5 Baltimore Ravens to Watch vs. Houston Texans
5 Baltimore Ravens to Watch vs. Houston Texans
The Ravens have performed well against the Texans in the past as they are 6-1 against the defending AFC South champions and 3-0 in the friendly confines of Charm City. That one loss came in a drubbing at Reliant Stadium last season as the Ravens were shellacked 43-13 in a game that featured the return of Terrell Suggs and that's about it.
While the Ravens did win Super Bowl XLVII in 2012, Baltimore has to still have a sour taste in their mouths from that debacle. The teams are different, but this is beginning to develop into a friendly rivalry between two of the top contenders in the AFC.
The game of course will be highlighted by two people for reasons that don't involve crossing the white lines: Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
Lewis was quite possibly one of the greatest inside linebackers to ever play the game, and he will be enshrined in the Ravens Ring of Honor and become just the eighth member in franchise history to do so. Reed makes his Houston Texans debut and will likely play his first game not donning the purple and black in his 12-year career. I'm sure that tears will be shed, hugs will be given out and historic speeches will come of this spectacle.
However, there is still a football game that must be played. Here are some Ravens I think could make or break the outcome of this game.
5. Bernard Pierce
At this point, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has made it clear this week that Ray Rice, despite limited practice time this week, will likely be a game-time decision come Sunday. I suspect that he will play given that the Ravens play a vaunted defense in the Texans, but I expect at least a 50-50 or 60-40 split leaning toward Bernard Pierce. While the second-year back hasn't truly shouldered a full workload, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell says Pierce is prepared to do so. The former Temple Owl will be relied on this week to run downhill and try to wear down that highly-regarded front seven of the Texans that includes J.J. Watt.
4. Ray Rice
I think Ray Rice is going to play despite his strained left hip flexor, and if he does he will have to play a significant role in the offense. Two straight 36-yard performances will not get it done, especially for a guy who is regarded as one of the top five backs in the league. Yes, Rice can't shoulder the entire blame, but it has to partially fall on his game thus far. In year six, he hasn't shown flashes of brilliance like he did on a regular basis in his first five seasons. The Texans are tough defensively, but this is a game where star players have to come alive.
3. Kelechi Osemele
For a guy who was a game-changer at the left guard position during the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl run, Kelechi Osemele has not adjusted well at that position thus far. We began seeing the signs of KO's struggles against the Carolina Panthers in Week 3 of the preseason. Rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei manhandled the former Iowa State Cyclone, and it seems like he hasn't been able to fully regain his footing since that contest. One might attribute his struggles to playing next to second-year center Gino Gradkowski as opposed to the retired Matt Birk, but Osemele will be uncovered for a large portion of the game when facing the Texans' 3-4 scheme. His ability to get to the second level will be vital.
2. Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith will play a huge role in the outcome of the game this weekend as his size and physical nature should come into play against two tough receivers for the Texans. DeAndre Hopkins and all-everything Andre Johnson, who is expected to play despite battling concussion symptoms, will be a tough duo for the Ravens' secondary to stop. Yes, Corey Graham and Lardarius Webb will be important as well, but this could be a game where Smith reasserts himself as one of the top corners on the depth chart. After all, if the former first-round pick wants to prove his worth, challenging two quality receivers is the way to go.
1. Matt Elam
In his first game as a starter, Matt Elam didn't overly impress but didn't disappoint. Yes, he did give up a big play to Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron because of a misplayed coverage, but other than that, his performance was fairly clean. As I mentioned before, the secondary will be crucial in this ballgame as the Texans seem to have several weapons other than Andre Johnson that can move the ball through the air. Don't sleep on tight end Owen Daniels. However, I am highlighting Elam not only for his ability to stop the pass but how instinctive he must play against two of the premiere running backs in the game today in Arian Foster and Ben Tate. The Texans like to suck teams in with an extra guy in the box on defense to set up the play-action pass, so Elam's play recognition and ability to finish hits will be relied on this Sunday.