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Monday Night Football Pre-Game Recon: Baltimore Beatdown

In anticipation of Monday Night Football at Reliant Stadium this evening, Bruce Raffel, head honcho of SB Nation's tremendous blog on all things Raven, Baltimore Beatdown, stopped by. You can see his answers to my questions here. My answers to Bruce's queries eagerly await your perusal after the jump.

1. Houston seems to have disappointed this season, yet still remains in the hunt for the AFC South title. What are their chances and what has gone wrong?

BRB: As I type this, I suppose that mathematically, the Texans are in it. Realistically, however, I don't give 'em much of a chance. The Texans need to win out, which is very hard to fathom, considering one of those games is Monday night's tilt versus the Ravens; then, the Texans have two of their last three games on the road, although the two road games are against crumbling Tennessee and Denver squads. Additionally, the Texans need the Colts and Jags to drop a game or two, and it's always a dicey proposition when you're counting on the failures of another team to pave your way to the postseason. I don't like our chances.

In terms of what's gone wrong, any discussion has to start and end with the Houston defense. The debate is whether the failure is primarily scheme or talent-based, though I believe most fans would agree that each has played a sizable role in the ongoing nightmare. Regardless of the reason, there's no getting around the indisputable fact that the Houston defense has been the biggest reason for the team's lackluster performance. There has also been criticism of the offensive play-calling (e.g., not giving Arian Foster enough touches), but the offensive foibles are not even in the same galaxy as the defense's shortcomings.

2. The Texans have some really good players on the defense (Cushing, Williams), but it's ranked among the worst in the league. Why?

BRB: While Mario Williams, Brian Cushing, and DeMeco Ryans (before his season-ending injury) could start for any team in the league, the majority of the Houston defensive starters, especially in the secondary, have no business starting on a playoff-caliber team. Antonio Smith and Bernard Pollard could likely start for several other squads, but I have a difficult time envisioning Amobi Okoye/Shaun Cody/Zac Diles or Darryl Sharpton/Kareem Jackson/Glover Quin/Eugene Wilson starting or even playing significant snaps in a rotation on a winning squad. There's a definite talent (or experience, in some cases) deficit, and it's compounded by a passive defensive scheme that only magnifies the players' weaknesses.

3. Matt Schaub was a top fantasy QB (I picked him on my team!) but has not had nearly the year that most people thought he would. Why?

BRB: First and foremost, I think the awesomeness of Arian Foster has had a profound effect on Schaub's numbers. Last year, there wasn't even a semblance of a running game, so the offense was far more pass-oriented; it stands to reason that Foster's excellence would negatively impact Schaub's passing statistics. Secondly, the passing game has undergone a subtle shift in philosophy with Kyle Shanahan moving to D.C. and Rick Dennison replacing him as offensive coordinator. The play-action and vertical game just hasn't been the same this year; Dennison seems to prefer shorter routes and bootlegs. Frankly, Schaub hasn't looked as comfortable as he did last year, and I think that's played a role--albeit a smaller one--in the decrease in his 2010 stats.

4. Andre Johnson is still one of, if not the, best WRs in the game, and so is RB Arian Foster. How do the Ravens defend them and anyone else we need to watch out for?

BRB: Opposing teams generally don't have a lot of success defending either guy. Gary Kubiak and/or Rick Dennison are probably your best chance at stopping them via the play-calling. Pay special attention to Foster as a receiver; he doesn't get a lot of press for it, but he's a tremendously talented receiving option. Additionally, I'd keep an eye out on Joel Dreessen and perhaps a returning Owen Daniels; the TE can play a consistent role in the Houston passing offense. There used to be a time when I'd also tell you to watch out for Kevin Walter, but he's gone months at a time as a total afterthought in the passing game. Jacoby Jones, in theory, could also be good for a big catch or two, but that happens about as frequently as a solar eclipse.

5. Gary Kubiak is obviously on the hot seat there. Do you think he gets canned and what have you heard about him going back to Denver and possibly taking some of his star players with him?

BRB: I think the Kubiak-to-Denver talk is just that--talk--and I haven't heard a word about him taking any of the Houston stars with him, to Denver or anywhere else. I don't see Kubiak decamping to Denver, at least not this offseason. The reason I say that is because I've grown increasingly convinced that Kubiak will get another year at the helm in his hometown. Frank Bush, the architect of the aforementioned terrible defense, should be the sacrificial lamb at season's end. A new DC, in conjunction with the undeniable facts that (1) the offense is as dangerous as it gets; (2) the players like Kubiak and play hard for him; and (3) the team is close enough to breaking through that the idea of starting over with a new coach who would presumably want to install a different system, thus possibly resulting in a step backward, will likely be enough to convince Bob McNair to award Kubes one more season.

Wanna take a shot at the score?

BRB: I do, and I this week's edition of "Three And Out," scheduled to post on BRB at 1:30 p.m. CST on Monday.

Anything to add and/or vehmently disagree with, folks? It's yours in the Comments. As always, thanks to Bruce for swapping questions with me.