Battle Plans against Houston

Offense: Three Offensive Keys to Victory: 1. Keep the game plan simple: The Steelers were caught in a noose last Sunday against the Texans because they were forced to pass the ball excessively. With a 14-0 lead to back them up, the Texans' defensive coaches unleashed the hounds and harassed Tommy Maddox all day long.

The result: Pittsburgh turned the ball over myriad times, and despite out gaining Houston by more than 300 yards, the Steelers were snuffed out by 18-points.

For the Ravens, the offensive game plan should be much simpler and a no brainer, quite frankly.

Keep the ball in Jamal Lewis' hands from the onset. The Texans are susceptible to a power rushing attack off the edges, so pitches and toss sweeps should be used.

Even if the Ravens cannot rush for significant yardage on
Houston's run defense, just winning the time of possession battle is important, especially if the Ravens have established an early lead.

This is definitely the one game of the year that the Ravens can rely solely on their defense to pull things out.   


2. Continue employing the screen pass: In last week's game against New Orleans, the screen pass was utilized about three times, and for the Ravens, that's more times than you will see in a given season.

The plays worked beautifully. The Ravens were able to take advantage of an over aggressive Saints' front that pushed up field on almost every passing snap.


Lewis and Heap gained yards of 18 and 10 respectively when they were thrown passes in space, and if it weren't for a holding call that Travis Taylor perpetuated in the first drive of the game, Lewis could have come close to scoring a touchdown on another screen pass that was executed perfectly.


Against a team like Houston, who also has an aggressive front seven, using about 3-4 screen passes to their backs and another 2-3 to their receivers could allow the Ravens to keep their drives going.

Not only could the Ravens rack up yardage by throwing the ball to their receivers in space, but for all intensive purposes, a screen play is a very high percentage play. The worst that can happen is the back/receiver gets tracked down instantly, resulting in a minimal gain.


3. Shorten the routes: It's been tough for Raven receivers to simply catch the football these days. Jeff Blake will drop back to throw a pass, and unless he's throwing the ball to Todd Heap, he knows that it's a 50-50 proposition that the wideout will catch the ball or not.

It's comical if you think about it. How professional receivers cannot simply make a catch is beyond anyone's thought pattern. That especially holds true for one Mr. Travis Taylor, who is rapidly approaching bust level.

There is no way around this problem either. Despite the obvious fact that the Ravens have to run the ball a lot more than they did last Sunday, they also have to throw the ball around to keep the Texans' defense honest.


Jeff Blake will have to be very cautious when he throws the ball near the sidelines, because Houston corners Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman sit on the routes of the receivers they are covering.

So the best place to throw the ball is short, and in the middle of the field, and ideally to the tight ends who unlike the receivers, have at least shown that they can indeed hang onto the football once it's in their mitts.  


Defense Three Defensive Keys to Victory:


1. Five sacks till the record breaks: If Houston Texans' rookie QB David Carr is sacked five times on Sunday; he would go down in the record books as the most sacked quarterback in league history.


The Ravens' defense has a realistic opportunity to be the team that puts the franchise signal caller in the record books, for all the wrong reasons.


Much has been made about the Ravens' lack of pass rush, but last week, the Ravens were able to sack Aaron Brooks three times, and hurry him in other instances to get rid of the ball altogether.


This week, the Ravens won't have to worry about their corners being scorched on an island like they did last Sunday, against Joe Horn and Dante' Stallworth. Corners McAlister and Baxter are facing Corey Bradford and Jabar Gaffney, who have fine vertical speed, but are not the sharpest route runners.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan must bring everything but the kitchen sink at Carr, because his pass rushers must dictate the tempo of this ball game.


2. Give the offense some help: The Ravens have an opportunistic defense, and that defense has helped bail out the offense a number of times this season, just as they had in years past.

The Ravens' secondary and backers have to make plays on Sunday. Generating a strong pass rush tends to lead to turnovers being caused, so clearly, the Ravens have to have both facets flowing in cohesion to dominate the Texans' offense.


3. Watch out for the double moves: The Texans, much like the Saints and any other team the Ravens have faced this season will look to attack the Ravens' secondary vertically because the Raven safeties can be exposed.

New Orleans used slants and double moves so that their receivers could match up with Anthony Mitchell, in the zone space that he was covering.

Predictably, Mitchell was burned a number of times because he has poor speed and covers very little ground. In addition, corner Gary Baxter's inability to stay with his man after biting on the double moves left Mitchell vulnerable down the field.


Look for the Texans to attack Mitchell by using tight end Billy Miller down the seams. And as the formula has gone so far, the Raven corners need to be wary of any hesitation moves that Houston's receivers will execute.


Two battles you have to watch:


Gary Walker versus Bennie Anderson: Although he isn't playing at the Pro Bowl level that he has enjoyed the past two seasons, Gary Walker is simply a man among boys inside of the trenches. He has tremendous leverage, quickness and strength, which is why he fits so well on Texans' three man line up front. Walker will likely occupy the left end spot, but will also be moved back to nose guard in some situations. Bennie Anderson meanwhile, has had a somewhat disappointing season. Known for his run blocking prowess, Anderson hasn't provided the punch that the Ravens thought he would, which is why the club usually runs off the left edge or in in-between the A gap. Still, Anderson is a talented player who just needs more refinement in his technique, and his back pedal in pass blocking situations.


Jamal Lewis versus Jamie Sharper: Any matchup involving Jamie Sharper, the former Baltimore Raven will be an intriguing one. Sharper established himself as one of the finer weakside backers in the game while he played for the Ravens, and now he is a force in the middle as the center piece of Houston's defense. Sharper's sideline to sideline speed, ability to shed blocks, and strong coverage skills makes him a perfect fit for the inside linebacker position in the 3-4 defense. Clearly, he will collide into Jamal Lewis a number of times on Sunday. Can Sharper take down the 235-pound freight train one on one? We'll soon find out.

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