I'm going to start off my preview of the Ravens-Texans game this Sunday at NRG Stadium by backing up, and taking a big picture look at things happening with the Texans over the next few weeks, and I want to start by admitting that I have a bit of a fetish for weekly NFL Power Rankings. Yeah, they're a little stupid, and yeah, they're totally subjective opinions based in very little data, but I am obsessed with them.
I don't care if they are from ESPN, CBS, SI.com, or The Athletic. If they're ranking them, I am reading them! The first ones that I saw after Week 1 concluded came from ESPN.com
, so I'll use those to segue into my Texans' insight. ESPN.com has the Texans first seven opponents of the 2020 season rated as follows:
1. Chiefs (Week 1, 34-20, LOSS)
2. Ravens (Week 2)
5. Packers (Week 7)
8. Titans (Week 6)
11. Steelers (Week 3)
14. Vikings (Week 4)
27. Jaguars (Week 5)
YIKES. The Texans' first four games are against teams in the top 14, and five of their seven games are against teams in the top 11! Indeed, the Texans' bye week in Week 8 will be well earned.
What jumps out more than anything is the fact that the first two games are against the two best teams in football. It would be more fun to think about if the Texans were viewed as steam that could compete with them, but they lost to the Chiefs by 14 last week, lost to the Ravens by 34 last season, and are ranked 19th in these subjective power rankings.
So now the Texans are touchdown underdog at home, an empty home stadium no less! Can they pull off the upset of the Ravens this Sunday? Sure, anything is possible when you have Deshaun Watson at quarterback. Here are four things to watch for this Sunday in the Texans' home opener:
4. Texan front seven against Lamar Jackson (and other weapons)
Prior to the Week 11 game against the Ravens last season, the Texans were defending the run in 2019 at a high level, allowing just over 84 yards per game. Then Lamar Jackson and the Ravens dropped over 250 yards on them, and the Texans have never been the same, allowing almost literally double those 84 yards per game since then (166 yards per game). Last Thursday, the Texans' tackling was atrocious against the Chiefs with Bill O'Brien citing 20 missed tackles. Truth be told, it felt like 50. The Texans (possibly VERY overpaid) linebacking crew of Cunningham, McKinney, Mercilus, and Scarlett need to be disciplined, hold the edge, and make tackles, or Lamar Jackson will author yet another personal highlight reel.
3. Empty NRG Stadium
There was good news on the stadium attendance front yesterday, as the Texans announced they are working with city and county officials
to have 15,000 fans in attendance in Week 4, when the Minnesota Vikings come to town. That's all very cool, but does nothing, unfortunately, to help them this Sunday against the Ravens. The Texans just faced an opponent who had some fans in attendance (around 16,000 at Kansas City), and it sounded (on TV, at least) like it made a difference. It will be interesting to see if the silence in the stadium allows either side to pick up any signals or "tells" more easily than they normally would with 71,000 screaming fans. Regardless, it will, at the very least, feel pretty damn weird. (For the record, I will be in the stadium on Sunday for pregame and postgame duties on the radio, so my recap on Monday will take you inside that experience.)
2. Protecting Deshaun Watson
The Texans' offensive line was supposed to be coming into this season as one of the strengths of this team, with all five starters back from the previous season for the first time during the Bill O'Brien Era. Ultimately, I think it will still be a strength of the team, but the first week was a little frightening, especially if you value Deshaun Watson's well being. According to some of the advanced statistical websites out there, Watson was pressured on well over half of his drop backs, and the Texans' offensive lien allowed a whopping TEN percent of all the pressures in the league in Week 1. (Reminder — there are THIRTY TWO teams in the NFL.) Last season against the Ravens, Watson was chased all over the place, and sacked seven times. It goes without saying that if Watson gets taken down seven times on Sunday, the results will probably look very similar to last season's Ravens' rout in Baltimore.
1. Fast start
The Texans kept an unfortunate tradition alive in Week 1 against Kansas City, going three and out on their first drive, which means that Deshaun Watson has not led a touchdown drive on the team's opening drive, in a regular season game, since Week 9 of the 2018 season (against Denver, if you're into trivia). That's completely unacceptable, and against the Ravens it's a recipe for slicing heavily into your win probability. The Ravens rarely get kicked in the mouth early in a game, so a 7-0 or 10-0 lead for the Texans (I don't want to get too greedy and ask for a 24-0 lead, they don't hold those well) might throw the Ravens off kilter a little bit, and carrying a lead into the second half might change up how the Ravens go about attacking on offense.
SPREAD: Texans +7
PREDICTION: Ravens 34, Texans 13
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