tackles, 2 INT) will try to add to Houston’s season interception total of five.
KEYS TO THE GAME
The Ravens will be looking to prevent another quick start by the Texans, who have scored 24 points and posted 348 yards on their five opening drives this season. On the other side, Houston’s defense is also the only unit in the league that has forced five punts on their opponents’ first drives.
Schaub and company will need to hold onto the ball, as the Ravens own a plus-37 turnover ratio at home since 2008. That ranks second in the NFL over that span.
Let Mason be your guide. The veteran should do wonders for Houston’s locker room, and his main focus should be on telling the rest of the Texans not to worry about their past history versus the Ravens.
Prediction – The Texans had it all going their way last week against the Raiders, but again, they blew a fourth quarter lead for the third time this year already. Now they play a Ravens team that is rested after their bye week. Baltimore took apart the Jets two weeks ago, and their D is going to make it a tough week for Matt Schaub. Look for the Ravens to hit a few big plays and the Ravens to top the Texans for their fourth win against one loss. Baltimore 20 Houston 9