The Return of Ed Reed: Ravens vs Texans

Baltimore Ravens What to Look For
Terrell Suggs

Last week the Baltimore Ravens took on a division rival in the Cleveland Browns and they were able to come out on top with a 14-6 victory as the defense carried the team. This week the 1-1 Ravens have a tougher test as they host the 2-0 Houston Texans who have their own Super Bowl aspirations. At halftime, the Ravens will induct linebacker Ray Lewis into their Ring of Honor. The last time that these two teams played, the Texans dismantled the Ravens with a 43-13 victory in Houston.

1.  Ed Reed
Due to their Super Bowl aspirations, the Texans went out and signed former Ravens free safety Ed Reed in free agency to a three-year deal worth $15 million. While Reed wanted to stay in Baltimore, the Ravens weren’t willing to match the offer so Reed left.

In his last season with the Ravens, Reed recorded 58 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 1 touchdown while playing in all 16 games. In the postseason, he had 15 tackles and one interception. This interception came in Super Bowl XLVII which the Ravens ended up winning, giving Reed his first Super Bowl championship in his 11th season. Making the victory even sweeter was the game was played in New Orleans, just a short distance from where he grew up.

Now he is with the Texans, Reed will be making his first appearance in Baltimore since leaving in free agency. He hasn’t played in the first two games of the season for Houston due to offseason hip surgery. Even though he is listed as questionable, Reed is expected to make his season debut for two reasons. First, he was very close to playing last week and second, it is his return to Baltimore and it is highly unlikely that he would want to miss playing in this one.

It is unknown how much Reed will be able to contribute to the Texans if he returns. Over the last few seasons, it has been clear that his skills are declining but quarterbacks were still hesitant to throw to his side of the field last year. In the run game, he offers very little as his tackling has become quite bad due to various injuries he has suffered during his career.

Assuming that Reed plays, expect the Ravens to test him early to see how he looks. If he performs well, then the Ravens will be throwing away from him all game long. Expect Reed to be playing deep on the side of Torrey Smith to help guard against the big plays that Smith can produce.

2.  Pass Rush
Through two games, the Ravens have a team total of eight sacks which ranked tied for second entering this week. The Texans are tied for eighth best in the league giving up only four sacks so far.

Terrell Suggs

Courtesy of ICON SMI

However, the Texans offensive line suffered a massive blow today when left tackle Duane Brown was ruled out due to a toe injury suffered last week. This loss is very important as Brown is the Texans best offensive lineman and he would have been going up against Ravens star outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had his way with Joe Thomas — another elite left tackle — last week. In place of Brown will be Ryan Harris.

Of these eight sacks for the Ravens, Suggs and Elvis Dumervil have two apiece, Daryl Smith has 1.5, Chris Canty and Arthur Jones each have one, and Arthur Brown has half a sack.

Canty and Brown are doubtful this week with a groin and chest injury respectively. The loss of Canty will effect the Ravens more because Canty is a starter a defensive end and is a high quality pass rusher from this position. Brown is a rookie inside linebacker who hasn’t been seeing the field very much. The other four will be fine for the game.

If the Ravens want to disrupt the Texans offense, then they need to get pressure on quarterback Matt Schaub, forcing him to throw before he is ready to. This will help the secondary who have to cover receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins this week.

Expect the Ravens to attack Harris on the Texans’ offensive line as he is a backup who will have his hands full with Suggs individually. So far this season, the Texans have kept tight ends or running backs to help pass block. If they continue to do this against the Ravens, their offensive tackles will have problems with Suggs and Dumervil due to their pass rushing ability. Expect both Suggs and Dumervil to have a sack of Schaub on Sunday.

3.  J.J. Watt
Describing how good Watt is in one word is easy: dominant. Describing how he is dominant takes quite a bit more than that.

The 2012 Defensive Player of the Year had 81 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 16 pass deflections last year playing as a defensive end in the Texans 3-4 defensive scheme. All of this came in just his second season in the NFL and at the age of 23.

The pressure that Watt produces was unheard of from a 3-4 defensive end bore he accomplished it. Not only that, his 16 pass deflections was tied for the ninth most in the NFL. No other defensive linemen reached double digits or finished in the top 60. Elite rushing the passer, Watt doesn’t slack off against the run as he is one of the best at his position in run defense as well.

Against the Ravens last year, Watt recorded two tackles, two pass deflections, and one quarterback hit. One of these pass deflections led to an interceptions returned for a touchdown as cornerback Jonathan Joseph was able to catch the tipped pass. In this matchup, he mainly went up against right tackle Kelechi Osemele.

Now, Osemele is the starting left guard so he will see Antonio Smith, not Watt. The responsibility of trying to slow Watt down falls to right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher. Yanda is considered to be one of the best guards in the league and Oher is an average right tackle whose value to the Ravens offensive line is underrated. When he left the Ravens’ week one game against the Denver Broncos, the line was never the same.

Expect the Ravens to try and double team Watt on every run play that they do to his side. The better idea would be to just run away from Watt though. In the passing game, double teams will still be used to try and neutralize Watt. With Yanda, the Ravens have an advantage over many teams trying to stop Watt. There really isn’t a way to take Watt completely out of a game. You just have to be able to slow him down to where his impact is minimal.

4.  Running Game
Another position impacted by injuries is the Ravens backfield. Starting running back Ray Rice is doubtful with a hip injury sustained last week. If he doesn’t play, his streak of 43 consecutive starts — the longest active streak for running backs — will come to an end.

Assuming that Rice doesn’t play, second-year player Bernard Pierce will start at running back. Normally, having a backup running back start will significantly change a team’s offensive gameplan but, Pierce is no ordinary backup. In his 18 career games, he has ran the ball 136 times for 611 yards, an average of 4.5 yards per carry. Pierce is a powerful runner who could start for many other teams.

The only area where is significant difference will be seen is in the passing game as Pierce is nowhere near the receiver that Rice is. Therefore, expect him to stay in and block on a majority of passing plays for the Ravens, especially as Pierce is an above-average pass protecter.

Currently, the Ravens rank 23rd in the league with 78.5 rushing yards per game and the Texans rank 17th in run defense allowing 99.5 yards per game.

The key to running against the Texans is to get blockers on Watt and inside linebacker Brian Cushing. If you are able to block these two players, running on the Texans will be much easier.

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