The season is HERE. I write this as Patrick Mahomes slices through the Detroit Lions defense on Thursday Night Football. Do you have those friends that you haven’t seen in years, and when you get back together it’s like no time has passed? That’s what football being back feels like.
For Houston, they’ll have to wait a few more days to face off the Baltimore Ravens. The first game of the season offers Houston a fresh slate with a litany of fresh faces. New Head Coach DeMeco Ryans releases his new defense against a bolstered Ravens offense with new receivers to complement their dominant run game. On the other side, the new Offensive Coordinator Bobby Slowik gets his first chance to run an offense as he takes on a defense led by Patrick Queen, Kyle Hamilton, and Roquan Smith.
That takes us to the Groupthink of the week:
Houston plays Super Bowl contender Baltimore Ravens. They have a stacked offense and players on their defense such as Kyle Hamilton, Roquan Smith, and Patrick Queen. Which side of the ball do you think Houston matches up the best with? Which one-on-one matchup are you most excited to see?
I’d say defense vs. offense. Lamar Jackson did not play in the preseason even though they have new faces and a whole new offense. QBs that didn’t take a snap in the preseason were 3-8 last season in week one. We can expect some rust. I think their defense will be good but if we can get some three and outs and a turnover or two it can be a close one. I’m excited to see how Will Anderson will be employed. Ryans could dial up some mismatches. In that case anything could happen.
Perhaps by default, Houston’s Defense might have more of an advantage in this matchup than the offense. The big thing for Baltimore is that Lamar Jackson has not taken any snaps in calendar year 2023 in a game situation. There is a new offensive coordinator (Todd Monken) and likely Jackson will have some rust as he tried to get back into a rhythm for real-time game action. Additionally, Baltimore is trying to integrate some new offensive weapons, mainly in the form of OBJ. Perhaps he can regain his old form, but Baltimore is desperate for that game-breaking WR that the franchise really hasn’t had.
However, the big matchup is going to be Houston’s O-line, particular the right side, against that Baltimore front. Howard is out for the next 4 weeks, and the preseason did not inspire confidence about the backups. Baltimore’s current front is not making anyone think of the 2000 squad, but they can make life very rough for a team like Houston. Factor in a rookie QB starting a game in one of the most hostile places for any QB to play, and the O-line is going to have to hold up for Houston to have a chance.
With all the injuries the team is already piling up without so much as setting foot on a field, I’m not sure there is a side that I’d think matches up well against Baltimore. But I am interested to see how the defense has improved, or even if it has improved, compared to the last couple of years. It’s extremely unwise to extrapolate data from one game and assume it will carry over for the rest of the season, but I want to see what kind of potential we have when it’s not fake football being played.
For me, it’s Lamar Jackson against the Texans’ linebackers. How Houston decides to cover and protect will be a telltale of how they’ll handle their defense for the rest of the year. Denzel Perryman, Christian Harris, and Jake Hansen will start for the Texans at linebacker. They’ll also be able to rotate rookie Henry To’o To’o and veteran Cory Littleton. Houston has quality across the board at linebacker, but stopping Lamar Jackson in the air and on the ground has miffed teams with superior and inferior squads alike.
One-on-one, I can’t wait to see Derek Stingley Jr. against Odell Bechham Jr. The shifty veteran makes his long-awaited return and will be matched up against Stingley Jr. Jr. Had a disappointing season in 2022 facing a learning curve and injury. He’ll demonstrate how far he’s come right off the bat by shutting down on the the league’s former best playmakers.