For the second straight week, your Houston Texans will have a rematch with an AFC North playoff team. This week, the Texans are preparing to travel to Baltimore, where the second-seeded Ravens await for a divisional playoff game.
Not only is this a rematch of a game from October, which Baltimore won 29-14, but it will mark the third time the Ravens and Texans have squared off in the last 13 months, counting last December's 34-28 overtime thriller on Monday Night Football. Despite October's 15-point win, the Texans actually held the lead midway through the 3rd quarter - meaning both games have been close. I imagine we are in for the same kind of close, physical game this Sunday.
As we did last week, let's take a look back to October to see what Houston did right, what they did wrong, and what can we draw from this to apply to Sunday.
Didn't Like: Sacks, sacks, sacks...
...Sacks. Baltimore got to Matt Schaub four times in their first match-up. Luckily, the pressure didn't lead to any turnovers, but each sack killed a Texans' drive, leading to four punts.
With the younger, holds-onto-the-ball-longer T.J. Yates under center, the line's job increases tenfold. They have to give Yates time, and Yates has to get rid of the ball quickly. A sack can lead to a fumble really quickly, especially if Terrell Suggs is doing the sacking, and this can snowball in a hostile environment.
Like: Other receiving options showed up.
In those last two games to Baltimore, wide receiver Jacoby Jones is averaging 4.5 receptions, 64 yards, and a touchdown, Kevin Walter has 5.5 receptions for 54.5 yards, and running back Arian Foster has chipped in another 5 catches per game. Most of the time, Texans fans are wondering where the other receivers are in the passing game, but everyone seems to show up against the Ravens.
When you can make other teams worry about a second receiver, tight end, or running back out of the backfield you can begin to spread out a defense. Not only does this help take a little bit of pressure off of Andre Johnson, but linebackers can't exclusively key in on the running game which helps everyone.
Didn't Like: Allowing the deep pass.
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco had 9.2 yards per attempt in the October game. That average was his second-highest total all season and well above his season average of 6.7 Y/A. A big reason for this was a 56 yard pass to Anquan Boldin and 51 yarder to Torrey Smith. Both of these long passes helped set up two Baltimore scores.
In a close game, big plays will make all the difference. Houston's defense has to play tighter coverage and get quicker pressure on Flacco to avoid allowing the bomb.
Like: Keeping possession and forcing turnovers.
Joe Flacco lost a fumble and Johnathan Joseph picked off one of his passes. Matt Schaub and the offense never turned the ball over on anything aside from three failed fourth down conversions. A two-to-nothing turnover battle ought to have meant a Houston win. However, Baltimore's defense only allowed Houston to score off of one of those turnovers.
Still, the Texans will need another similar effort if they want a chance to win on the road. A T.J. Yates-led Texan team has less room for error than a Schaub-led team.
Didn't like: Lack of a Finishing Attitude.
The game was close, but the score was not. How does that happen?
Seven Houston drives went into Baltimore territory. Only two drives resulted in any points. That is five drives where the Texans could do nothing but stall in Baltimore territory - including once where they went for a 4th and 1 at the Baltimore 20. Despite the struggles, the Texans led midway through the 3rd quarter, but they couldn't finish the game either.
As the underdog road team, Houston has to focus on finishing each drive with points. They can't continue to get into Baltimore territory and stall if they want to play for the AFC Championship.
On the whole, this game came down to Baltimore making plays and finishing their drives. If Houston can come out and put forth a focused effort then they should find themselves in a good situation in the 4th quarter. That's all you can ask for on the road, right?
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