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Texans-Ravens Monday Night Football Preview: Five Things To Watch

Here’s five things to watch for when the Texans play the Ravens.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

My belly is full. My belt is clasped one more notch to the left. The four main rivers that leave my heart to fill the tributaries and creeks of my body are close to bursting. I am fully satiated with being alive.

I’m back home as of 5 p.m. Sunday, and of course the Texans play Monday night. Not even in death will I be able to escape watching this team play football. And BOY-O, there is a lot to watch for in this titanic clash. The Ravens are trying to keep pace with the Buffalo Bills for the second wild card in the AFC by going 6-5 instead of falling to 5-6 and being lumped with Oakland, San Diego Los Angeles, and Oakland. Houston is attempting to get back in IT.

I should be doing laundry instead.


1.) Joe Flacco Is Probably The Worst

For one playoff run, Flacco’s body was inhibited by the holy ghost and the entire course of the world changed. In that 2012 Super Bowl winning run, Flacco went 73-126 (57.9%), threw for 1,140 yards, averaged 9.0 yards an attempt, threw 11 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. In that same regular season, he averaged 7.2 yards an attempt and threw 22 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. For the span of four games in the NFL Playoffos, he was the greatest quarterback of all-time. Now, today, he is the league’s worst when you consider his performance, age, and contract.

This season, Flacco is 209-312, which comes out to a completion percentage of 65.5%, which is 10th in the league. It’s a bag of chips, though. Empty numbers that don’t mean much of anything. 273 of Flacco’s attempts have covered less than 15 yards through the air. The average air yards of his completions is 4.5 yards, which is 39th. His leading receiver is Javorious Allen, who has 40 catches on 51 targets. He has a DVOA of -16.3% on these receptions. All Flacco does now is run bootlegs and dump it off, or stare down field until he dumps the ball off.

Flacco has attempted 42 deep passes. He’s completed only 10 of them, a hot 23.8% success rate. These throws have picked up only 280 yards (6.7 yards an attempt). He’s thrown 3 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. His quarterback rating is 39.1. I don’t know what happened to make 2012 happen, and I don’t know what happened for him to become this. I need to see a picture of his belly to prove this, but my guess is he’s suffering from low-T. Flacco needs to start getting healthy fats like olives and avocados in his diet, seeing the sun, going to bed sooner, running sprints, and taking magnesium to zap him back to his old self. I mean, just look at this.

The Ravens can kind of throw it short. Flacco is picking up only 0.8 yards less an attempt when he’s tossing it short, and he has a completion percentage of 73.3%. Ben Watson and Jeremy Maclin have been consistent short passing receivers. And Danny Woodhead is back for another game until he’s injured again. Woodhead has caught all 8 of his targets.

The other issue is the Ravens’ passing offense is built to throw down field. They have Maclin, Mike Wallace, and Breshad Perriman. The receivers on Baltimore’s roster are here to run really fast and try to catch 50 yard long tosses. Flacco has been hesitant to throw these passes, with good reason; he has been horrendous when attempting them.

The pass blocking has been fine and can hold long enough for these longer routes to develop. The receivers are here to do a specific thing that Flacco doesn’t do anymore. It’s a mess. The Ravens have a passing offense that ranks 29th in DVOA at -16.6%. Flacco has a DYAR of -468 and a DVOA of -33.0%. The only full-time starting quarterback worse than him is DeShone Kizer, who is a rookie running an offense that hasn’t helped him out at all.

The only good news is Flacco gets to throw passes against Camp Green Lake. The Texans’ defense has a DVOA of -2.2% (22nd) against short passes and a DVOA of 52.1% (27th) against deep passes. Houston has allowed 33 passes that have traveled 15 yards or further through the air (5th most), allowing 32.09 yards a completion (3rd), 15.81 yards an attempt (2nd), and 8 touchdowns (T-1st). If Flacco closes his eyes and throws seven of these passes, he’s bound to hit two of them. Even then, he should be able to have some success dumping the ball off.

2.) Pass Game Hard, Run Game Harder

The Ravens are going to rely on Flacco tonight because they sure won’t be able to run the ball. They have 286 rush attempts, 10th most in the NFL, but they are going to be better off tossing it.

Despite losing J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, the Texans’ run defense has thrived. They are 7th in run defense DVOA at -20.1%. D.J. Reader, Benardrick McKinney, and Jadeveon Clowney are so talented and so good at stopping the run that the collection of 2s and 3s surrounding them can’t bring them down.

The Ravens’ run offense has been pretty simple. They use Allen to run between the tackles. He has been slightly inefficient and is averaging 3.5 yards a carry on 109 attempts. He’s grinding runs up the middle but can only do so much. Their other running back, Alex Collins, is an explosive free field runner. He has 577 yards on 113 runs, averaging 5.0 yards a carry. Additionally, he is ranked 7th in DYAR and 2nd in DVOA this year. He’s a long, back-breaking runner.

Collins seems always able to break one, sometimes two long runs a game, but he will have a horrible time in this game. Instead, it’s going to be about taking advantage of field position when the Ravens get it and Flacco knocking some throws downfield.

3.) Can He Make It 7?

My favorite thing about watching the Texans play right now is Jadeveon Clowney. If we weren’t spoiled by J.J. Watt, our skulls would be shrapnel by watching Clowney play. Yet because he doesn’t have 20 sacks and 6 touchdowns this season, he isn’t special enough for some people.

My second favorite thing is Savage fumbling the football. Savage is leading the league in strip sacks at six; Matthew Stafford is second at five, and Eli Manning is third at four. The Texans have thrown 395 passes. Savage has thrown 125. It’s a beautiful skill. It’s the only thing he does well. This week he is playing a Ravens defense that has 28 sacks and has a pressure rate of 31.3% (5th). They have 12 players with a sack.

Another strip sack has to happen. There’s no way it doesn’t. My guess is Terrell Suggs, against Chris Clark, with a swim move, and Xavier Su’a-Filo makes the tackle after the turnover.

4.) More Bad News

This picture does get bleaker for the Houston offense. They are going up against the best defense in football according to DVOA. The Ravens are 2nd in pass defense at -30.1%, 10th in run defense at -17.0%, and have a total rating of -23.7%. In addition to this defense, they have scored 6 non-offensive touchdowns—2 on fumble returns, 2 on interception returns, one on a kickoff return, and one on a punt return.

What the Ravens excel at this year is covering wide receivers. #1 wide receivers have a DVOA of -44.4%, #2 wide receivers have a DVOA of -43.3%, and other wide receivers have a DVOA of -17.0%. These are all top five marks. Baltimore is covering wide receivers on the sidelines and shutting down short passing games. They are allowing tight ends to catch the ball, but not the opponent’s best receivers. Jimmy Smith has been one of the best cornerbacks in football this year. Their pass defense has worked to perfection.

Although the Ravens are best in the NFL at stopping short passes, they do have a DVOA of 42.9% (29th) against deep passes. This is their one big squishy weak spot. Savage is 7-27 (25.9%) for 198 yards and 2 touchdowns on these throws. This isn’t the team or quarterback to make it by slinging the ball downfield.

The only other problem the Ravens have is stopping the run over the tackle position. They have had injuries to their defensive ends to this season and have been susceptible against these runs. The Texans have Chris Clark and Breno Giacomini paving these paths. This isn’t the team to make it by attacking the Ravens’ defensive ends.

The biggest problem is that the Texans probably won’t be able to run the ball or throw the ball. The Ravens won’t be able to run the ball; they need Flacco to move things. All Flacco needs to do his prick his finger, sign another oath, hit two deep throws this game, and Baltimore should win this hammer claw bar fight. If he doesn’t, they’ll probably win anyways. Their defense, run game, and special teams are better; it will just end up being a closer endeavor.

5.) Special Teams

On a recent night, I was driving through empty New Mexico. During the day, it’s a sea of vertigo-inducing yellowed grass that leans toward the horizon with variety of LSD created rock formations parched on top that make your brain melt. At night, it’s all so very clear and open. Shadows of rocks. Deep blue skies. Stars filling out the rest of the empty space.

To fit the mood, I put on a spooky alien podcast. A friend of mine mentioned a Joe Rogan podcast with Tom Delonge, the former front man of Blink-182. After listening to it in all that emptiness, I talked myself into an immediate alien filled future. Look at all the people on his board who know stuff. That video was kind of cool. Can’t wait for these new videos to be released. With this, the new vehicles Tesla has showcased, the backflipping robot, and more articles written about the ethics of AI, I don’t know who I am anymore. My theory has been that in the last ten years lots of incremental technological changes have been made, but nothing has been life-changing aside from the smartphone. But in the next ten years, all these incremental changes are going to be an avalanche and soon the world will be an entirely different place. I own an iPhone 5s. I haven’t played a video game system since the XBOX 360. I don’t think I can handle all of this. I might just have to run away from it all.

With all this uncertainty and the zaniness of the times we live in, it’s nice when the classics keep bringing the hits. It’s a wall we can hold our hand onto while the reality around us is an earthquake. Since 2012, the Ravens have had a special teams DVOA of 9.2% (1st), 6.3% (3rd), 8% (2nd), 7.3% (1st), and 4.9% (4th). This season, they are again top five in the league, currently first at 8.0%. Ahhhhh, I feel much better.

Since John Harbaugh has taken over the Ravens—did you know he used to be a special teams coach—defense and special teams have been the mantra of this team. This season is like all the other ones. The Ravens are crushing the kicking game, or the other third as the people who really know the game like to say. Their opponent is Houston, who ranks 2.6% (23rd), a team that is the anti-Ravens when it comes to special teams. Always among the worst in the league, Houston is finally on the basement steps instead of being down inside the basement itself.

The biggest mismatch Baltimore has tonight in the punt return game. Michael Campanaro is getting 14.7 yards a punt return, and Bobby Rainey has averaged 11.0 on his two returns. Regardless of who takes punts back, the Ravens will be catching them from an old punter and taking them back against one of the worst return units in the league. In a probable close game, the field position swings Baltimore can pick up after punts can be the difference.

Enjoy the game.