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Rushing To Judgment: How The Texans Running Backs Are Critical To Victory Over Baltimore

On Sunday afternoon, I watched the Texans beat up on the Bengals to win their first playoff game in history.

It's not that I didn't know what happened or that I missed the game on Saturday, but I had watched the game live with a few friends at this fantastic place called World of Beer -- the type of place with 50 beers on tap and a few hundred more in bottles, but that doesn't carry Bud Light -- and, while the thrill of victory was still fresh in my mind, the exact details of how that victory was accomplished were, well, fuzzy.

See, I'm the type of guy who, when completely sober, has a really hard time remembering details from a day or two before. I'm like the guy from Memento, only with a boring desk job and spreadsheets in place of tattoos. So, when something as momentous as that game occurs while I've had a few, it's useful to be able to retrace the steps that led to victory.

Now with a game coming up against Baltimore, I'm scraping my brain to try and remember what happened three months ago. No chance.

Fortunately, these here interwebs contain much of the detail that I'm looking for.

It's hard to say that the Texans are healthier than they were the first time the two teams met. When the two teams first met in mid-October, they had already lost Mario Williams for the season and were playing without Andre Johnson and James Casey.

Still, they were not a play away from having Jake Delhomme take meaningful snaps.

So, while the Texans will have more available talent around the field, and even taking into account how much T.J. Yates has exceeded expectations, the burden of victory must be shared by the other players.

This is hardly breaking news. But what might be mildly interesting is that this was pretty much the case last time as well, but the supporting staff fell short.

Perhaps the last time out, it was more reasonable to expect Matt Schaub to "impose his will," so to speak (I hate clichés), but as I've discussed before, he was unable to do so. Schaub's line back in October - 21/37 for 220 yards, 1TD, 0 INT - was decent, but hardly exceptional. It's the type of line that would be around the better end of what we could reasonably hope for from Yates.

If the rest of the team follows the same party line that they did in Baltimore, however, then we'll be doing season reviews by this time next week.

The return of Andre Johnson will help the passing game, but it's hard to say that the Texans without Schaub and with Johnson will play better than the Texans without Johnson and with Schaub. Perhaps at best we can call it a wash, but the Texans' game plan will not be to attack the Ravens through the air.

Instead, the game plan, at least offensively, will be to establish the run game. Again, I have broken nary an ounce of new ground, but let's take a closer look at how the Texans can establish that run game.

A quick look at Football Outsiders shows us that the Ravens were the top-ranked defense in terms of defensive DVOA. Their ranking drops a bit in weighted DVOA (5th) and rushing DVOA (7th), but is also tops in passing DVOA. This supports the premise that the Texans are unlikely to beat the Ravens through the air, but it also shows that they are a stout defensive team across the board.

Against Cincinnati, Arian Foster was clearly the man, while Ben Tate was relegated to the occasional spell. Tate was solid, but Foster was dominant. That dominance came from his ability to run outside and catch the corner.

According to Football Outsiders, Baltimore's greatest weakness from the running game might be in defending runs on the right end. In Baltimore, that approach was unsuccessful back in October, as Foster averaged only 3.3 yards per carry, though his lone long carry of 16 yards came outside (albeit to the left side).

The three games where the Ravens gave up their most rushing yards this year, they lost. The only other loss was against Tennessee, where Chris Johnson was his typical suck but was outsucked by Joe Flacco and Ray Rice.

Those three games where the Ravens gave up the highest amount of rushing yards were against San Diego, Jacksonville and Seattle. At first blush, I suspected that Ryan Mathews, Maurice Jones-Drew and Marshawn Lynch must have had big games, but after simply clicking on the box scores, I found that that isn't true. Despite the big rushing totals, it was more of a volume effort than an efficiency one.

And perhaps that is the biggest takeaway from this analysis. The Texans are not likely to have the same level of success running the ball against Baltimore as they did against Cincinnati, but they must remain committed to it.

There is no question that the defense needs to contain Ray Rice and try not to make Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin look like Tom Brady and Randy Moss from the 2007 Patriots, but, in order to win this game, the offense will have to carry their share of the load, and the bulk of that load will fall on the running backs.

While there will be a number of short gains and loss-of-yardage plays, the Texans should continue to run the football and attack the edges. It can make for some frustrating football from a fan perspective, but it's the best way to attack the Ravens' defense, it plays to the Texans' strengths, and, oh yeah, it sets up the play-action -- which Yates has learned to run pretty well.

It's going to be much more difficult this week than it was last week, but the best way to ensure that we have another week is to run the ball.

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