Jump to content
ExtremeRavens: The Sanctuary

Ravens Insider: Ravens roundtable: Answering questions about the Texans and star rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud ahead of playoff game


Recommended Posts

After having to wait an extra day to find out who their opponent would be in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs, the Ravens now know they’ll play the Houston Texans at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium after the Buffalo Bills knocked off the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-17, on Monday night in snowy Orchard Park, New York.

The fourth-seeded Texans are the lowest-seeded team remaining in the AFC after crushing the Cleveland Browns, 45-14, Saturday in Houston and thus draw the top-seeded Ravens. They’re also playing at a much higher level than they were in Week 1 of the regular season when Baltimore held them without a touchdown in an easy 25-9 victory on Sept. 10.

Baltimore Sun reporters Brian Wacker and Childs Walker answer the five biggest questions facing the Ravens as they prepare to take on the Texans.

How are the Texans different from when the Ravens beat them in Week 1?

Wacker: The last time these two teams met was so long ago, literally and metaphorically, that it feels like it was in a different season. C.J. Stroud was making his first NFL start and coach DeMeco Ryans his head coaching debut. Stroud threw for 242 yards and zero touchdowns while passing 44 times. He was also sacked five times and Houston averaged just 3.7 yards per play. Against the Browns, Stroud was far more deadly, completing 16 of 21 passes for 274 yards and three scores. He also hasn’t thrown an interception since mid-November, while the Texans’ defense harassed Browns quarterback Joe Flacco into two interceptions that they returned for touchdowns and sacked him four times.

Walker: That was Stroud’s first game as an NFL quarterback, Ryans’ first as an NFL head coach. The Texans’ most talented defensive players, edge rusher Will Anderson and cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., were also neophytes. The Ravens rolled up 30 pressures, six quarterback hits and five sacks against Stroud. The Browns’ top-ranked defense managed just five hurries and one quarterback hit against him in Houston’s wild-card round blowout. Stroud made use of that clean pocket to execute a near-perfect postseason debut. As John Harbaugh said Monday, the Texans are 17 games different than they were in the opener, and they’ve made the most of those 17 games.

The Texans dominated the highly rated Cleveland Browns defense in the wild-card round. How will they try to attack the Ravens’ defense?

Wacker: There are a few ways to make life tough on the Ravens: running the ball, controlling the clock and hitting on the occasional deep shot or off-script play. That’s easier said than done, of course, but Devin Singletary is a solid back with speed who has flashed a few times this season. The Texans are also coming off an efficient performance against the Browns in which Stroud was masterful in directing an offense that ranked in the 94th percentile in terms of expected points added, a metric that defines the value of each play by the effect it has on the offense’s likelihood to score.

Walker: Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, a hot name in the coaching rumor mill, called a masterful game in keeping the Browns off-balance. He learned under San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, so he favors zone runs and bootleg pass plays designed to stretch a defense horizontally, with deep shots peppered in. The Ravens just played the 49ers on Christmas, so they’re well-tutored on these concepts. They bottled up the Texans’ so-so running game in Week 1, built a two-score lead in the third quarter and kept Stroud uncomfortable. The Texans will hope to hit on a big play early so the Ravens can’t play from ahead and ratchet up the pressure.

Why should Ravens fans be worried about facing quarterback C.J. Stroud?

Wacker: Stroud is in such a rhythm and seemingly playing better every week he takes the field. Over the Texans’ past six games, excluding their Dec. 10 loss to the lowly Jets, he has completed 71.8% of his passes for an average of 265.8 yards passing per game and an average passer rating of 123.2 while throwing nine touchdowns and no interceptions. Stroud will be the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, though he’ll have to try to find a way to win in the playoffs for a second straight game without two of his top targets, Tank Dell and Noah Brown, both of whom combined for nearly 1,300 receiving yards this season.

Walker: Stroud is coming off one of the most impressive rookie quarterback seasons in history, and he actually raised his game against Cleveland’s fast, aggressive defense. He’s deadly on intermediate and deep throws and makes big-time connections without turning the ball over. A 23-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio is remarkable for a rookie who wasn’t playing conservatively. He’ll have to do it without two of his top targets, Dell and Brown, but he did fine without them against the Browns, in part because his connection with third-year wide receiver Nico Collins is already one of the league’s most fruitful.

How will the Ravens’ defense, which led the NFL in sacks, takeaways and points allowed per game, attack the Texans’ offense?

Wacker: Putting pressure on the rookie, much the way they did in Week 1, will again be paramount. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has been terrific with his disguises, from simulated pressures to unusual twists and stunts. Baltimore has gone after quarterbacks all year long and with success, and that’s not changing.

Walker: Macdonald is a master of deception, keeping quarterbacks uncomfortable with simulated pressure, stunts at the line of scrimmage and shifting zone coverage. He’ll try to keep changing the picture in front of Stroud and generate pressure without leaning too heavily on blitzes. As poised as Stroud is, his Pro Football Focus passing grade fell from 90.8 out of a clean pocket to 51.9 when he was under pressure. The Browns could not make him throw under duress. The Ravens’ effort to get to Stroud will be as important as any subplot in the game.

Ravens vs Texans
Baltimore Ravens Justice Hill (43) heads for the end zone for a touchdown as the Baltimore Ravens host the Houston Texans in the season opener at M&T Bank Stadium.
Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun
Ravens running back Justice Hill heads for the end zone for a touchdown against the Texans in the season opener on Sept. 10. (Jerry Jackson/Staff)

The Texans’ defense has allowed 12 points per game over its past three. How will the Ravens’ offense attack them?

Wacker: We’ve seen Lamar Jackson dial up the passing game and take shots downfield against susceptible defenses and the Texans certainly qualify with one of the poorer secondaries in the league, especially on the outside. Also, watch out for Justice Hill catching passes out of the backfield and for the Ravens to milk things on the ground if they get in front.

Walker: Houston’s defense ranked 23rd in Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) against the pass, allowing 6.5 yards per attempt but stiffening on third down. So don’t be surprised if Lamar Jackson comes out firing on early downs. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken seems to prefer building a lead with his passing game and locking it down with a more run-heavy attack after halftime. Flacco found plenty of success against the Texans before his pair of pick-sixes in the third quarter upended everything. Houston’s secondary covers the middle of the field, where Jackson prefers to work, better than the outside, but is vulnerable to deep shots.

AFC divisional round

Texans at Ravens

Saturday, 4:30 p.m.


Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 8 1/2

View the full article

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Create New...