Two of the game's most electric quarterbacks duke it out in Houston
Sunday afternoon's AFC matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans puts two of the most dynamic and explosive quarterbacks in the NFL against one another. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens (1-0) picked up right where the left off at the end of last regular season in Week 1, throttling the Browns, 38-6. It was total domination, as the Baltimore defense made life difficult for Baker Mayfield and the Browns' offense, limiting their divisional foes to just 306 total yards and Mayfield to a measly 65.0 rating. On the other side, Jackson and company were lights out, scoring 28 unanswered points and averaging 6.5 yards per play.
After attaining generational wealth just five days prior, Deshaun Watson had a rough opening night against the reigning Super Bowl champs. Watson and the Texans (0-1) were all-around out-classed by the Chiefs, 34-20, in the 2020 season opener last Thursday night. Houston's lack of offense and a porous defense that allowed 24 straight points (where have we heard this before?) makes the 14-point margin look closer than the game actually was. The task of righting the ship doesn't get any easier for the Texans as they welcome in the same Ravens squad that pounded them 41-7 in Week 11 last year.
Baltimore at Houston
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 20 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Ravens -7
Three Things to Watch
1.Houston's offense has a problem
The Texans we're supposed to be able to handle a shootout. That's how head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien thought he designed his offense, even after he traded away one of the best wide receivers of this generation in DeAndre Hopkins. Perhaps it was the lack of preseason or abbreviated training camp, but the Texans looked like anything but a high-octane offense after only scoring one touchdown in the first three quarters last Thursday night. Their final 13 points came in the game's second half of the fourth quarter, trailing 31-7. New additions Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb were brought in to replace Hopkins and help stretch opposing defenses, especially Cooks, who is averaging 14.2 yards per catch in his career. But both Cobb and Cooks were all but forgotten as the two receivers combined for just 43 yards on four catches.
The problems for Houston started at the line of scrimmage where the offensive line allowed four sacks, seven quarterback hits, and pressures on more than a third (37 percent) of Watson's 32 pass attempts. He finished the game with 253 yards and a mediocre-at-best 84.5 passer rating.
Also, give credit to Kansas City's defense for taking away the home-run throw from Watson. Although he said he felt sharp, the Chiefs clearly threw off his game. Watson was just two of eight on pass attempts beyond 15 yards with an interception and a late 19-yard scoring strike. For the game, 16 percent of his throws were rated as "bad" and he hit open receivers just 69 percent of the time, nearly 20 percentage points below his career average.
The Ravens' pass defense is coming off a stellar performance in which they held the Browns to just 168 yards through the air. With two first-team All-Pros in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters in the Baltimore secondary, and a hobbled David Johnson (limited in practice because of an ankle injury) in the Texans' backfield, it's incumbent upon Watson to move the chains via the air and keep the Ravens offense off the field. Look for Watson to get Cobb involved in short-yardage situations early in the game in hopes of opening up the deep ball with Cooks (who is dealing with a quad injury).
2. Is there any stopping Lamar?
Lamar Jackson picked up in Week 1 right where he left off in last year's MVP season, except this time he somehow looked even better. After last season's early playoff exit to the Titans, Jackson vowed to improve his accuracy on deep throws, the only real knock on his game. By forcing the Ravens' offense to work from a deficit the Titans were able to expose Jackson's hit-and-miss downfield accuracy. In the Divisional Round matchup, Jackson threw 28 passes at least 10 yards, connecting on only 11 of them (39 percent) with one touchdown and one interception.
Last week against the Browns, Jackson's improvement was obvious. Fifteen of his 20 completions went for first downs. He completed 11 of his 13 throws of 10 yards or more, three of them going for touchdowns. A season ago, Jackson's intended average air yards were 8.8 per throw, a little higher than the middle of the pack in the NFL. In Week 1, that number reached third in the league at 11.1 yards per attempt.
Sunday, Jackson faces a Texans defense that was torn to shreds by the Chiefs last week, and the same unit he had no problem exploiting last season to the tune of four touchdown passes and a 139.2 passer rating.
3. Can either team slow the run?
Yeah, sure the Browns took a 32-point whoopin' from the Ravens last week, but Cleveland can at least hang their hat on the fact that their defense kept Baltimore's record-breaking rushing attack to their lowest yardage output since November 2018. Good for you, Cleveland. You should probably hang up a banner or something.
If anyone knows how dangerous this Baltimore running game is, it's the Texans. In last year's Week 11 blowout, Houston allowed 256 yards on the ground to Baltimore's bevy of backs. But last week the Ravens' run game never took off. Granted, it didn't really have to, but bear with me here. Baltimore totaled 107 yards on the ground, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. Their leading rusher was Jackson with 45 yards.
The three-headed backfield of Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and rookie J.K. Dobbins totaled only 68 yards, 3.4 yards per attempt, and produced just five of the team's 23 first downs. While the Week 1 output was more likely an aberration than not, it's certainly something to keep an eye on.
On the flip side, the Ravens' new-look front seven looked like the Ravens' front seven from last year as Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 132 rushing yards on 23 carries. Similarly, David Johnson looked like the Johnson of old, averaging 7.0 yards per attempt on just 10 totes. If Johnson is healthy, O'Brien has to give his new running back a chance to eat up some clock and keep the Ravens offense on the sideline.
If Week 1 was any indication, it seems that neither team has changed all that much from a season ago. The Ravens still look dynamic and dangerous as they were last year, while the Texans still aren't sure who they are offensively. Perhaps with more time Watson can find a rhythm with his new receivers and Houston can be the high-scoring offense their head coach wishes they could be — but I'm not going to hold my breath in the O'Brien era.
Prediction: Ravens 32, Texans 23
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.