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50 Words or Less: Why the Ravens Should Beat the Texans

QB Lamar Jackson
QB Lamar Jackson

The Ravens kick off what will be a memorable 2024 playoff run tonight at M&T Bank Stadium versus the Houston Texans.

Here are my thoughts entering the divisional matchup, all in 50 words or less:

I love the Ravens' mantra entering the playoffs: "stay loose and stay focused." Head Coach John Harbaugh is a master at helping his teams walk that line. There's been good vibes around this team all week. They've been incessantly reminded of the 2019 letdown and are approaching it with eagerness, not fear.

All week, the talk has been about whether the Ravens will suffer the same fate as 2019. Here's what it boils down to. The Ravens are a way better team on both sides of the ball. That's certainly not to say that they're invincible, but they're definitely better.

People forget that in the 2019 playoff loss, Mark Ingram and Mark Andrews were hobbled, Willie Snead IV had eight targets, and Myles Boykin had as many passes come his way as Andrews. Lamar Jackson has way more support this year and the defense has way more stars.

A key for the Ravens offense is to get off to a hot start. They haven't scored a point in the first quarter in Jackson's previous four playoff games. Getting out of the gates fast would keep any "here we go again" thoughts from creeping into their heads.

Jackson has been unfairly criticized for his playoff performances. His rookie showing was rough. Fair. But he threw for 365 yards in the 2019 loss. A howling Buffalo wind affected everyone (Josh Allen barely cracked 200 passing yards) in 2020. Get ready for Jackson to crush that narrative.

The fact that Andrews won't play is a bummer, but the Ravens offense has been hot riding Isaiah Likely. This lets Andrews get even stronger for a hopeful AFC Championship at M&T Bank Stadium and provides an opportunity for Todd Monken to throw unseen curveballs to get to Las Vegas.

Personally, I'm a little surprised that Andrews isn't playing because of how good he looked in practice and because of how badly he wants to suit up. He must not feel totally right yet, and if that's the case, it's smart (and selfless) to not take snaps from Likely.

While I do expect Dalvin Cook will get some action Saturday, he isn't going to suddenly leapfrog Gus Edwards and Justice Hill in his first game as a Raven. Cook adds some more juice to Baltimore's backfield and the hope is that if the Ravens keep playing, his role grows.

Zay Flowers exploded against Houston in his NFL debut and has been hot down the stretch. I don't think the Texans (or really anyone else) have someone that can hang with the first-round rookie. Texans safety DeAndre Houston-Carson, who spent part of training camp in Baltimore, has his hands full.

What impresses me most about C.J. Stroud is his movement within the pocket. His ability to stay calm, feel pressure and still deliver is uncanny for a rookie. The Ravens pass rush comes from every angle, however. He won't have an easy time sidestepping rushers.

Stroud's ability to minimize mistakes has been his greatest strength this year. The Ravens defense led the league in takeaways and got 10 turnovers in its last three games when the starters played. Something's gotta give. The Ravens won't gamble but believe they can take the ball away from anyone.

Stroud roasted the Browns defense, but that defense was among the league's worst on the road this year. Playing against this juiced-up Ravens defense, in front of raucous M&T Bank Stadium in a night playoff game, will be different than the friendly home confines he had last week.

Another key to the game? No defensive touchdowns surrendered. Defensive scores knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs their past two trips (Bengals' Sam Hubbard 98-yard fumble return and Bills' Taron Johnson 101-yard interception return). The Texans had two pick-sixes against Cleveland. The Ravens win if they protect the football.

Houston's defensive ends Jonathan Greenard and Will Anderson Jr., who combined for nearly 20 sacks this season, caused problems in Week 1 against the Ravens' offensive tackles. Jackson was 13-of-13 when not under pressure but 4-of-9 with an interception when facing it. That's the matchup of the game. No fumbles.

The last time the Ravens faced the Texans in the playoffs was in the 2011 divisional round. Baltimore was coming off a first-round bye and faced a rookie quarterback (T.J. Yates). The game swung on a muffed punt by Jacoby Jones, who will be Saturday's Legend of the Game. Weird.

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