FanPost

See You in Beantown or at Reliant: Texans 20 Ravens 19

Its always the safe play to not mess with the status quo. The status quo in NFL playoff football states that the postseason-experienced teams should automatically win their home games against visiting underdogs and big dance novices like Bob McNair's boys. Perhaps this explains why a perusal of early national previews and commentary on the upcoming Baltimore Ravens vs. Houston Texans clash generally offers up some initial propers to the Texans for rewarding a city and fan base starved of quality profession football with its first postseason victory in franchise history. Good for the Texans, better for Houston, now time to become the Ravens’ punching bag seems to be the average sentiment. The Texans are overwhelmingly being viewed as doomed by the stingy Ravens defense and tough running game.

The rookie-quarterback-fifth-rounder-going-on-the-road-card will inevitably be played, followed by heaping reminders of Houston’s previous two losses against the Ravens. One analyst pointed out that if Houston couldn’t win in Baltimore with Matt Schaub at the helm earlier this season, then not only are they facing a sure fire loss, but likely a humiliating one. Its being assumed that Ray Rice will trot along for well over 100 yards, while decent but unstarlike quarterback Joe Flacco will effortlessly toss in 300, and Ed Reed will have his way with T.J. Yates’ middle to deep range throws.

Surely I’m in the minority when I laugh at all of the above and, instead, state resoundingly that Houston will win their divisional playoff matchup in Baltimore, rain, snow or shine, rookie or cookie.

To begin, I think its tough for any NFL team to beat another three times in two years, especially a good team like Houston. Last year’s Monday Night matchup saw the Texans rally fiercely against the Ravens’ vaunted defense, shredding it in the second half until finally yielding in overtime. This season’s matchup came on the heels of losing Andre Johnson, who did no suit up. When losing a player of Johnson’s magnificence, any team, whether led by Schaub or Yates, needs a couple of games to recover. Nevertheless, Houston led 14-13 in the third quarter of that game and routinely marched into Ravens territory only to come up empty-handed all but twice.

Sure, the Ravens ended up winning that game at home 29-14, but the score is not indicative of not only how closer that game should’ve been, but it is anything but indicative of how the Texans and players like J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and Connor Barwin have progressed into dominant forces since that game. And on the offensive side, its pointed out that Arian Foster only rushed for 49 yards, yet Foster was only a game removed from the DL for a bum hamstring and afterward owned up that he stunk.

But I wonder whether #80’s impact is truly being considered. Last week one Cincinnati beat writer claimed that A.J. Green would rather easily outshine a likely gimpy Johnson, which turned out to be a laughable prediction. Green was largely ineffective while Johnson, although a little rusty early on, ended up getting hot, pulling in a touchdown, undoubtedly helped open lanes for the backs, and left simply no doubt that he will be primed to make a major impact in Baltimore.

This is not to say that the Ravens have not improved since that early October game, but it can be stated clearly that Houston has improved immensely in several facets of their game. It also cannot be understated the importance of facing a tough opponent like Baltimore on the road coming off a resounding home playoff victory versus a three game regular season skid. Confidence is a good thing to bring into such a task, and the Texans will be bringing plenty of it.

Houston will come into this game with no pressure and a full tank of confidence. Baltimore has an acclaimed defense. Houston is right up there with them. Baltimore has a great rusher in Ray Rice. The Texans boast the league’s top one-two punch in the backfield in Foster and Ben Tate. The Ravens do not possess Tom Brady or Drew Brees on their roster, and the Texans surely don’t have Schaub. Clearly Flacco is a more proven, successful quarterback than Yates, but in looking at the numbers, its not the blowout one might imagine. Since Yates’ relative inexperience will again represent a focal topic and principal argument against the Texans’ chances of winning, here’s a look at some stats:

Attempts

Yards

Yards/Catch

Comp. %

TD

INT

INT Rate

Flacco

542

3610

6.7

56.2

20

12

2.2

Yates

132

949

7.1

61.2

4

3

2

Yes, Flacco’s numbers are bigger, but he’s also played in over twice as many games, has thrown the football over four times as much as Yates, and Flacco didn’t have to use several games playing more conservatively in order to develop a feel for the pro game. Even considering Coach Gary Kubiak’s easy handling of Yates, if you match his attempts with Flacco’s, Yates throws for more yards. Now, if Yates were coming into this game with only a couple of dozen live game passes under his belt, I'd say the Texans were in big trouble. But he has 132 attempts, has made a few proverbial rookie mistakes, and now has 6.5 NFL games under his belt and has proved that he can handle big game pressure situations.

I’m not saying that Yates will light up the Baltimore secondary. On the contrary, Yates has the ability, demeanor and just enough experience to manage the game. He doesn’t need to throw for well over 200 yards as long as the Texans aren’t turning the ball over, Johnson and the backs are making some plays and the offensive line rises to the occasion. The Texans need to win the field position game and make their field goals, hoping for one or two scores from Johnson, Foster or someone else.

In light of the Andre Johnson factor, Houston’s very good offensive line led by steely tough Mike Brisiel, and just to make sure the point is driven home, having Foster and Tate, not to mention tight ends Owen Daniels, Joel Dreessen and, now, fullback/tight end James Casey, Yates has plenty of veterans to work with.

On the defensive end, I’m looking for the Texans to man up on those Ravens receivers and for the Houston pass rush to be a little more effective. Demeco Ryans was not near top form last time these two teams played, as he is now, and lined up next to Cushing, Rice will work much harder for those 100 yards again. In October the Texans held Baltimore to numerous field goal attempts, and I expect more of the same. In other words, I don’t see this being a high scoring match by any means.

The Texans face a monumental task in trying to beat Baltimore, but they have the right amount of talent, heart and hunger up and down their roster to win this battle on Sunday. And when you remove the pressure and expectations, I like for such intangibles to push Houston over the top.

Texans 20

Ravens 19

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