Three things to watch for as Ravens welcome Texans to Baltimore

The 7-2 Baltimore Ravens are the hottest team in the NFL and will return home Sunday to take on the 6-3 Houston Texans in a game that will give the winner an inside track at a first round bye in the AFC playoff picture.

The Ravens are fresh off of their fifth straight win, a 49-13 triumph over the woeful Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. The Ravens were buoyed by another MVP caliber performance from QB Lamar Jackson and two defensive touchdowns. Jackson was 15-17 woth 223 yards and three touchdowns through the air. He also added seven carries for 65 yards including this electrifying touchdown run:

I chose this video because the gentlemen who shot it was sitting right next to me on Sunday. I have attended over 100 NFL games in my life and I have never seen a more impressive play.  The entire crowd was hooting and hollering about what they had just seen on the 47-yard scamper by the dynamic quarterback. Jackson once again remained grounded:

At this point, I am almost running short of superlatives for Jackson. He is the talk of the NFL and remains the most focused player in the building. What an exchange between the Ravens biggest leaders!

The Ravens defense also pitched in two defensive touchdowns including a second Marcus Peters pick six.  Tyus Bowser added a 33-yard fumble return touchdown marking the Ravens fifth touchdown on their last seven turnovers forced.

The Ravens now have their sights set on the AFC South leading Texans, who come to Baltimore with their own MVP candidate in QB Deshaun Watson. Here’s what to watch for ahead of Sunday’s matchup between two of the NFL’S best quarterbacks.

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No one has been able to slow down Lamar Jackson and the Ravens rushing attack but Houston will provide the biggest test to date. Image credit: AP

1) Strength vs Strength

Not surprisingly, the Ravens sit atop the NFL in rushing offense, averaging 197.2 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry.  The backfield attack is paced by Jackson and Mark Ingram but adds in nice touches of Gus Edwards and rookie Justice Hill to keep defenses guessing.

However, the rushing offense will face their toughest test of the year as the Houston Texans hold the third best rushing defense in the league. The Texans give up just 84.1 yards per game on the ground. They do give up 4.1 yards per carry but have only surrendered three rushing touchdowns all season.

Additionally, they have given up just six 20+ yards runs on the season and 0 runs of 40+ yards. The Ravens have rumbled for twelve 20+ yard runs and four runs of over 40+, including Jackson’s 47 yard house call last week which was the Ravens 15th rushing touchdown of the year.

It will be interesting to see if the Texans can stifle the Ravens runaway locomotive of a running game this Sunday. Who wins that matchup could go a long way in deciding Sunday’s winner.

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The Ravens will hope to see more of this on Sunday against a porous Texans passing defense. Image Credit: Baltimore Ravens

2) If the run game struggles, can the pass game step up?

The Ravens haven’t really had to deal with a struggling run game at any point this season. There’s reason to believe that won’t happen on Sunday but if it is tough sledding for the running game, will the Ravens be able to exploit the NFL’s 29th ranked passing defense?

The Ravens sit at 20th in the league, averaging 224.4 yards per game so far this season. After racking up 596 yards, seven touchdowns, and no picks over the first two weeks of the season, Jackson has averaged 205 yards per game with eight touchdowns and five interceptions since then.

Before you jump on the negativity angle the Ravens haven’t had a need to throw more. They have consistently gashed opponents with their ground and pound offense while mixing in enough passing game to keep the defense honest. Jackson is completing nearly 66% of his passes and has shown the ability to make all of the throws when called upon.

This game has Marquise Brown written all over it to me. Here are some of the top WR performances against the Texans over the last five weeks:

Keelan Cole – 5 catches, 80 yards

Tyrell Williams – 3 catches, 91 yards, 1 TD

Zach Pascal –  6 catches, 106 yards, 2 TD

Tyreek Hill –  5 catches, 80 yards, 2 TD

Calvin Ridley- 5 catches, 88 yards, 1 TD

I’m no math magician but that’s 24 catches for 445 yards and six touchdowns. Sunday will be Brown’s best game since the season opener.

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Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, and the rest of the Ravens secondary will have their hands full with a talented Texans receiving corps. Image Credit: Herald

3) How do the Ravens handle a talented Texans offense?

Sunday will represent the most talented offensive group the Ravens faced this year. Yes the Ravens took on reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Week 3, but Tyreek Hill didn’t play in that contest and the Chiefs rushing offense is in the bottom of third of the NFL.

The Texans rushing offense sits at 4th in the NFL, averaging 142.8 yards per game overall. They are a group paced by castaways Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson, the former of which is ranked 10th in the NFL with 704 yards rushing on 149 attempts.  Watson is also a threat with his legs, registering 279 yards on the ground this season. This trio will provide a big test for a Ravens rushing defense that may be without Michael Pierce on Sunday.

In the passing game the Texans have arguably the best WR in the NFL in DeAndre Hopkins. In what has been a down year so far, Hopkins has 68 catches and 665 yards with four touchdowns. But the attention he draws has allowed Will Fuller V and Kenny Stills to combine for 56 catches and 817 yards so far this season. Keep an eye on TE Darren Fells as well, who has a career high six touchdowns so far this season.

The Texans are 4th in the NFL in total offense and the Ravens defense will once again be heavily tested on Sunday. The Ravens do have the luxury of matching up relatively well with the Texans though. Marlon Humphrey, Peters, and Jimmy Smith should provide enough man power to deal with the three pronged receiving trio of the Texans.

Predictions

Jake McDonnell: Ravens 31, Texans 27

Nolan McGraw: Texans 33, Ravens 30

Isaiah Stumpf: Ravens 31, Texans 30

Ian Schultz: Ravens 29, Texans 23

The Ravens really need to win this game, but I think the Texans need it a bit more than they do. The Ravens have won five straight games and are due for a loss. The Texans are coming off of a bye and Bill O’Brien is 4-1 out of a bye week during his NFL coaching tenure. Something about this Ravens team feels special. The beat goes on a another week with a Ravens victory.

Broadcast information:

Image Credit: Eventbrite

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