The Ravens’ first victory gives them an early lead in the AFC North, in a year where a deeper postseason run for Baltimore is an expectation rather than an aspiration.
Conversely, reeling from a primetime defeat at the hands of the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs, the Texans are desperate to avoid a second consecutive loss to start their season, particularly against two AFC powerhouses that they’ll likely face again.
Though playoff implications are unusual for an early-season clash, conference games loom large when tiebreakers come into play later in the year.
In this pivotal AFC showdown, three match-ups will come into focus in Week 2:
DESHAUN WATSON VS. BALTIMORE DEFENSE
Despite a respectable stat line for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (20-of-32 for 253 yards, one passing touchdown, one interception), most of his yardage came when the game was largely out of reach.
With a dismal 114 yards entering the final 15 minutes, Watson was largely ineffective against a swarming Kansas City pass rush, killing all chances of a comeback with a turnover in Houston’s own territory.
Against a new-look Ravens defense that allowed only 168 passing yards to a speedy Browns offense, the Texans need Watson to extend plays and avoid miscues against an opportunistic unit that ranked sixth in 2019 against the pass, with many returning players at critical positions such as Pro Bowl cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters.
Conversely, against an athletic quarterback willing to run, the Ravens must exercise the same gap discipline that allowed them to limit Watson and Patrick Mahomes to a combined 21 rushing yards in their respective meetings last season. In addition to a beefier front-seven, led by free-agents Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe, Baltimore prioritized speed and agility at the linebacker position in drafting rookie linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison. Queen, in particular, shined in his professional debut, leading all Ravens in tackles and disrupting plays on nearly every passing down.
Watson is the Texans’ deadliest weapon, and must be judicious in pulling the trigger on riskier throws or else the Ravens will make him pay.
BALTIMORE RUNNING BACKS VS. HOUSTON RUN DEFENSE
Despite breaking an NFL record for rushing yards in a single season in 2019, the Ravens’ rushing attack was largely ineffective against the Browns last week. The trio of Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and J.K. Dobbins combined for a mere 68 yards on the ground, with Dobbins’ day salvaged by two touchdowns on goal-to-go drives.
Fortunately for Baltimore, the Texans defense is reeling from an obscene 166 rushing yards allowed to the Chiefs. Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire tallied 138 yards on 25 carries, including ten runs of at least six yards. Despite returning defensive stalwart J.J. Watt from a pectoral injury that cost him his entire 2019 season, his status is unclear for Sunday’s game after practicing in a limited capacity with a hip injury.
Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman has indicated that his play-calling will adjust to the rhythm of each game, but despite quarterback Lamar Jackson’s success throwing against the Browns, their running back corps is desperate for redemption after an uncharacteristic Week 1 showing.
BALTIMORE OFFENSIVE LINE VS. HOUSTON DEFENSIVE LINE
Questions entering the 2020 season revolved around the Ravens’ ability to replicate their success on offense with the retirement of right-guard Marshal Yanda.
In his first start, rookie Tyre Phillips performed admirably against a Cleveland defensive line that featured three former Pro Bowlers who contributed to a seventh-ranked pass defense in 2019. Center Matt Skura, returning from a season-ending knee injury, also showed little rust in his first live-game action in nearly ten months.
However, a late-game injury scare from premier left-tackle Ronnie Stanley gave a glimpse into his immense value in Baltimore’s offense, as replacement D.J. Fluker struggled on the edge after coming off the bench. Though Stanley’s return to practice this week was encouraging, there remains the possibility of limiting his snaps on Sunday to prevent further aggravation.
With similar concerns about the playing time of J.J. Watt, the Texans will hope for limited service from Stanley to give respite to a Houston defensive line that needs all of the help it can get against an explosive Baltimore offense.
THE FINAL WHISTLE
Despite an unusual offseason, the Ravens showed no signs of rust in Week 1, scoring at-will and dominating in all three phases. The Texans need an early start to keep pace with “The Lamar Jackson Show,” but Baltimore is likely to walk out of Houston with a 2-0 record before their primetime showdown with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
History, Box Scores, and Statistics: Pro Football Reference
(Featured Image Credit: Shawn Hubbard / BaltimoreRavens.com)