PLEASE NOTE:The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on BaltimoreRavens.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Baltimore Ravens' organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Ravens officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
Injuries have reduced the Texans to their third-string signal-caller, T.J. Yates, a rookie fifth-round pick who carried a clipboard until throwing his first NFL pass 45 days ago.
The Ravens have Joe Flacco, who has passed for almost 14,000 yards in four years while winning 44 of 64 regular-season games and four of seven in the playoffs.
Yates, to his credit, is hanging in there, playing far better than many expected; he is making his share of throws for coaches who aren't asking him to do too much.
But Flacco is far more experienced and accomplished and should be the difference in the game if the high-caliber defenses and ground games offset each other.
Flacco has already had a pretty good postseason without even stepping onto a field. While the Ravens enjoyed a first-round bye last weekend, his nemesis, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, whom he had never beaten in the postseason, was surprisingly eliminated and then wore an unfortunate hat to his postgame press conference.
The same day, Atlanta's Matt Ryan, the young quarterback to whom Flacco is most often compared, was similarly bounced in a lopsided loss in New York. Ryan, known as Matty Ice for his supposed cool, has generally received more favorable reviews than Flacco as their careers have rolled along similar rails, but it might be time to reconsider. "Joey Ice" Flacco has four career wins in the high-pressure playoffs, Ryan four fewer.
Anyway, the bye is over and now it's time for Flacco to get on the field and write his own playoff story.
His legion of detractors – a persistent crew – might burp at the thought, noting Flacco's near across-the-board statistical decline in 2011; he had a lower completion percentage, a lower quarterback rating, fewer touchdowns and more interceptions than the year before.
But as always, the numbers do not begin to tell the whole story.
For the first nine games of the season, the Ravens' coaches – with Flacco's blessing, no doubt – were intent on making the team's passing game more dangerous and relevant than in previous years. It worked on some days, but not on others, and the project was scrapped after Ray Rice had just five carries in a loss to the Seahawks in Seattle on Nov. 13.
That debacle resulted in some organizational soul searching, and since then, the Ravens won six of seven games with a much more familiar offensive imprint. Rice has carried a heavy load all the way to a Pro Bowl selection, while Flacco mans the controls and mixes in throws.
In those seven games, Flacco has completed 63 percent of his pass attempts, throwing 10 touchdowns and just five interceptions. In four of the seven games, his quarterback rating has surpassed 100.
He has found his sweet spot, and while he might still harbor secret dreams of being a 5,000-yards-a-year guy, he is nothing if not a realist and surely sees that, well, results are results. The passing game remains important and productive.
Flacco's goal Sunday should be to replicate those recent performances, perhaps with a little more juice, as the Texans yield grudgingly on the ground, potentially putting more on the passing game's plate.
The conditions appear favorable for a winning performance. Flacco has won 27 of 32 career starts at home. His top wide receiver, Anquan Boldin is returning from minor knee surgery and certain to be energized. When the Ravens played Houston on Oct. 16, Flacco threw for 305 yards.
Unlike Yates, Joey Ice is accustomed to the postseason crucible, having survived when the entire stadium is rooting against him. The sure-to-be-loud hometown support will sound especially pleasing to his ears.
He's a veteran now, with his team to lead, and it's his time to make a difference. The story is waiting to be written.
John Eisenberg covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.