Behind Enemy Lines: Baltimore Ravens
The Houston Texans look to rebound from their first loss of the season when they host the Baltimore Ravens in a huge game Sunday at Reliant Stadium. The Texans and Ravens will be playing for first place in the AFC as they share matching 5-1 records. They also are the only two teams in the conference with records currently above .500. Baltimore knocked Houston out of the playoffs last season, defeating the Texans 20-13 in the AFC Divisional Round.
The Ravens team that Houston will see Sunday will be slightly different than the one they faced last January. Baltimore is coming off of an exciting yet costly 31-29 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in week 6. In the victory, Baltimore lost two integral pieces of their defense for the season, LB Ray Lewis and CB Ladarius Webb. Lewis is gone with a torn triceps and Webb with a torn ACL. Jimmy Smith will replace Webb at cornerback and Daniel Ellerbe replaces Lewis.
While Baltimore is losing two of their best defenders, they may also be getting one of their best ones’ back Sunday. Linebacker and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs was activated off of the PUP list today and could see his first action of the season against the Texans. Suggs will be a game-time decision Sunday and if he suits up, it will complete a remarkably fast recovery for the All-Pro linebacker. He suffered a torn Achilles in April and a return after six months would be one of the fastest from this injury by any player.
His return would be a boost for the Ravens defense, who were already struggling even before Lewis and Webb went down. The normally dominant Baltimore unit has been gashed for over 200 rushing yards in back to back weeks by the Cowboys and the Kansas City Chiefs. The area where Suggs may help the most is pass defense. He recorded 14 sacks last season and his 25 sacks from 2010-2011 were the fifth most in the league during that span.
The Ravens pass rush has definitely missed his presence this season. Last season through Week 6, the Ravens held opposing quarterbacks to a Total QBR of 37.5 and a completion rate of 51.4 percent when sending four or fewer pass-rushers. This season, opposing quarterbacks have a Total QBR of 86.2 and are completing 69.3 percent of their passes when the Ravens send four or fewer rushers.
The Ravens may no longer be the dominant defense they have been for the majority of the last decade. Baltimore keeps winning, however, and that can be attributed to an offense that is now among the best in the league. Led by QB Joe Flacco, the Ravens rank 8th in offense at 385 yards per game. Flacco is 7th in the league with 1,690 yards and has 8 touchdowns and 4 interceptions on the season. His #1 target has been veteran WR Anquan Boldin, who has 28 receptions for 429 yards and a touchdown. Torrey Smith is Baltimore’s top deep threat as he is 4th in the NFL at 18.8 yards per catch and leads the team with 4 touchdown receptions.
While Flacco won’t hesitate to air it out, RB Ray Rice is still the engine that drives the Ravens offense. Rice is having his usual stellar season with 482 rushing yards on 5 yards per carry with 5 touchdowns. He can also do damage catching the ball out of the backfield,which makes him one of the more versatile backs in the league.
Baltimore is also stout on special teams, an area where the Texans have had their struggles in the early season. former Texan Jacoby Jones will return to Houston fresh off of tying the NFL record with a 108 yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the win over Dallas. The Texans have given up 2 returns for scores this season and Jones would love nothing more than to have a big game against his former team. The Ravens also have two other former Texans, Pro-Bowl FB Vonta Leach and hard hitting SS Bernard Pollard.
Baltimore has never lost to Houston, bringing a 6-0 record vs the Texans into Sunday’s game. The Ravens won both games in Baltimore last season, 29-14 in Week 6 and the aforementioned playoff victory.