The Texans come into this game with a rookie quarterback and are not being given much of a chance against the favored Ravens fearsome defense. Houston fans from the Luv Ya Blue days, though, can draw inspiration from the Vernon Perry game.
In December of 1979, the Houston Oilers, coached by current defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ dad, Bum Phillips, weren’t given much of a shot against the heavily favored San Diego Chargers with Dan Fouts. Quarterback Dan Pastorini was injured, as was star tailback Earl Campbell. Gifford Nielsen, a 25 year old unknown with one career start, was forced into action. That’s when Oilers safety Vernon Perry had one of the best largely forgotten games in NFL postseason history. It started in the first half, with San Diego already up 7-0 and kicking a short field goal, when Perry burst up the middle, blocked the field goal, and returned it to set up the Oilers’ first field goal. Then, Perry intercepted Dan Fouts four times, including twice in the final three minutes, to preserve the win.
Enough nostalgia for the old time Houston fans, though, and let’s talk about this game. I expect that Houston will need someone to step up on defense in this one like Vernon Perry did. Is it going to be J.J. Watt, who swung the last game? Perhaps Jonathan Joseph, Brian Cushing or DeMeco Ryans? Or maybe a relative unknown with the game of his life, because Perry was far from a household name as a first year starter when that game happened.
This one should be a slobber knocker, and old fashioned defensive battle where points are at a premium, and a defensive score or special teams play can swing the game’s outcome. Houston may be limited more on offense with Yates, but they still aren’t that far behind Baltimore. The defenses, meanwhile, are both among the leagues best, especially against the pass. Houston’s underrated center, Chris Meyers, will have to try to move Haloti Ngata, and the rest of the line will have to deal with pressure from Terrell Suggs. I expect Baltimore to bring heavy pressure against Yates, who has had a tendency to hold the ball. He did better in the Bengals game, and will have to get the ball out today.
Baltimore’s offense is capable of big plays, but also uneven performances. Whether Flacco plays well will determine whether Houston has a chance to keep it tight until the end. Joe Flacco and the offensive line have improved the sack rate this year, but I expect Houston to get pressure with the down linemen and OLB’s. Ray Rice will get plenty of action running inside, and in the screen game.
Houston lost the first meeting 29-14 in Baltimore, and that was with Matt Schaub at quarterback. In that game, Andre Johnson was out and the receiving group was decimated (the team had just signed Derrick Mason and he had 3 catches). Meanwhile, Anquan Boldin went for 8 catches and 132 yards. That means little, though, as past history of playoff rematches has shown us.
The Line: Baltimore by 9
My Pick: I think Houston has a fighting chance in this one, if it is a defensive struggle. I don’t see Yates lighting up the Ravens, so it will be a heavy dose of Arian Foster as a runner and receiver, with occasional shots downfield. It’s up to Joe Flacco to put it away. Houston +9
[photo via Getty]