Baltimore Ravens Week 2 Preview
Two of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the game will face off for the second time in their careers when reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson leads the Baltimore Ravens into NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas to take on Deshaun Watson and the Texans in an AFC showdown at 4:25 PM eastern standard time on CBS.
The Ravens opened their 2020 season with commanding a 38-6 show of force victory over the Cleveland Browns and the Texans are coming off a 34-20 loss to the defending Superbowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the first game of the season. These two teams met in Week 11 last season in Baltimore and the Ravens handed the Texans their most lopsided loss of the year in a 41-7 defeat.
Here is a detailed breakdown of the matchup including key matchups to look for, potential X factors, who will likely be out with an injury for each team, and a final outcome prediction.
What’s at stake:
The Ravens have won 13 straight regular-season games dating back to last season when they went on their 12-0 tear down the stretch after opening the year 2-2 and will be looking to extend the longest active winning streak to 14 straight when they travel to the lone star state on Sunday. The Texans will be trying to avoid dropping to 0-2 to start the season because teams that drop the first two games of the season statically don’t make the playoffs as often as teams that begin the year 1-1 or 2-0.
Baltimore could extend their lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Browns, who they already beat, in the race for the AFC North divisional crown with a win over another AFC opponent and the Texans would fall to 0-2 in both overall and conference play with a loss and would stay afloat if they were to pull off an upset over the heavily favored Ravens.
JJ Watt v Ravens offensive line
Even though the Ravens dominated the Browns on the final box score, their defensive front gave their offensive line fits several times throughout the afternoon but Jackson was elusive enough inside and outside of the pocket was able to mask some of their deficiencies in the opener. Their workload won’t get any lighter this week when they face the Texans five-time First-Team All-Pro defensive lineman J.J. Watt.
The three-time Defensive Player of the Year Award recipient is a game wrecker and can still dominate on that side of the ball. He’s only a season removed from a 16-sack campaign in 2018 before missing eight games with a torn pectoral last season. Ravens Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said that Watt plays with a unique style that allows him to use his complete package of balance, quickness, and power to deceptively set up offensive lineman and exploit angles in real-time.
Roman even went as far as to compare Watt’s ability to uniquely wreck offensive game plans on defense to his MVP winning quarterback’s one of a kind ability to destroy defensive game plans with his electric rushing ability. That’s extremely high praise and since Watt possesses the positional versatility to line up and be a factor from anywhere along the defensive front, he will be a handful for whoever he lines up across from.
Expect the Texans to predominately line him up in the gap between rookie right guard Tyre Phillips who looked solid in his debut and center Matt Skura who made a remarkable recovery from major knee surgery he had last November but still didn’t look fully recovered in Week One. Phillips’ inexperience and Skura not being at 100 percent of his preinjury form might be perceived weak spot that Houston might think they can exploit.
Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters v Will Fuller and Brandon Cooks
The Ravens First-Team All-Pro cornerback tandem staked their claim as the best tandem in the league in Week One when they put the clamps on the Browns pair of Pro Bowl wideouts. They held Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry to a combined eight catches for 83 yards and no touchdowns on 16 targets. This does not bode well for the Texans’ top two receivers who aren’t nearly as decorated or talented.
Cooks has been dealing with a hamstring injury and was a limited participant in practice this week and Fuller is mostly known as a deep threat primarily and doesn’t possess much refinement as a route runner. Watson will have a difficult time pushing the ball downfield or completing many passes on the boundary with Humphrey and Peters coming to town.
Ravens ILBs v Texans RBs
One of the few good takeaways from the Texans’ Week One loss to the Chiefs was the performance of former Pro Bowl running back David Johnson who they acquired from the Arizona Cardinals this offseason. Johnson was very effective on the ground running 11 times for a team-leading 77 yards and eclipsed 100 yards from scrimmage by catching three of his four targets for 32 yards.
The Ravens inside linebacker rotation of rookie Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison and veteran L.J. Fort helped keep arguably the best backfield tandem in the league in check Week One when they held Pro Bowlers Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb to a combined 147 yards from scrimmage which was quite the feat after watching them both run for over 100 yards apiece on Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals in primetime.
In addition to being known as a talented runner, Johnson is known as a gifted receiver out of the backfield as well who will sometimes line up and catch passes in the slot and out wide. All three of the Ravens top inside linebackers are proficient in coverage so any one of them might find themselves in a one on one matchup against Johnson in this game and will be expected to neutralize or at least limit his impact in the passing game as well as bring him down at or behind the line of scrimmage when he receives a handoff on run plays.
Ravens pass rush v Texans offensive line
The last time these two teams met a big reason that the Texans weren’t able to move the ball much or score more than a messily seven points was that Watson was under constant duress from the Ravens pass rush all game long. Baltimore’s defense batter and bruised Houston’s star quarterback from start to finish and sacked him a staggering seven times.
The Ravens are bringing back almost every member of that seven sack effort and added a few new shiny pieces that specialize on generating pressure up the middle as well as stuffing the run so it will be tough sledding for the Texans and happy hunting for Baltimore since they will be going up the same offensive line that they ate alive last year. It will be another long day at the office for Watson if his subpar pass protection can’t give him enough time to try to pass on the Ravens topflight secondary.
Potential X factors:
RB JK Dobbins
The Texans surrendered 138 yards and a touchdown on the ground to Kansas City Chiefs’ first-round rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the season opener. They will face another gifted rookie running back when the Ravens come to town in J.K. Dobbins who Baltimore drafted in the second round and while he didn’t rack up a tone of yardage on the ground in Week One, he did run well and scored a pair of red-zone touchdowns.
Dobbins can make defenders miss and make plays in space if the Ravens offensive line can open more holes and get him to the second level consistently more than they did against Cleveland. Look for Roman to get him more involved in the passing game this week after he showed off his superb receiving skills in training camp.
TE Nick Boyle
After watching 2019 Pro Bowler Mark Andrews rack up 58 yards on five catches and reel in two touchdowns against the Browns in Week One playing tight end and both wide and slot receiver, the Texans most certainly be devoting more attention his way and especially in the red zone.
Boyle is more renowned for his blocking expertise ion the run game but is expected to see more action in the passing game as a target and not just blocking following the trade of Hayden Hurst to the Atlanta Falcons this offseason. He only caught two passes on three targets in the opener for just three yards, but he could be in line for a bump in production in Week Two because Andrews will be garnering more attention in this matchup.
OLB Tyus Bowser
The fourth-year outside linebacker is coming off his best game since joining the team as a second-rounder in 2017 according to Defensive Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale and is headed back to his home state to the same town he attended college to play the team he had his best game of the 2019 season against. Last year he recorded two sacks, three tackles, and a pair of quaret6rback hits in the Ravens blowout win over the Texans.
Bowser played a career-high 39 snaps against the Browns in Week One and churned out his best game as a pro. Look for the Texas native to play with a little extra motivation this week even if his family and friends can’t physically be in attendance due to NFL health protocols due to COVID-19. Expect to see him making several plays as both a pass rusher and in coverage.
Who’s in and who’s out:
The biggest question mark and injury concern from the Ravens following their rout of the Browns in Week One was the health and availability of First Team All-Pro left tackle, Ronnie Stanley. He missed the majority of the second half on Sunday with an ankle injury and was seen gingerly walking around on the sideline.
However, Stanley is officially listed as questionable after missing Wednesday’s practice with a hip injury but returned as a limited participant on Thursday and was a full participant on Friday. All signs are pointing to the stalwart blindside protector being available for the team’s road trip to Houston to take on the Texans.
Veteran defensive back Jimmy Smith has been dealing with a hip injury of his own that caused him to miss Wednesday’s practice as well but he returned Thursday as a limited participant, was limited on Friday as well, and is listed as questionable heading into Week Two.
Second-year running back Justice Hill is set to make his 2020 debut this week after sitting out Week One with a soft tissue thigh injury that kept him out of practice for about two weeks. He was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday and Thursday and a full participant Friday. Hill is listed as questionable heading into Week Two and if he’s active he’d add another talented horse to Baltimore’s stout stable of backs and contribute on special teams as well.
Baltimore will be without the services of veteran wide receiver Chris Moore and rookie defensive lineman Justin Madubuike for a second straight week after they were both officially ruled out by the team Friday. Neither of them has suited up for practice since the regular season has started.
Moore didn’t practice all of training camp with a broken finger, yet he made the final roster because he is one of the best special teams players on the roster so his presence will be missed there. He was listed behind Hill on the initial depth chart at kick returner, but rookie wide receiver Devin Duvernay had an impressive showing in his debut returning kicks and will likely be the first one the team trots out on Sunday again.
The third-round rookie didn’t suffer a major knee injury but is considered week-to-week per Harbaugh prior to the season opener. Baltimore’s depth in the interior of their defensive line behind their starters looked pretty good against Cleveland and will continue to improve.
As for the Texans, they have had five players, including practice on a limited basis this week. The list includes wide receiver Brandon Cooks (quad), guard/tackle Tytus Howard (ankle), running back Duke Johnson (ankle), inside linebacker Peter Kalambayi and defensive end J.J. Watt (hip). All of them are listed as questionable heading into this week’s matchup and are expected to be available and active.
Recent history of the matchup:
Including the postseason, Baltimore owns a 9-2 lead in the all-time series between the two teams, won the first six in the series, and have won three of the last four meetings including last season’s shellacking at M&T Bank Stadium. The Texans haven’t historically given the Ravens much of a fight outside of a 43-13 blowout during the 2012 Superbowl season and a 25-13 loss in December of 2014.
While Texans will seek to bounce back and Watson will want to avenge the poor outing he had last time he faced the Ravens defense when he was held to just 169 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception passing in addition to being sacked seven times, I predict that neither will happen this week and Baltimore will win their 14th straight regular-season game in a row.
I still believe that the Ravens will maintain a balanced attack on offense this week and Jackson will expose Houston’s suspect secondary by picking apart their zone defense. However, I think that they will run the ball much better and efficiently than they did in Week One against a Texans defense that yielded 166 yards on the ground to the Chiefs in their opener. Baltimore gets back to their dominant rushing roots on offense and will rack up 200 or more yards on the ground in a 34-13 win.