The most important player in this game will be Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. As we saw last week in his game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Suggs is playing very well right now. The Ravens need him to play at a high level because he can solve their biggest problem on defense -- when the Ravens blitz, their corners get crushed. On blitzes this year, the Ravens have given up 10 touchdown passes and made only one interception. They need Suggs to get to the quarterback before he can get to their corners.
Now, the Ravens might have the best front seven in football, especially given their scheme and they way they alternate players in and out. Safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry are playing very well, too. But they really struggle at the corner position. CBs Josh Wilson, Chris Carr and Lardarius Webb are the weak spots on this defense and the logical place for offenses to attack. The Ravens know this and have made adjustments. In 2008, they blitzed more than any other team in football. In 2009, they ranked ninth, and this year they are 15th. They are blitzing less for a reason. They know they can't leave their corners on an island. It won't work.
The Texans' corners are not a lot better. They have a very young and inexperienced secondary. In fact, Houston might have the worst defense in football. I think Mario Williams must be hurt because he has been a non-factor recently. The linebackers struggle in coverage, too. The Eagles particularly exposed LB Kevin Bentley by getting him matched up on TE Brent Celek or a back. Teams are not afraid to attack them.
Still, I think the Ravens will make this one of those manhood games. They'll play out of a heavy set, with two tight ends, and try to pound the ball. For much of this season, the Ravens have played a heavily designed offense to take advantage of new arrivals such as WRs T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Anquan Boldin. But that caused them to get away from their strength of an inside running game, which brought eight defenders to the box and allowed QB Joe Flacco to use his big arm and work the outside.
Both QBs in this game have struggled. Flacco and Matt Schaub have played poorly late in games under pressure. The Ravens have had fourth-quarter leads in all four of their losses. They've also given up 90 points in the fourth quarter this year, so really the whole Baltimore team has not played well in crunch time.
The Texans have a very good offense and a pretty bad defense. So I expect the game to be high scoring with plenty of passing downs in which Suggs will have opportunities to be a difference-maker.