Entering week 3 of the 2013 season, the Ravens hold the exact same 1-1 mark they held last year. From that point they went on a 4 game winning streak, sneaking past the Patriots, Browns, Chiefs and Cowboys. Riding high, the banged up 4-1 Ravens then travelled to Houston to meet the undefeated Texans.
The majority of sports writers and odds makers didn’t think much of the Ravens’ chances, but I went on the record here at The Ebony Bird to make a case for men in purple and black. I had to eat those words. A 43-13 thrashing meant that I had to eat them big time.
Fast forward a year and the Ravens again find themselves on the negative side of the money line against the Texans. Perhaps I am a glutton for rhetorical punishment, but once I again I survey the landscape and find that the Ravens have a decent shot to end the Texans’ streak.
To do so, however, the Ravens – much like last year – will have to overcome some critical injuries. On the offensive side of the football the Ravens will have to work around Ray Rice’s hip flexor strain. The ace running back is officially listed as doubtful and did not practice this week. Coach Harbaugh stated that he will be a game time decision, but even if he does play it is reasonable to assume that the brunt of the workload will fall on Bernard Pierce. While the Ravens will definitely miss their 2-time Pro-Bowler, especially catching passes out of the backfield, Pierce has demonstrated that he is a viable running threat that can find the end zone. Therefore, the critical factor in the success or failure of the Ravens’ rushing attack will be the performance of the offensive line.
On the other side of the football Dean Pees is faced with the possibility of stopping Arian Foster, Matt Schaub, and Andre Johnson without the help of Chris Canty, Arthur Brown, and Brandon Williams. Canty is listed as doubtful, but he has indicated that he is “optimistic” that he’ll be on the field this Sunday against Houston. Either way, an otherwise healthy Ravens defense has the ability to limit the Texans’ running game. The real threat then becomes Houston’s passing game and more specifically TE Owen Daniels. Not only did Daniels torch the Ravens last year, but the last two games have exposed the defense’s problems covering opposing tight ends.
Injuries will be a factor, but more important for the Ravens will be their ability to generate offensive momentum and keep Schaub and company off the field. While the Ravens have technically won the time of possession battle in each of their first two games, they have had problems (especially in the 2nd half of the Denver game and 1st half of the Cleveland game) converting 3rd and middle yardage situations to sustain drives. One could argue that the Ravens find themselves in these situations due to a lackluster running game (abetted by poor run blocking), but the more likely answer is the absence of Boldin and Pitta who always seemed to find a way to come down with the ball in traffic – just on the winning side of the first down marker.
Ravens fans have lamented the loss of both playmakers so far this year, but time, patience and practice are revealing encouraging trends between Joe Flacco and his new receiver corps. Clark, Dickson and Stokley have had some high profile drops so far this season, but the quan between the group and their QB has been steadily increasing (with the notable exception of Dickson). Also, Marlon Brown has emerged as a clutch receiver – one that will likely draw more attention from Flacco as the season progresses. Finally, even though few have seen it yet, the re-acquisition of Tandon Doss promises to increase the effectiveness of the Ravens’ short passing game. Therefore, while Ed Reed’s probable appearance at M&T Bank Stadium this week will surely affect Jim Caldwell’s deep ball calculus the Houston secondary cannot ignore the threat altogether. Assuming the squad can also maintain a viable run threat; the short passing game will make or break the Ravens this Sunday.
To sum it up, the Ravens have a reasonable chance to knock the Texans off their perch, but it won’t be easy. On offense, the line will need to open holes for Pierce and keep Watt and Cushing out of Flacco’s face. The injured defense must then blunt the Texans’ rushing attack and prevent the big play from Andre Johnson, while also finding a way to cover Daniels. This is tough prescription indeed, but not an impossible one.
The final factor will be geography. This game will be played in Baltimore (you can find Ravens tickets here) and while the Ravens’ aura of home field invincibility was shattered by the Steelers last year, the conditions at M&T Bank Stadium greatly favor those in purple and black. Add Ray Lewis’ induction into the Ring of Honor and the Ravens get that final, intangible spark that tilts the scale in their favor. Ravens win by a field goal.
One thing is for sure. We’ll know the results in a matter of hours. Enjoy the game.