How will the Baltimore Ravens respond coming off, what might have been, the most disappointing loss in the John Harbaugh era? The answer to that question may determine whether or not the Ravens reach the play-offs. The Ravens can come out angry anddetermined, or they can fade into the background. Much has been said this week about an offense that has been largely disappointing this season. Who bears the blame? Is it a struggling offensive line that has not consistently gotten the run game going? Or a young quarterback who has put up good numbers, but has struggled to consistently put points on the board? Or is the issue coaching and play calling? Is the offensive system too rigid and unwilling to play to the Ravens strengths? Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has vowed to fix things. The players are talking the talk of a frustrated but unified team. The Ravens have four weeks to put up or be left out. They control their own play-off destiny. How will they attack the Houston Texans and seize control on Monday night?
Through the Air: The Texans have a porous secondary. So porous that they rank last int he NFL in pass yardage allowed per game and have surrendered 27 passing touchdowns through 12 games. It is obvious the Ravens will look to attack through the air. The key to doing that will be protecting Joe Flacco. The Texans do a better job at pressuring the QB than they do at making plays once the ball leaves his hand. Houston has registered 19 sacks on the season, 8.5 of which have been credited to Mario Williams. I would not go so far as to say that if the Ravens slow down Williams, they will stifle Houston’s pass rush, but that will certainly go a long way. If given time the Ravens will have plenty of open space to throw to. I am curious to see how much Cameron allows Flacco to open things up. I expected to see a more wide open attack against the Steelers, but the Steelers pass rush limited the Ravens ability to pick them apart. The good news for the Ravens is that the Texans do not bring the same kind of pressure, so there is no time like the present to unleash an aggressive passing attack. The Ravens will miss Todd Heap’s receiving and blocking. Heap is unlikely to play after a hamstring injury last week. Can Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta answer the Bell? Dickson has the physical skills to stretch the field more than Heap, but the rookie TE is still inconsistent. That means Flacco will lean more heavily on his receivers. Not a bad option when you are throwing the ball to Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, TJ Housmanzadeh and Donte Stallworth. If I am the Texans I try to take away as many down-field throws as possible. They will likely try and force the Ravens into methodically moving the ball up field. The Ravens have shown a willingness to play that game, but I believe Cameron will look for ways to hit some big plays down-field and energize the offense.
On the Ground: The Ravens are struggling to run the ball. They have run the ball to the tune of 3.2 yards per carry, behind an offensive line that is struggling to control the point of attack. The Texans meanwhile have limited opponents to just over 101 yards per game on the ground. Some of that may be due to teams wanting to throw more against a struggling secondary, but they also have some talented run stoppers in their front seven. Along with Williams, LB Brian Cushing is a play-maker, and DT’s Amobi Okoye and Shuan Cody are a load. The Ravens need to start to establish some semblance of a physical run game, but they will be gearing the run to keeping the Texans off balance this week. Getting FB Le’Ron McClain back will be a boost, but I am not sure the Ravens are physical enough along the line to take advantage of McClains run blocking and running style. I think we will see more draw plays run towards Williams’ side and as always the check down/screen game could be a large part of the offensive attack involving the RB’s.
The Ravens need to respond in a big way this week. It will not be easy to win in Houston on Monday night, against a team that has not played since the 2nd of December. Houston will be playing with urgency since their small chance at the play-offs will be on the line. The Ravens will be looking to send a message. Not necessarily to anyone else, more to themselves. They need to prove that they can play a complete game. Not a perfect game, but a game that does not see them fall into a haze for quarters or halves at a time. The offense can and needs to keep the Texans on the ropes and score in the range of 27-31 points. Anything less could be considered a disappointment.