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The Pro Football Notebook


December 13, 2010 6:53 AM

Ravens' Offense Looks For Answers In Houston

Boldin.jpgBaltimore goes to Houston for tonight's Monday Night game (8:30 ET, ESPN), as we see if the Ravens can bounce back from a devastating divisional loss better than the Jets did. Pittsburgh kept the pressure on Baltimore when the Steelers beat the Bengals yesterday and a road loss by the Ravens would all but end the AFC North race and re-open the wild-card door to teams like San Diego and maybe even Miami.

The defining issue in this game is going to be a matchup of weakness--Baltimore's offense is struggling and under fire for not living up to its potential. Houston's defense is struggling and under fire because they've fulfilled everyone's worst fears. The big issue is going to be when the ball is in the air. The Texans' secondary is porous, but the Ravens just haven't generated big plays with consistency. It's not for lack of talent. Joe Flacco's good and he's got good targets. Anquan Boldin is a deep threat, Derrick Mason can move the chains and Todd Heap can keep defenses honest underneath. Yet the Baltimore passing game has been too frequently reduced to hitting the backs and tight end. Heap is fine is a secondary option, but if he's your "big play guy", you have problems and that's what Baltimore has in the passing game right now. What I would like to see out of the Ravens' offense is a commitment to run the ball first and then throw deep, rather than the dink-and-dunk approach that's not serving them well.

Houston's defensive situation is worse, because unlike the Baltimore offense, the personnel isn't there to think about a lot of strategic changes. The Texans' have to win the battle of strengths--their offense against the Baltimore defense--and that starts with knowing where Terrell Suggs is. The linebacker was everywhere last Sunday night and he's got to be kept away from Matt Schaub. Houston also needs to get some running from Arian Foster and keep that aggressive Baltimore defense honest.

If this game were in Baltimore, it'd be a mismatch, but in Houston this is a good matchup, as Schaub will have a better chance for big numbers in climate-controlled Reliant Stadium. And the intangible factors involved are just as intriguing. Where is Baltimore's head after coughing up a game to Pittsburgh last week? Is Houston really committed to winning, as they are likely facing a coaching change in the offseason? Those are things we can only guess at and may prove decisive tonight. In the meantime, I'll keep my picks focused on what we can know for sure and that's on the field. Defense ultimately wins and Baltimore gets a 26-20 win that extends the AFC North race a little bit longer.

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The blizzard in Minnesota gives us the bizarre spectacle of the Giants-Vikings game being changed to Ford Field today, a game that will be televised by Fox in the local markets. The change to Detroit is ridiculous. Is there a reason the game couldn't be played at the new college stadium the University of Minnesota plays in? Don't tell me attendance, because the NFL is giving away tickets for free to get Detroit people to come to this game. The Giants are getting a huge break in dealing with a neutral crowd and their fortunes here affect playoff aspirations in Philadelphia, Green Bay and possibly Chicago. Perhaps it was about airport access to Minneapolis (the Giants had been stranded in Kansas City), but there still had to be an option that would have at least preserved a home-crowd advantage--or at least not made the Vikings play a home game in the city of a division rival. Although if the league was going to do this, they should've shifted the game to Lambeau Field and let Brett Favre's consecutive games streak end where it began.

Image from ebonybird.com

Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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