The Baltimore Ravens are set to take the field at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday against the Houston Texans. After a astonishing 43-13 loss to the Texans last season, the Ravens are looking to redeem themselves. But it won’t be easy.
Here are five keys to the game that the Ravens must focus on in order to take down the undefeated Texans.
1. Strong run game
Ray Rice has been listed as day-to-day with a strained hip flexor which he sustained in last Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns. While Rice has been missing from practice this week, Bernard Pierce has stepped up in his place.
Pierce was drafted by the Ravens in 2012 and has been able to practice alongside Rice ever since. Because of this, Pierce’s performance since his debut in the NFL shows that he is not an average backup running back. He is a powerful runner and has a good handle on the ball.
Pierce’s numbers so far this season have been relatively close to Rice’s, with 28 carries for 79 yards and averaging 2.7 yards per carry, compared to Rice’s 25 carries for 72 yards, with an average of 2.9 yards per carry.
2. Stop the Texans run game
The Ravens should not have too much to worry about with their run game, even if Ray Rice is sidelined on Sunday. But they need to shift their attention to Texans running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
Foster and Tate are both reliable running backs for the Texans. Foster is a three-time Pro Bowler and one of the best running backs in the league. If the Ravens can stop him, it will be a great start to shutting the team down.
3. Step up in the secondary
It’s no secret that the Ravens have struggled in the secondary this season. None of the players that started in the season opener against the Denver Broncos were out on the field at the beginning of last week’s matchup against the Browns.
The Ravens need to figure out how to work together in the secondary and stop Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans dominant wide receivers. Tight end Owen Daniels is also one of Texans quarterback Matt Schaub’s go-to guys, especially in the red zone.
Andre Johnson suffered a concussion from a hit last week, but he did practice today with the team. As of now, Johnson is expected to play on Sunday.
4. Put the Texans defense to work
The Texans have arguably one of the best defenses in the league right now. But with J.J. Watt leading the defensive line, the Ravens may want think about passing the ball.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has an arsenal of offensive weapons when it comes to throwing the ball. But establishing the connection between the quarterback and his receivers has not come easily for the Ravens offense this season. If the Ravens receivers can shut down the defensive backfield, Joe Flacco can deliver the ball comfortably to his receiver.
However, the Ravens are going to have to look out for former teammate Ed Reed. Reed held the safety position in Baltimore for 11 years, but parted ways with the organization after the 2012 season. Although he has been battling a hip injury, there is a good chance that Reed will be back on the field in Baltimore on Sunday.
5. Bring the pressure
Undoubtedly, Matt Schaub has plenty of adequate receivers to look for on the field. The Ravens not only need to cover the receivers, but they need to put the pressure on the quarterback.
Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil has been exceptional together on the pass rush so far this season. The Ravens front seven have stepped up to help in many ways, especially in the backfield. But the defensive line is going to have to exert more focus on the the opposing team’s quarterback in order to shut down Schaub.