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Tag:Ray Lewis
Posted on: January 25, 2012 10:05 pm
 

Video: Ray Lewis' inspirational post-game speech

Lewis put Baltimore's playoff loss to New England in perspective. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Sometimes it's easy to forget that football really is nothing more than a bunch of guys in costumes playing a game. It's not life or death or the end-all be-all, even if a subset fans prefer to live that reality. Last Sunday, for the second time in four years, the Ravens lost in the AFC Championship game, and it happened in heartbreaking fashion. With seconds remaining, Lee Evans dropped a perfect throw from Joe Flacco for what would've been the go-ahead touchdown.

And then a harried Billy Cundiff pull-hooked a gimme 32-yard field goal after inexplicably losing track of the game situation. It was an improbable chain of events that had to be particularly hard to swallow for veterans like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, players who very well may have retired had the Ravens won the Super Bowl.

Afterwards, Lewis, who has been this team's leader since he was drafted in 1996, didn't bemoan his fate or call out his underperforming teammates. Instead, he came to their defense during his postgame interview. And before that, but shortly after the season's outcome had been decided, he gave an impassioned speech that helped put things in perspective.


Cundiff later told the media that “You know that Ray Lewis has poured his heart out, and you don’t know how many years he has left. To let him down is pretty tough.”

Lewis might've been let down but he sounds like he's at peace with whatever life may bring. There's a lesson in there somewhere for these folks.

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Posted on: January 25, 2012 6:26 pm
Edited on: January 25, 2012 6:34 pm
 

Baltimore defense is a head-coaching pipeline

Almost everyone on Billick's sideline got a head-coaching job at one point. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Have you always dreamed of becoming a head coach in the NFL? Well, then you should find work with the Ravens defense, because doing so will all but guarantee you land a head-coaching job in the NFL.

Alright, it's a bit more difficult than that, but on Wednesday, Chuck Pagano became just the latest in a long line of former Ravens assistants to land gigs running NFL teams elsewhere.

The very first year the Ravens existed, 1996, the defense featured Marvin Lewis as defensive coordinator. Lewis, of course, is on his way to becoming one of the longer-tenured head coaches in the NFL and just took the Bengals to the playoffs. Lewis would leave Baltimore in 2001, coach the Redskins defense for a year and then take over the Bengals.

Working under Lewis up until 2001? Defensive assistant Jim Schwartz, who left to take the same position with the Titans, before being promoted to defensive coordinator and then taking over as head coach of the Detroit Lions in 2009.

(Notably, Eric Mangini -- 1996 as an offensive assistant -- and Ken Whisenhunt -- 1997-98 as a tight ends coach -- went on to land coaching gigs after working with the Ravens.)

In 1999, Brian Billick took over as head coach, and things really took off. He retained Lewis as defensive coordinator, but the team also hired Jack Del Rio (linebackers), Mike Smith and Rex Ryan as defensive assistants.

The Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000. But it didn't pay off for the assistants until a year later, when Del Rio took the Jaguars job, where he stayed until being fired in 2011. Smith followed him there as defensive coordinator and would leave for the Falcons head coaching job in 2008, where he remains today.

In 2002, Mike Nolan, who'd been hired as the wide receivers coach previously, took over for the departed Lewis. Nolan, of course, went on to become the 49ers head coach in 2005. The man who replaced him? Mike Singletary, who took over as linebackers coach for the Ravens the same year Nolan became defensive coordinator.

Ryan replaced Nolan and eventually took the gig with the Jets. Greg Mattison took over for Ryan and after leaving for the University of Michigan (he took the same position under Brady Hoke), he was replaced by, you guessed it, Pagano.

Besides the Ravens, there's two other common threads with these guys: Ray Lewis, who's captained the defense since being drafted in the first round in 1996, and Ozzie Newsome, who took over as general manager that same year.

Read into it however you want; Newsome clearly has an eye for players and personnel, and Lewis clearly makes any defense better, regardless of how old he is.

But whoever takes over for the defense next should be thankful for the would-be springboard they're getting set up on.

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Posted on: January 23, 2012 1:23 am
Edited on: January 23, 2012 8:05 am
 

Ray Lewis on retirement: 'Absolutely not'

Lewis says he will 'absolutely not' retire after 2011. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Way back in August, Ravens linebacker told CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman that if Baltimore won the Super Bowl, he'd strongly consider riding off into the sunset to spend more time with his family.

But after a loss to in New England leaves Lewis and the Ravens two wins short, is the linebacker still thinking about retirement? "Absolutely not," he said Sunday.

"I’m hungry again," Lewis said after Sunday's game. "I'm thirsty again. Is this my last time as a Raven? Absolutely not."


There are lots of reasons for Lewis to retire: he's old(er), he's got a Super Bowl ring, he wants to spend time with his family and he's a step slower than he was in his heyday.

But he's also coming back to a team that will absolutely compete for a Super Bowl again, and one that might be even better than this year's rendition, depending on how they address some issues (Ray Rice's contract, for one) in the offseason.

And even if Lewis has lost a step physically, he's still the engine that makes the Ravens mighty defense go; look no further than a recent column from our own Pete Prisco, who pointed out just how much Lewis motivates his younger teammates.

A lot can change between now and next season, but it's hard to imagine, especially given his comments Sunday, that Lewis won't be back on the field doing the same thing.

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Posted on: January 18, 2012 2:20 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2012 12:16 pm
 

Film Room: Patriots vs. Ravens AFC CG preview

Brady and Lewis will match wits in the AFC Championship Game. (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Tom Brady is right: the Ravens are the best team the Patriots have faced this season.

Cam Cameron’s offense poses problems for Bill Belichick’s defense, while Ray Lewis’ defense actually has a fighting chance against Brady’s offense. Here’s the breakdown.



1. Patriots formation versatility
Keep in mind, the Patriots, at least offensively, are also the best team the Ravens have faced all season. Their versatility is like nothing we’ve seen before.

Last Saturday they spent a bulk of the game in a no-huddle that featured tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and wideouts Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Julian Edelman. Remarkably, they were able to run effectively out of this personnel grouping, as Hernandez carried the ball five times out of the backfield for 61 yards.

Those runs are almost just gravy – something the defense must now respect. The real purpose of putting Hernandez in the backfield is the same purpose as all of New England’s other alignments: to get a potent pass catcher matched up on a linebacker. Even safeties have major trouble covering Hernandez and Gronkowski.

This game will be no exception, as Baltimore’s strong safety Bernard Pollard is simply not capable of doing it, and the Ravens are unlikely to remove Ed Reed from centerfield. Brady rarely throws in the direction of starting cornerbacks. Even when he goes to Wes Welker, it’s often when Welker has drawn a matchup against a backup slot corner or non-cornerback.

Because the Patriots don’t try to confuse defenses so much as force them into bad matchups, HOW the Patriots line up to play is almost more important than how they actually play. Most of the damage is done through crafty presnap alignment. (This is one reason so many of Brady’s throws come off three-and five-step drops; the decision of where to go with the ball is made prior to the snap.)

The Patriots frequently go up-tempo to prevent defenses from having enough time to regroup or alter matchups before the snap. The only sure way to take the chess match element out of the equations and force the Patriots to win with execution is to play press-man coverage across the board. Problem is, no defense, including Baltimore’s, has enough quality cover artists to do this.


After a win over the Texans last week, Joe Flacco and the Ravens will take on Tom Brady and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Championship. Jason Horowitz and NFL.com's Pat Kirwan preview this game. Watch the game on CBS at 3 PM ET. 

2. Baltimore’s response
The Ravens may not have enough cover artists to play the Patriots man-to-man, but they might be the one team capable of matching wits with them. Ray Lewis is arguably the smartest front seven defender in the league, while Ed Reed is arguably the smartest back four defender. Those two are capable of recognizing New England’s subtle tendencies and getting their teammates into the proper defensive play-call.

Of course, Brady and Bill O’Brien know this and will likely inject a few tendency-breaking wrinkles into the gameplan. Of course, the Ravens know that the Patriots know that they know this, and the Patriots know that the Ravens know that they know and ... you get the idea – this has the potential to be one heck of a chess match.

Look for the Ravens to do plenty of presnap communicating and disguising at the line of scrimmage. It helps that they’re comfortable playing a plethora of different coverages. The outcome may be decided by which side can bully the other into a reactionary position. The Patriots can do that by going hurry-up; the Ravens can do it by blitzing fervidly up the middle.

3. Ravens pass-rush
To beat Tom Brady, you have to rob him of the trust he has in his pass protection. Brady – like any quarterback – does not like pressure directly in his face. And though he’s as tough in the pocket as anyone in the game, he has a tendency to get just a tad jumpy after taking a few hits from edge-rushers.

Recent playoff history shows that if a defense can create pressure and doubt, Brady will eventually start eating up the play clock worrying about protections. That makes him a significantly less dangerous player versus when he’s hurrying things up and concentrating on his receivers’ routes.

The question is, can the Ravens generate a pass-rush? If they blitz, they likely can. But one of the best kept secrets in football is that this is generally a four-man rushing defense. Because the Ravens use so many 3-4 or 2-5 fronts, their four pass-rushers come from a variety of different spots, thus creating the illusion of a blitz:

The Ravens use a lot of zone exchange concepts in their pass-rush. A zone exchange is essentially a four-man pass-rush where linebackers or safeties rush the quarterback, while a defensive lineman or another linebacker drops back into coverage. It can be confusing, often creating the illusion of a heavy blitz. The Thanksgiving night game – in which Baltimore had nine sacks – provided a good example.

Above (click image to enlarge): Upon first glance, this appears to be a blitz featuring five, possibly six pass-rushers.

Below: The Ravens use a lot of zone exchange concepts in their pass-rush. A zone exchange is essentially a four-man pass-rush where linebackers or safeties rush the quarterback, while a defensive lineman or another linebacker drops back into coverage. It can be confusing, often creating the illusion of a heavy blitz. The Thanksgiving night game – in which Baltimore had nine sacks – provided a good example.

The Ravens’ four-man rush has seemingly evaporated over the last month. It registered a quiet five sacks over the final three weeks of the regular season and then got zero pressure on T.J. Yates in the divisional round. With talents like Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee, it’s imprudent to assume the pressure can’t suddenly return.

But worth noting is that the Patriots’ pass protection in the last month has also been as sharp as the Ravens’ pass-rush has been dull.

4. Dialing in on Ray Rice
Bill Belichick always builds his defensive gameplan around eliminating the opponents’ greatest strength. This season, no man has done a better job at eliminating Ray Rice than Cam Cameron. (Rice averaged less than 10 carries a game in Baltimore’s four losses.)

To be fair, Cameron has featured Rice most of the season, and the results thus far speak for themselves: 13 wins and Rice leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage.

But if Belichick has inside linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo shadow Rice, or if he brings safety Patrick Chung down in the box every play or has his linebackers sellout against the run, will Cameron have enough patience to stay with his superstar?

The Patriots run defense is coming together, while their secondary can be tempting to attack.

5. Baltimore’s passing game
It was virtually nonexistent against Houston, mainly because deep threat Torrey Smith was nullified by Johnathan Joseph. The Patriots don’t have a corner on Joseph’s level (or even in Joseph’s stratosphere).

If the Ravens want to take their deep shots with Smith, all they’ll have to do is block a mundane Patriots pass-rush (last week’s performance at Foxboro notwithstanding). Devin McCourty was serviceable as a nickel free safety against Denver, but it remains to be seen whether the struggling corner can suddenly play a new position when facing a strong-armed quarterback and polished play-action passing game.

In other matchups, tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson were quiet against Houston but should be able to work the seams against New England. Anquan Boldin will be extremely problematic for the Pats. The thought of him working outside against Kyle Arrington seems patently unfair; inside is even worse, as the Patriots don’t have a true slot corner.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the Championship games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 18, 2012 1:35 pm
 

Flacco on Reed quotes: 'Not that big of an issue'

Flacco doesn't care what anyone thinks, apparently. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

On Monday, Ravens safety Ed Reed had some interesting things to say about Joe Flacco, stating that against the Texans it didn't look like Flacco 'had a hold on the offense.'

The much-maligned quarterback's been frustrated lately, calling out the media before the Houston game, but he said Wednesday that Reed's comments were 'not that big of an issue.'

"It was a little funny to me, I was a little caught off guard," Flacco said when asked about Reed's comments. "But we talked about it, it's not really that big of a deal. When I first saw it, I thought' What's going on?' But like I said, we talked about it, we're a team around here, it's not that big of an issue."

Flacco was asked a follow-up question and responded by asking the media, "You guys aren't going to let it go huh?"

So the media moved on to wondering if Flacco might start getting some respect from fans and the media if he and the Ravens "finally" (our quote, because it's amusing that there's some desperation involved in a four-year stint as a starting quarterback) won a Super Bowl with him under center.

"I don't care," the mustachioed Flacco said. "I'll be wearing a ring and we'll holding a trophy and the perception probably won't change but it doesn't really matter."

Flacco probably cares more about his contract status -- though he says he won't be thinking about it -- which will most certainly change if he ends up holding the Lombardi Trophy. (And will probably change regardless; winning a Super Bowl will just give him lots of leverage.)

Because he's right about how he's treated. He's won five playoff games. He's been to the playoffs four times in four years. Those are usually the issues young quarterbacks deal with when it comes to developing a negative reputation around the NFL. Flacco, instead, is guilty of having too good a defense and too good a running game, as well as not being a guy that a team can just let throw the ball 60 times.

Yes, we're totally guilty of calling him out on those counts. (Although our colleague Mike Freeman got Flacco's back in Wednesday's 10-Point Stance.) We have no problem with that. And Flacco shouldn't either -- there are worse crosses to bear in life.

But he should also understand what these next two games mean to his reputation, his contract status and his teammates: everything.

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Posted on: January 17, 2012 11:07 am
 

Super Bowl Odds: Championship Game Previews

A rematch of the 2007 Super Bowl is almost likely at this point. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Earlier this month we took a look at the odds for teams to win the Super Bowl, just before the playoffs began. If you bet on the 49ers (+1200), you're feeling pretty good about life. If you bet on the Packers (+16), well, not so much.

The odds have been recalibrated in advance of the AFC and NFC Championship Games so let's take a look at who's likely (and unlikely) to win the Super Bowl. Plus: hypothetical Super Bowl matchups! All odds courtesy of Sportsbook.com.

Odds to Win the Super Bowl

Team: New England Patriots
Super Bowl Odds: +120
Value of Bet: 4
What Has to Happen: The Pats defense has to show up for at least one more game and Tom Brady needs to keep being the angry, destructive cyborg that he was in the first half against the Broncos. The Patriots are a shockingly high favorite here given that they've got to win two games like everyone else, and given that the Ravens stomped their faces the last time Baltimore came to New England.
Fun Prop to Play This Weekend: Under on the longest touchdown of the game at 47.5. Both the Ravens and the Patriots give up long plays, but if you look at each of their last five games, most shots have been taken from 40 yards in. Only Torrey Smith represents a true "deep threat" on either team.

Team: San Francisco 49ers
Super Bowl Odds: +325
Value of Bet: 2
What Has to Happen: Alex Smith keeps getting his Joe Montana on. The defense has to play well, of course, but roughing up the Giants is different than roughing up the Saints; New Orleans is a finesse team (no offense to Drew Brees and Sean Payton). Once Pierre Thomas was knocked out, they struggled to punch the 49ers in the mouth. The Giants won't have the same problem and are infinitely tougher. Smith successfully orchestrating the offense gives San Francisco a tremendous advantage.
Fun Prop to Play This Weekend: Super Bowl UNDER at 50. You think 50 points are getting scored if we get 49ers vs. Ravens? It's not even a total backfire if the Giants make it: only once since 2005 (last year, in fact) has the Super Bowl gone over 50 points total.

Team: New York Giants
Super Bowl Odds: +325
Value of Bet: 3
What Has to Happen: The secondary needs to keep shutting folks down; they've done a tremendous job improving over the past four weeks or so. Also, Gregg Doyel pointed out that the Giants wanted to get physical with Jermichael Finley during the Packers game. They will need to do something similar with Vernon Davis (and then possibly Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez) if they plan on winning the Super Bowl. At the very least, they shouldn't leave Vernon in one-on-one coverage.
Fun Prop to Play This Weekend: Giants +4.5 versus Patriots in a hypothetical Super Bowl. Yes, you can bet on this. Crazy right? Already, no one believes in the Giants. Good times! (All future SB matchups listed below.

Team: Baltimore Ravens
Super Bowl Odds: +600
Value of Bet: 1
What Has to Happen: Joe Flacco and Cam Cameron have to get it together for two games and do their jobs more efficiently. Were it not for Jacoby Jones gifting the Ravens a touchdown on Sunday, Flacco might be the goat for a huge upset right now, and Cameron throwing with two minutes remaining and Houston trying to use their timeouts gave the Texans an additional possession. Do that against, say, Brady and Eli, and it'll burn you.
Fun Prop to Play This Weekend: The under on Ray Rice's rushing attempts. I don't even know what it is but I know Cameron will find a way to go under regardless.

Hypothetical Super Bowl Matchups
Patriots (-6.5) vs. 49ers: That's not a surprising line considering how strong the Patriots looked and it would generate a lot of action on each side of the ball. However, if the 49ers look good in taking down the Giants, I'd think this would open up closer to 3 than 7.

Patriots (-4.5) vs. Giants: The Giants would be somewhat surprising underdogs considering their strong run but remember that last time they were 12.5-point dogs (!) against the Patriots. So maybe this more reasonable. Best guess: the Giants would get a LOT of action and push this line down.

Ravens (-2) vs. 49ers: A two-point line means "We have no real idea, but I guess we like the Ravens." The over/under isn't listed but you best believe it's lower than the current line of 50. Defensive matchups like this put a lot of the weight on Flacco and Smith which is why no one knows.

Giants (-1) vs. Ravens: Again, no one knows. I'd personally love the Giants in this situation, because as hot as they've been, this line seems destined to climb. Plus, if you've got two really good defenses, don't you want the team with the elite quarterback? (That's not you, Joe Flacco.)

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Posted on: January 15, 2012 2:43 pm
 

Texans recover in second quarter to tighten game

J. Jones had a rough first half (US Presswire).

By Josh Katzowitz

The Texans looked so good, so calm in their first playoff game last week in Houston, casually knocking off the Bengals in the wild card round. The running game was successful, the defense was strong and quarterback T.J. Yates managed the game nicely.

But in the first quarter of their first road playoff game in franchise history, they looked like they didn’t belong, falling behind by two touchdowns to a hungry, rested Ravens squad at home. But thanks to Arian Foster, whose 95 yards on 15 first-half carries is the most Baltimore has ever allowed in a playoff game (an entire playoff game, that is) and a Texans offensive line that bullied the Ravens defensive line, the Texans head into halftime losing only 17-13.

Considering how the Texans played in the first quarter, they’re lucky to be in the game. While Yates, who looked terrible, tried to get the ball to Andre Johnson, Ray Lewis should have intercepted his third-down pass, and on the next series, with Yates trying to hit the same target, Lardarius Webb picked him in Texans territory.

Jacoby Jones didn’t exactly help his squad, muffing two punts, including one that the Ravens recovered on the 2-yard line, and in the first quarter, Texans receiver Kevin Walter dropped a perfect pass on an out route that could have given his team the first down.

Yates didn’t look good, but then again, neither did anybody else on the Houston squad.

And though the Texans fell behind 17-3, they continued running the ball, and Foster rewarded them with some explosive runs and a fantastic one-handed catch. Behind 17-6 and with a third and goal on the 1-yard line in which Houston needed a touchdown to stay close, Foster went off right end, made a nice cut and barreled his way into the end zone.

“At this point,” CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf said when Houston was behind by two touchdowns, “T.J. Yates must feel like an inexperienced quarterback.”

Thanks to Foster, Yates probably feels a little differently right now.

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Posted on: January 13, 2012 9:42 am
Edited on: January 13, 2012 9:44 am
 

Film Room: Ravens vs. Texans divisional preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

The Texans are hoping they can do what the Ravens did three years ago: reach the AFC Championship with a rookie quarterback. Like the ‘08 Ravens, Houston’s rookie quarterback is a complimentary piece, not the focal point.

Gary Kubiak might be offensive-minded, but his current squad is built around the run and defense. Come to think of it, so are the current Ravens ... if they play their cards right. Here’s the breakdown.


1. Baltimore’s offensive approach
With Joe Flacco turning 27 next week and entering his eighth playoff contest, the manual says this is the time for the quarterback’s coming out party. But it’d be unwise of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to buy into that.

Cameron has been Flacco’s most boisterous supporter – and rightfully so. He and John Harbaugh have gradually loosened the quarterback’s reigns over the past three years and all but removed them this year. That approach has had its ups and downs, but through it all the Ravens have continued to win.

Flacco had a poor season statistically – his completion percentage dropped below 60 for the first time, which is why he averaged a career-low 6.7 yards per attempt – but he was also playing with more freedom/responsibility than ever. You can tell a lot about what a coaching staff thinks of its quarterback by the plays it calls.

Most fans just assume the black-and-blue Ravens have a safe, methodical passing game. In reality, much of what the Ravens do centers more around Flacco’s big arm. Instead of using Anquan Boldin primarily underneath, the Ravens often push the ball to him downfield outside the numbers. They use their tight ends down the seams and it’s not uncommon for Flacco to launch multiple bombs in a half, usually targeting rookie burner Torrey Smith.

It’s encouraging that the Ravens have opened things up, but in this case the numbers don’t lie: Baltimore’s offense is inconsistent through the air and survives primarily because of Ray Rice. The fourth-year superstar led the league with 2,068 yards from scrimmage. In Baltimore’s 12 wins, Rice rushed for an average of 100 yards on 21 carries. In their four losses, he averaged 39 yards on nine carries (and in those losses, the score was never lopsided, making Rice’s decreased touches hard to explain).

Rice is one of the league’s few runners who can consistently move the chains with power or go the distance with speed. His low center of gravity lends him superb lateral explosiveness. That’s deadly behind an effective zone-blocking line that features guards as mobile as Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda.

Will Joseph try to neutralize Boldin this time? (Getty Images)

2. Facing Houston’s D
If Cameron wants to win, he’ll work the offense through Rice. The Texans’ swarming front seven can be difficult to run against, but the Ravens have the game’s most effective lead-blocking fullback in Vontae Leach. He takes great angles to blocks and hits moving targets adroitly, which can help neutralize the downhill speed of linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing. The objective of the Ravens run game is to get the defense flowing laterally and allow Rice to cut it up inside.

Flacco won’t be irrelevant, of course. In fact, it’s not unforeseeable for Houston to bottle up the run early and for Baltimore to take to the air. Getting Anquan Boldin back from a knee injury is huge, as he’s a much tougher inside matchup than agility-based tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.

The Ravens have the speed to beat teams downfield, but Torrey Smith is still raw and can be taken out of a game by an elite corner like Johnathan Joseph. It will be interesting to see who the Texans have their No. 1 corner defend. If it’s Smith, they theoretically eliminate Baltimore’s field-stretching prowess. But last time these teams met, Boldin was the one who caught eight balls for 133 yards. Wade Phillips may not be willing to surrender that again.

Regardless of how the secondary matches up, Flacco will have to play with poise. Even when they’re not sacking quarterbacks, the Texans pass-rushers are disruptive. Flacco was impressive keeping his eyes downfield and sliding in the pocket in the last meeting, but he’s still somewhat of a week-to-week player in this sense.

3. Test for Yates
All in all, T.J. Yates has done a commendable job keeping the ship afloat.

 Gary Kubiak did not ask a lot of the rookie in the wild card round. In response, Yates was somewhat reactive reading the field, but he capitalized when a big-play opportunity came about (Andre Johnson’s double move on Pacman Jones). He also did not turn the ball over (though it was lucky that Chris Crocker dropped a surefire pick-six in the second half).

This performance, however, came against Cincinnati’s 4-3, zone-based scheme, which was similar to what Yates saw from the Jaguars, Falcons and Titans in previous starts. Yates is yet to face a 3-4, or even a blitz-oriented defense. He’ll face both Sunday, when the Ravens show him things he’s never seen before.

4. Ravens secondary
One thing Yates has never seen before is a safety like Ed Reed. The future Hall of Famer is not just rangier than all of Yates’ previous foes, he’s much savvier. Most safeties force turnovers by baiting quarterbacks into throws on a given play. Reed will bait a quarterback throughout the game.

He’ll bite on the first route of a play in the second quarter; then in the fourth quarter, against a similar play, Reed will assume the quarterback knows not to try to fool him twice. Thus, while every other safety would play conservative and make sure not to give up that first route again, Reed will abandon that first assignment and jump the second route.

This is how he gets a lot of his interceptions. He’s a master at recognizing how offenses use certain plays to set up other plays. This is no different than a great chess player thinking four or five moves ahead.

It’s unreasonable to expect a third-string rookie quarterback to win the mental battle against Reed. Thus, the Texans might be hesitant to have Andre Johnson stretch the field too many times.

Reed isn’t the only noteworthy defensive back in purple. Lardarius Webb has had a terrific season playing outside and in the slot. Webb defends the deep ball as well as any corner, and he’s great at jumping passing lanes from over-man coverage. His versatility expands what the Ravens can do with their disguises.

5. Houston’s run game
It will be difficult for Arian Foster to get outside against the Ravens the way he did against the Bengals. Strong safety Bernard Pollard is too good as a downhill run defender and outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Jarrett Johnson are the best in the business when it comes to setting the edge:

You’ve probably heard the term “setting the edge”. Setting the edge is when an outside run defender (in a 3-4 it’s usually an outside linebacker) entrenches himself along the line of scrimmage or in the backfield near the offensive tackle or tight end. In doing so, he forces the running back to either cut back into the teeth of the defense or run parallel to the line of scrimmage (which allows time for other defenders to chase him down).

No outside linebacking duo sets the edge better than Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs and Jarrett Johnson. This snapshot offers an extreme example of fantastic edge-setting. Suggs didn’t just stalemate Duane Brown – he drove him back four yards.
(AP)

These days, the key to running on Baltimore is, believe it or not, attacking Ray Lewis. The 36-year-old Pro Bowler is still terrific at diagnosing plays, shedding blocks and wrapping up anywhere near the hash marks, but since returning from his toe injury (perhaps too soon), Lewis’s lateral limitations have been exacerbated.

When he’s going east and west, ballcarriers have little trouble bursting by him (especially when the ballcarrier hits the hole with as much authority as Arian Foster).

To get Lewis going sideways, the Texans linemen will have to have fully beat Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody and Cory Redding off the ball. Houston’s front line doesn’t have the strength to block any of those guys – especially Ngata, even though the 345-pound monster has looked less than 100 percent down the stretch – but as a cohesive zone unit, they can nullify them by quickly establishing favorable angles.

That’s exactly what they did against the Bengals, who can be considered a good “pretest” for a bout with the Ravens.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Divisional Round games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com