The Week 5 bye was supposed to take care of their injury woes, but the Ravens will again be without a minimum of four key contributors as Lee Evans, Chris Carr, Tom Zbikowski, and Jimmy Smith have been ruled out and Ben Grubbs’ status (listed as questionable ) remains very much in doubt against Houston on Sunday.
Of course, the 3-2 Texans won’t feel any pity for Baltimore as they come to M&T Bank Stadium for the teams’ fifth all-time meeting. With defensive standout Mario Williams gone for the year after tearing a pectoral muscle last Sunday, the Texans have already ruled out star receiver Andre Johnson and an astonishing 20 other players are listed on the injury report for Sunday (19 of them probable, however).
With the Texans already facing an uphill battle by playing in Baltimore for the first time since 2005, the loss of Williams and Johnson sucks the starch out of what looked to be a prime AFC matchup and one of the Ravens’ bigger challenges on the schedule entering the season.
Here’s what to expect when Gary Kubiak’s Texans try to win their first ever game against the Ravens …
1. Fullback Vonta Leach had a total of three carries in five seasons with the Texans, but something tells me he’ll find the end zone on Sunday. We know Leach would rather flatten linebackers than touch the football, but the blocking back has already caught five passes this season after grabbing only eight in 2010. Coach John Harbaugh has always made a point to recognize Ravens players and coaches going up against their former teams, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the offense has something up its sleeve for Leach. Call it a hunch, but I envision Leach getting a carry or a short pass near the goal line to give him his first touchdown since 2009.
2. Arian Foster will create plenty of opportunities for tight end Owen Daniels to have a nice afternoon, which will include a touchdown catch. Foster ran for 100 yards against the Ravens in Houston last year, the last back to do so against the Baltimore defense. Without quarterback Matt Schaub’s favorite target Johnson, the Texans will rely more heavily than normal on Foster despite the Ravens having the second-best run defense in the NFL. As a result, the Ravens linebackers and safeties will sell out in stopping the run, leading to more than a few opportunities for the talented Daniels to have success in the middle of the field.
3. Joe Flacco will have a solid, but unspectacular, day with two touchdown passes against the Texans defense. Even without Williams coming off the edge, new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will dial up enough pressure on Flacco to keep him from having a banner day against the sixth-ranked pass defense in the NFL. As he has all season, Flacco will use Ray Rice out of the backfield and tight end Ed Dickson to counter Houston’s pressure-heavy packages. However, with Evans sidelined and cornerback Johnathan Joseph locking down one side of the field, it figures to be another tough afternoon for the Baltimore receivers.
4. The Ravens defense has forced 11 turnovers in its first two home games and will continue the early-season trend of creating takeaways. With Schaub lacking the home-run presence of Johnson in the passing game, he’ll be forced to take more chances, playing right into the hands of defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and the different looks in coverage the Ravens like to reveal. Baltimore will pressure Schaub, who was battered last week against a pedestrian Raiders defense, and force him into uncomfortable third-down situations. The Ravens will create at least three turnovers to make the final outcome a predictable one on Sunday.
5. The Ravens take control in the second half and win by a comfortable 27-14 margin. If Johnson was playing, it would have been an intriguing matchup after the problems Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt gave the Ravens in their Week 2 loss in Nashville. However, Foster will not do enough in the running game to compensate for the huge hit the Texans will take in the passing game. The Ravens offense won’t blow the Texans out of the water, but it will be efficient and benefit from good field position via turnovers. Baltimore is 3-0 after its bye week under Harbaugh and will continue the trend on Sunday to improve their record at M&T Bank Stadium to 3-0 this season.