1:00 PM EST, CBS – Line: Ravens -4.5, Over/Under: 52
Division leaders collide in a potential Playoff Preview, as the Houston Texans meet the surging Baltimore Ravens from M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland, a game that features two of the most electrifying young Quarterbacks that the league has to offer. Perhaps no team in the league was in more need of their Bye Week than the Texans (6-3, 1st in AFC South), who after traveling to London to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars for the second time this season (26-3), had an injury report that was longer than an audit from the IRS. A veritable who’s who from both sides of the football have been dealing with a plethora of injuries over the past few weeks, including Starting Quarterback, Deshaun Watson (70.2%, 2,432 YDS, 6.99 NY/A, 18 TD, 5 INT, 76.9 QBR), Left Tackle, Laremy Tunsil, Receivers, Will Fuller (34 REC, 450 YDS, 13.2 Y/R, 3 TD), DeAndre Hopkins (68 REC, 665 YDS, 9.8 Y/R, 4 TD), and Kenny Stills (22 REC, 367 YDS, 16.7 Y/R, 1 TD), along with Defensive Backs, Jonathan Joseph (36 TKL, 8 PD), Bradley Roby (24 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 FF, 4 PD), Tashaun Gipson (25 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 QBH, 2 INT, 1 TD, 4 PD), and Lonnie Johnson (27 TKL, 5 PD) among others. That doesn’t even include three-time Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt (24 TKL, 4 TFL, 20 QBH, 4.0 SK, 1 FF, 2 FR, 3 PD), who tore his Left Pectoral Muscle back in late October, effectively ending his season prematurely for the third time in the last four years. As a result, this a team that consisted of a lot of moving pieces and parts, with their Head Coach, Bill O’Brien, effectively acting as General Manager for the past few months, which has led to the strategist pulling the trigger on a number of transactions that have ranged from head-scratching (I.E. the Jadeveon Clowney trade) to smart (acquiring Tunsil and Stills). All of these moves have compromised them in the Draft for the next few seasons, but we can all see that O’Brien is a Head Coach and he is focused squarely on the here and the now in attempt to improve his team immediately. Hence the move for Tunsil, who has brought a steady presence to an Offensive Line that has been a mess for the past two years, allowing the aforementioned Watson to get sacked a staggering eighty-one times from 2017 to 2018, including a league-worst sixty-two last year for a percentage of 10.4%. At first it appeared that that worrying trend would continue into 2019, with the third-year Quarterback sustaining a ridiculous Eighteen Sacks in the first four games alone, but the Coaching Staff will be happy to see that figure decrease dramatically in the outings since then, with 24-Year Old taking Six Sacks in the last five games. Given his ability to make explosive plays outside of the Pocket with his legs, this guy is always going to leave himself open to contact from the Defense, a fact that is all the more prominent now that he’s been forced to carry such a heavy load offensively. With that said, it’s working. Oh man, it’s working. Houston ranks in the Top-10 in a number of offensive categories, including Points (26.4), Total Yards (413.0), First Downs (214), Passing Touchdowns (18), Net Yards per Pass (6.97), Rushing Attempts (28.8), Rushing Yards (142.8), Rushing Touchdowns (10), Yards per Carry (5.0), Success Rate on Third Down (46.8%) and in the Red Zone (65.7%), Score Percentage (43.2%), and Average Time (2:59), Plays (6.36), Yards (37.5), and Points (2.47) per Drive. Watson has accounted for 301.2 Total Yards himself, or in other words, 72.9% of their production, along with all but five of their Twenty-Eight Total Touchdowns. When we last saw him, he deftly picked apart a staunch Jaguars’ Defense on 22-of-28 Passing for 201 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns, while rushing for another Thirty-Seven Yards on Seven Carries, while veteran Tailback, Carlos Hyde (149 CAR, 704 YDS, 4.7 Y/C, 3 TD), continued his excellent form, trampling his former team for 160 Yards on Nineteen Carries. On his fourth team in three years, Hyde is enjoying a career campaign averaging 78.2 Yards per Contest and 4.7 Yards per Carry, while surpassing 100 Rushing Yards for the second time in the last four games. Credit to the Defense as well, which despite struggling to stop the Pass with all of those Defensive Backs on the Injury Report, got after Jacksonville’s Rookie Quarterback, Gardner Minshew, relegating him to 27-of-47 Passing for 309 Yards, and a pair of Interceptions and Lost Fumbles apiece. Unheralded Linebacker, Brennan Scarlett (20 TKL, 1.0 TFL, 5 QBH, 3.5 SK, 2 FF), accounted for two of his team’s Four Sacks, including a strip of Minshew, who was under duress throughout the English affair. O’Brien will need a similar performance against the Ravens, whose Rushing Attack (which we’ll get into shortly) has worn out opposing Defenses, keeping the most prolific of playmakers relegated to the sidelines.
Meanwhile, there may be a new favorite in the AFC, folks, for the Ravens (7-2, 1st in AFC North) have established themselves as a very real threat to reach the Super Bowl, and we highly doubt anyone really wants to see them on their way. Winners of five consecutive games, Baltimore has been a throwback in an era where the rest of the league has become enamored with throwing the football all over the field, choosing instead to steamroll the opposition via a punishing Rushing Attack that has been second to none in 2019. Indeed, these are rare birds, folks, for instead of flying, they run, or shall we say, trample their opponents to the tune of 197.2 Yards per Game (1st Overall) on 5.5 Yards per Carry (1st Overall), with nearly half (15) of their Thirty-One Offensive Touchdowns coming on the ground. For those who continue to say that points come via the Passing Game, they can absolutely come courtesy of the run too, with John Harbaugh’s charges leading the NFL in scoring at a whopping 33.3 Points per Game (1st Overall), which would be the highest such figure in Franchise History. By now we all know how this works, right? Running the football successfully not only allows you to move the chains with greater frequency and exponentially more formidable within the Red Zone, but it also shortens the game, and wears out the opposing Defense, while taking the opposing offense out of their rhythm due to waiting on the sidelines to return to the field. These are all true in regards to the Ravens, who lead the league in Average Time (3:24), Plays (6.86), and Points (2.95) per Drive, which is rather remarkable when you consider that their average drive is starting at their own 28.5-Yard Line (20th Overall). Furthermore, they rank Third Overall on Third Down (48.6%) and Fifth in the Red Zone (65.7%), all due to their ability to threaten the Defense in a variety of ways. Much has been said about this team’s success thus far, but as Harbaugh has so aptly put it in the past week’s, they’re forcing the rest of the league to reevaluate their approach to offensive football. And in the end, there are two figures who have been absolutely essential to this revolution in Baltimore, and that’s Sophomore Quarterback, Lamar Jackson (65.9%, 2,036 YDS, 7.12 NY/A, 15 TD, 5 INT, 77.1 QBR), and Offensive Coordinator, Greg Roman. In his first full season as the Starter, Jackson has been nothing short of a revelation, proving that he can in fact succeed with his legs arm and legs, accounting for a ridiculous 304.2 Total Yards per Game, which is actually more than five different teams at this point. Seriously, folks, we haven’t seen a rushing threat quite like this at Quarterback since a young Michael Vick set the league on fire in the early 2000s; Jackson leads the Ravens with 702 Yards and Six Touchdowns on 106 Carries, ranking Eleventh Overall in Rushing Yards, ahead of Pro-Bowlers such as Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, and Alvin Kamara, while logging a league-high 6.6 Yards per Carry, which is quite frankly astounding. Much of this success can be attributed to Roman, who after being promoted from Run-Game Coordinator, has brought the signature innovation that made him such a commodity when he served as Harbaugh’s brother, John’s, Offensive Coordinator from 1011 to 2014 with the San Francisco 49ers. When we last saw them, Baltimore was busy annihilating Division Rival, Cincinnati, in a 49-13 rout that featured arguably the run of the year from Jackson, who evaded what appeared to be the entirety of Paul Brown Stadium on his way to a 47-Yard Touchdown, highlighted by a spin move that will likely grow to be the stuff of legend when his career is over. However, while a win over the winless Bengals is one thing, manhandling the reigning Super Bowl Champion, New England Patriots, is another matter altogether, and that’s precisely what Baltimore did two weeks ago before a primetime audience, dealing them their first defeat of the season, 37-20. Harbaugh’s charges wasted no time punching New England in the mouth, racing out to a commanding 17-0 lead that they would never relinquish. This one was all about time of possession, as the hosts rushed for 210 Yards and Three Touchdowns on Forty-One Carries, possessing the football for a staggering 37:01, which meant that Tom Brady & Co. were parked on the bench for quite a long time. The Ravens opened up the game with back-to-back drives consisting of eleven plays apiece (traveling 72 and 54 Yards), before venturing another Seventy-Two Yards to the End Zone in just three plays on third series. And if that wasn’t enough, they posted consecutive 14-Play Drives of Eighty-Six and Sixty-Two Yards in the Second Half to put the affair out of reach. Jackson was masterful in his first meeting with the future Hall of Famer, completing 17-of-23 Passes for 163 Yards and a Touchdown, while rushing for another Sixty-One Yards and two scores on just Six Carries, with veteran Tailback, Mark Ingram (123 CAR, 619 YDS, 5.0 Y/C, 8 TD), tearing off 115 Yards on Fifteen Carries. When you play like this, you’re bound to win a lot of games, and now we’re going to see if they can continue to do so against one of the staunchest Run Defenses in the league, for Houston has relinquished a meager 84.2 Yards per Game on the ground, third-fewest in the NFL thus far.