The only AFC teams currently above .500 will be playing each other in week 7. After their emphatic defeat to the Green Bay Packers, the Houston Texans (5-1) will be looking to bounce back with a victory against the Baltimore Ravens (5-1).
The Ravens came through a close game against the Dallas Cowboys last week. For the first time in their history, the Ravens have well and truly been led by their offense. Last week, it was able to overcome the 29 points surrendered by a defence that is long past its prime and beset by injuries.
Linebacker, Ray Lewis along with cornerback Ladarius Webb were lost for the season on a unit that has only managed to come 26th in total defence so far this year. It ranks a slightly more respectable 17th, according to Football Outsider’s advanced statistics, but is clearly struggling to put up the sort of dominant performances it used to.
Webb is likely to be far more serious of a loss than Lewis. Webb was the best cornerback that Baltimore had and with fellow cornerback, Jimmy Smith questionable for the game, their secondary depth will be sorely tested. Added to this, all-pro safety Ed Reed is also playing with a shoulder injury that will hamper his effectiveness.
It is going to be interesting to watch the downfield battles in this game. The Texans’ backs and receivers against the Ravens’ banged up secondary is perhaps the key to the whole game. Whether Baltimore can stop spread sets and cover multiple receivers with its lack of depth remains to be seen. Baltimore has struggled especially to cover second receivers and tight ends, meaning Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter may be in for big days.
Going the other way, Houston will have to shut down versatile running back, Ray Rice. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco continues his pursuit of being labelled an ‘elite’ NFL quarterback and it is clear that he is certainly one of the better ones. However, the offense still runs through Rice and the Texans will need to shut him down to succeed.
The loss of Texans linebacker, Brian Cushing has clearly been a blow to what is still one of the better defensive units in the league. Last week, the Packers’ relatively unheralded group of backs were able to have a decent go of it on the ground, although they were not able to put up gaudy numbers, they were able to run just enough to keep the Houston defence from cheating against the pass.
With a much more dangerous back facing them this week, Houston will again be sorely tested on the ground and by Rice’s ability to catch passes out of the backfield.
However, Houston is still heavily favoured for the match with most bookies giving Baltimore a full seven points. Houston is playing at home. Last week’s loss to the Green Bay Packers was also a game that they were expected to win and one that was meant to show whether the Texans had finally turned the corner and become an elite team or whether they were still just very good and playing an easy schedule.
The Ravens, meanwhile, are coming off a close victory and reeling from player losses. Although the actual impact of Lewis’s motivational techniques is debatable in a professional sport and his physical impact has been on the decline for the last few years, Baltimore will still miss on-field tactical knowledge. His replacement, Dannell Ellerbe, has filled in ably before. But he does not have quite the same ability for reading and directing the defence.
Look for Houston to win at home in what is likely to be a very close game. Most of the US will see the Texans Ravens game at 1pm EST on CBS. However, San Francisco, New York and large sections of the Midwest will be getting Tennessee Buffalo or Indianapolis Cleveland.