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ProFootballFocus, Three To Focus On -- Baltimore @Houston
3TFO: Ravens @ Texans, Week 7
Gordon McGuinness | 2012/10/19
Despite all the talk of the sky falling for the Baltimore Ravens after the season-ending injuries to two players on an already struggling defense, the team still sits tied for the best record in the AFC, and second best in the league at 5-1. The losses they suffered were significant, but the primary reason for them being 5-1 at this stage has been an improved offense that faces a tough test against one of the best players in the league right now.
For the Houston Texans itís about rebounding from a loss on Sunday Night Football that made them look a lot less Super Bowl-calibre than they had in the first five weeks. Welcoming the team that knocked them out of the playoffs a year ago represents as good a chance as any to prove that last week was nothing more than a minor blip.
Weíve heard all week that there are just two teams in the AFC with a winning record. Well, both of them are vying for an early advantage in any potential race for a bye in the postseason, so, with that in mind, letís take a look at the various intriguing matchups when the Ravens travel to Houston to take on the Texans.
Marshal Yanda vs. J.J. Watt
If the AFCís only two teams with a winning record going at it isnít enough to get you excited, how about the individual battle weíre going to see between PFFís highest-graded guard and 3-4 defensive end so far this season? Marshal Yanda (+12.6) has been everything the Ravens hoped he would be, and more, since re-signing for the team prior to the 2011 season. Almost perfect in pass protection, where his three total pressures allowed equate to a Pass Blocking Efficiency Rating of 99.0, he has allowed quarterback Joe Flacco to be hit just once in six games. Heís also our highest-graded run blocker with the Ravens averaging 4.1 yards per carry when they run either side of the former Iowa Hawkeye. This week, however, represents the toughest challenge he has had to face in his career as he tries to slow down the most dominant defensive player in the league. If he canít, the Ravens will be forced to double up on J.J. Watt (+40.0) which frees up another Houston defender to cause problems.
Watt is wreaking havoc like no 3-4 defensive end before him has. Leading our Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP) Signature Stat for the position with a PRP Rating of 12.2, he has recorded 11 sacks, five hits, and 10 hurries on just 183 pass rushes. When you factor in his eight batted passes, Watt is averaging some form of disruption once every 5.38 pass rushing snaps. His dominance continues against the run where he leads all players at his position with a ridiculous Run Stop Percentage of 19.0%. Thatís down to making 20 solo tackles on his 105 plays against the run, with each and every one of them being a defensive stop. Heís forcing opposing offensive co-ordinators to scheme around him and is masking the lack of another true pass rush threat on the Texansí roster this season ó but when you have someone as good as he is, it could be all the pass rush you need.
Ravens Cornerbacks vs. Texans Receivers
After the devastating injury to Lardarius Webb (+3.5), the Ravens have to hope that last seasonís first-round draft pick Jimmy Smith (-8.3) can step into the starting line-up and play better than he did on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. After committing three penalties in that game, he now leads the defense with five called against him through six games and has to get better at knowing when to let go of a receiver. When he hasnít been committing penalties, Smith has given up a reception on 62.5% of the passes thrown into his coverage for 189 yards. Opposite Smith, the much-maligned Cary Williams (-5.8) has shown improvement in the past three weeks ó 294 of the 434 yards he has given up through the air came in the first three weeks of the season ó but is still not playing well enough to make opposing quarterbacks think twice about throwing at him. The drop-off between Webb and the other cornerbacks on the roster is even more obvious when you look at our Yards Per Coverage Snap Signature Stat. Webb was giving up an average of 0.60 yards per snap in coverage before his season-ending injury, good enough for sixth among all cornerbacks. Compared with the average of 1.22 and 1.90, ranking 35th and 98th, for Smith and Williams respectively you see just how big a loss Webb will be.
Given that, there are probably a few receivers the Ravens would rather face than Houstonís Andre Johnson (+4.5) this week. Overshadowed by the young receivers staking their claim as the leagueís best, he is still a dangerous matchup for any defensive back. Averaging 2.14 yards per route run, and 14.3 yards per reception, he is head and shoulders above the rest of the receivers in Houston. Kevin Walter (+0.8) represents a solid pair of hands as the teamís No. 2 receiver with just one drop from the 22 passes thrown to him, but with just one reception over 20 yards, doesnít pose much of a downfield threat. Rookie Keshawn Martin (-2.9) has added little to the offense, with his 40.0% drop rate the most among receivers in the league with at least 10 targets. Johnson himself has struggled with drops, dropping five of the 30 catchable balls thrown to him, but he remains the Texansí main threat at the position.
Battle of the Backs
If all that wasnít enough to make this one of the best games this week, weíve also got two of the leagueís best players in terms of yards from scrimmage. Arian Foster (-3.5) comes into the game with 633 yards in total and has forced 11 missed tackles (all as a runner). His Elusive Rating of 12.5 is the lowest among the 22 running backs getting at least 50% of their teamís carries, which highlights just how little he has to do because of the work of his blockers. His fellow running back on the opposite sideline, Ray Rice (+7.1), ranks 12th on the same list, with his 29.5 Elusive Rating coming from eight missed tackles forced as a runner and seven as a receiver. Unlike Foster, who has just 72 of his 633 yards as a receiver, Rice constantly represents a matchup nightmare for linebackers with 233 yards through the air. Those yards, despite the fact that he has run for less than Foster, give him a higher yards from scrimmage total with 715. As always, stopping him is the key to slowing down the Ravensí offense. However, as many teams have already found out, thatís easier said than done.