In Week 17, the Ravens clinched the AFC North with a 24-16 win over the Bengals. The Bengals still clinched a playoff spot though, but would lose in the first round to the Texans. On just the fourth play from scrimmage, Ray Rice sprinted through blocks from Vonta Leach and Marshal Yanda to take the ball 70 yards to the end zone, giving the Ravens the early advantage. After the teams exchanged field goals, Flacco took the Ravens on an eighty-yard drive at the end of the half, finishing it off with a beautiful throw-and-catch to Dennis Pitta in the back of the end zone. In the third quarter, however, Bernard Scott turned the corner, shook off would-be tackler Ed Reed, and bounced his way 25 yards for the score,narrowing the Ravens' lead to 7. After a Mike Nugent field goal made the score 17-13 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens were forced into a three-and-out, and the Bengals began to drive the ball downfield. They were stopped in their tracks however, when Terrell Suggs forced his 7th fumble of the year (a Ravens franchise record), and the Ravens took over possession. It didn't take long for the Ravens to get back on the board, and Ray Rice took a 51-yard scamper to the end zone to make it a two-possession lead. Down by eight in the final seconds of the game, a failed hail-mary attempt sealed the victory for the Ravens.
Player of the Game: Ravens RB Ray Rice-24 attempts, 191 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
Key to the Win: Plain and simple, Cam Cameron did a great job designing the game plan for this game. Finally, he set up Flacco's passing game by using Ray Rice as a beginning point. Flacco threw just 19 passes, but that was all he needed to throw. The Ravens are a running team, no doubt about it, and Cameron did a great job of establishing that by using Ray Rice to his advantage.
With their win over the Bengals last week, the Texans earned themselves a trip to Baltimore for the divisional round of the playoffs. When the Texans came to Baltimore in Week 6, they left with a 29-14 loss. The key to that game was the Ravens' ability to hold star RB Arian Foster to just 49 rushing yards. If the Ravens want to replicate their early-season success, limiting Foster will be crucial. Foster has already expressed his desire for revenge against the Ravens after that dismal performance of his, so look out. Unlike Week 6, however, is the Texans quarterback situation. After losing starter Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart to injuries, the Texans have relied on rookie QB T.J. Yates to push them deeper into the playoffs. Yates had the best game of his season last week against the Bengals, but he'll be facing an entirely different defense this Sunday. He has not yet faced a defense as intimidating as the Ravens, so his response should be interesting to watch. You never know, one big hit from Suggs or Ngata could completely alter his mindset, and make him hesitant to want to step back and throw another pass. Yates' main target, Andre Johnson, also missed the earlier matchup, but his size and skill set could prove difficult for the Ravens to defend. Expect him to be covered by either Lardarius Webb or Cary Williams, with help from Ed Reed over top of the route. On defense, the Texans are ranked in the top 5 in all major categories. Their third-ranked secondary could prove dangerous for Joe Flacco, so expect a lot of running to set up easier play-action passes. Despite these playmakers for the Texans, I think the Ravens are smarter and more experienced in these situations, which is always key in the playoffs especially. Plus, playing at home, where they were 8-0 during the regular season, is a huge advantage. I simply can't see the Ravens letting this game get away, so I have them winning 20-13.
Key to the Game: As I mentioned earlier, limiting Arian Foster's big play ability will be vital for the Ravens. If Foster can't reach 70 rushing yards, the Ravens will win this game. By limiting Foster, the Ravens put T.J. Yates into 3rd-and-long situations,
which he won't be able to convert on a consistent basis. Since the
Texans won't want to put the game on Yates' shoulders, they will rely on
the run game as much as possible to put up points. Yates simply doesn't have the skills to beat the Ravens on his own.
Key Matchups for Texans at Ravens
Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Texans QB T.J. Yates Edge: Suggs
Analysis: Suggs knows how to overpower both an offensive line and a quarterback, so I expect him to be relentless in his pursuit of Yates.
Ravens CB Lardarius Webb vs. Texans WR Andre Johnson Edge: Johnson
Analysis: Johnson has both a size and skill advantage over Webb, but keep in mind Webb still has not allowed a touchdown to be scored on him.
Ravens defensive line vs. Texans RB Arian Foster Edge: Ravens
Analysis: They did it in Week 6, and now that the stakes are higher, I expect them to do it again.
Ravens WR Anquan Boldin vs. Texans CB Johnathan Joseph Edge: Joseph
Analysis: This is a close one, but Joseph is having a career year, so he'll be full force come Sunday.
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Texans defensive line Edge: Rice
Analysis: Rice's speed and agility, plus superb blocking from Pro Bowl FB Vonta Leach, will help him make big plays on Sunday.
Ravens G Marshal Yanda vs. Texans DE Antonio Smith Edge: Yanda
Analysis: Yanda was injured last week, and still threw a key block on Rice's 70-yard TD run, there is no reason he won't be even better Sunday.
LB Brendon Ayanbadejo-Thigh-QST
LB Jameel McClain-Knee-QST
TE Owen Daniels-Hand-PRB
S Troy Nolan-Ankle-PRB
Broncos at Patriots, Sat. 8:30 PM
Texans at Ravens, Sun. 1:00 PM
The winners of these two games will face each other next Sunday in the AFC Championship.
That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and Go Ravens!