3TFO: Texans @ Ravens, Week 3
After all the drama and nail-biting Texans fans have endured, their team has emerged unbeaten through the first two weeks. Clutch performances by Andre Johnson in Week 1 and DeAndre Hopkins in Week 2 helped Houston pull out games that appeared to be slipping away, but they face another tough test this week. With intriguing matchups all over the field, this looks to be an exciting and hard-fought game.
The Ravens avenged their opening-day loss with a grind-it-out victory over the Browns last week. They still have yet to put forth the type of effort their roster seems capable of, and they’ll need to this week in order to defeat a strong Texans team. Baltimore’s defensive backs will have to bring their A-game if they expect to hold Houston’s receivers in check. However, that matchup failed to make this week’s 3TFO despite its importance. Instead, we’ll take a look at some of the other key battles that will take place in this week’s showdown.
Suggs & Dumervil vs. Harris & Newton
In Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, the Ravens boast one of the better edge-rushing tandems in the league. That is, when they are at the top of their game. Last season, Suggs struggled while clearly not 100 percent, and Dumervil didn’t make near the impact that he did in his best years. Early indications point to both players returning to form, and they have an opportunity to feast on a Texans offensive line that will most likely be without its best pass blocker in Duane Brown. Suggs and Dumervil currently sit sixth and seventh in Pass Rush Productivity among 3-4 outside linebackers with marks of 14.2 and 14.0, respectively. Together, they’ve already beaten blockers for 23 combined sacks, hits, and hurries. A clutch sack or strip-sack could make a huge impact on this game.
Attempting to foil Baltimore’s plans of QB destruction will be backup left tackle Ryan Harris and right tackle Derek Newton. To this point, the Texans have rarely used their tight ends to help out with pass blocking, and even their running backs don’t stay in to block much. Unless that changes, Harris and Newton will remain one-on-one with Baltimore’s edge rushers for the better part of the day. Last season, Ryan Harris played 466 snaps, including 253 in pass protection. He managed a respectable 94.8 Pass Blocking Efficiency, but Duane Brown had a PBE of 97.0 a year ago, good for fifth in the league among tackles. Derek Newton rated similarly to Harris a year ago, and comes in with a 93.8 PBE this season. The combo does have some ability, but this is a tough assignment and the Ravens definitely have the advantage on paper.
Texans Run Defense vs. Bernard Pierce
It doesn’t sound like Ray Rice will be suiting up this weekend, but even if that changes, the Texans will have to deal with a healthy dose of Pierce. For the Texans, one man in particular has a huge impact on every opponent’s running game, but we’ll get to him in the next section. To this point, Houston’s run defense has been middle-of-the-pack with 99.5 yards allowed per game and a 3.8 yards per carry average. Both Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed have turned in solid performances in past seasons, but neither has been particularly impactful in the running game yet this year. If anyone besides Watt can step up and make some big plays near the line of scrimmage against the run, it would go a long way in securing a third win.
For most teams, losing a running back of Ray Rice’s caliber would necessitate a shift toward a more pass-heavy offense. However, in Bernard Pierce the Ravens have a quality No. 2 back capable of starting and carrying a full load for an NFL team. He’ll likely get the opportunity to do just that for the Ravens on Sunday, and he is a major offensive threat. He has already forced eight missed tackles in his 28 rushing attempts, and has the fourth-best Elusive Rating in the league at 59.1. This is no fluke, as last year including the playoffs, Pierce broke 37 tackles on just 155 touches. With Rice due back soon, Pierce should serve as a workhorse in his absence and show everyone what he is capable of as a starter.
Watt vs. Oher and Yanda
It’s hard to imagine J.J. Watt not being someone to focus on. Picking up right where he left off last year, Watt continues to dominate in both the run game and as a pass rusher. He ranks in the Top 5 in both Run Stop Percentage and Pass Rushing Productivity among 3-4 defensive ends, and leads them in overall grade at +11.9. This despite facing numerous double teams and entire offensive game plans geared toward minimizing his impact. Can anyone stop him?
For Baltimore, Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda should see the most action against Watt. Oher played through an ankle injury in Week 2 and held up pretty well against Paul Kruger, allowing just two hurries and marginal impact against the run. Hopefully his ankle has continued to improve, because he’ll need to be at his best this week. Yanda had a very average game a week ago, but he remains one of the best guards in the league. He still comes in with the sixth-best grade among guards at +4.6 and he’ll be counted on to help prevent Watt from dominating this game.
Follow Scott Hanson on Twitter.