My prediction for Sunday’s game … points.
I mean, a lot of points. For both teams.
Lamar Jackson will do his thing for the Ravens, which is such a thing now that reporters from all over the country were hanging around the locker room this week.
But Deshaun Watson also will do his thing for the Houston Texans, who happen to own the NFL’s top-ranked no-huddle offense.
Points. In abundance.
I’m envisioning so many Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium that we might need the s-word to describe the game.
That’s right, a shootout.
Let’s be honest. The stadium hasn’t seen many. The Ravens have mostly rolled out defensive-minded teams over the years thanks to Ray Lewis and others. A game that ended 27-24 qualified as a shootout.
Yes, there were exceptions. Some may recall the afternoon in 2003 when Anthony Wright was playing quarterback for the Ravens, started flinging touchdown passes and didn’t stop until the Ravens had defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 44-41.
It came out of nowhere – Baltimore had tallied six points in defeat the week before – but it was a bona fide shootout, the greatest in Ravens history.
They’ve surpassed 44 points in many other games, of course, but a shootout requires two unstoppable offenses and Baltimore defenses have tended not to cooperate. There also have been days when the Ravens couldn’t keep up and got rolled.
I realize I’m not exactly complimenting the defenses of the Ravens and Texans by predicting a shootout Sunday. But I don’t intend it as a slap. I’m well aware both units bring positive elements to the table. The Texans rank No. 3 in rushing defense. The Ravens’ defense has become energetic and marvelously opportunistic.
But did you hear what Ravens safety Earl Thomas III said this week about taking on Watson and other mobile quarterbacks?
“I’d rather play against a quarterback that is going to stand there,” Thomas said. “These quarterbacks coming in now, they’re able to run, they’re able to throw it deep, they have the schemes with all the misdirection stuff. I’m not enjoying these young quarterbacks coming into the league and doing all the spectacular stuff they’re doing, but it’s just the way the league is going now.”
Yes. Indeed. Young quarterbacks such as Jackson, Watson, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Arizona Cardinals’ Kyler Murray are redefining the position. They aren’t just pocket passers. They’re on the move, hard to catch, able to beat you running as well as throwing.
Defenses seemingly don’t have an answer for them right now.
Jackson has become the leading example in 2019 with his viral-video performances, but Watson is right with him. Both are also backed by high-powered running games, and on Sunday, they’ll face defenses that have been remade on the fly to some extent because of injuries and performance issues.
Sure, there’s always a chance the defenses will surprise and dominate. But I’m sensing points.
Either way, the two teams should engage in a figurative, congratulatory handshake before kickoff. Both gambled on quarterbacks that other teams doubted, and now, as a result, their futures are bright. Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale went so far as to label Sunday’s contest “an NFL history game.”
Before you dismiss that as hyperbole, Martindale might be on to something. What if, like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, Jackson and Watson are in the process of rising to the top of their generation of quarterbacks? Sundays inaugural meeting could be the first in a line of classics.
There also could be other rivalries such as when Jackson and Mahomes face off, or Watson and Mahomes.
These won’t be low-scoring affairs. The NFL’s rules already give offenses an advantage by setting limitations on when, where and how defensive players can hit. Defenses have mounted aggressive pass rushes in response, but Jackson and Watson can easily avoid your rush and make you pay for trying.
It’s thrilling. It’s the future. And it’s pretty simple, really. Spoils go to the playmaker who makes the most plays.