3 Most Important Matchups for Texans in NFL Divisional Playoffs vs. Lamar, Ravens

3 Most Important Matchups for Texans in NFL Divisional Playoffs vs. Lamar, Ravens

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    DeMeco Ryans

    DeMeco RyansCooper Neill/Getty Images

    The Houston Texans established themselves as a team to be reckoned with a 45-14 win over the Cleveland Browns on Wildcard Weekend. Now they’ll have a whole new challenge when they hit the road to take on the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens.

    The Ravens have spent the whole regular season making it known that they are the top team in the AFC. Not only did they earn the league’s best record but it came with wins over six playoff teams, including a 33-19 win at San Francisco.

    It also includes a Week 1 25-9 win over the Texans.

    Both teams have improved quite a bit since that Week 1 encounter. This game will be a great barometer for just how close the Texans are to becoming a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

    Here are three matchups that will determine the outcome for Houston as they look to continue creating a new identity in the DeMeco Ryans-C.J. Stroud era.

Texans Interior Offensive Line vs. Justin Madubuike

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    Shaq Mason

    Shaq MasonCooper Neill/Getty Images

    C.J. Stroud enjoyed great protection all game against the Cleveland Browns vaunted pass rush. The Browns didn’t register a single sack and Za’Darius Smith was the only one credited with a quarterback hit.

    Stroud utilized that clean pocket to go 16-of-21 for 274 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

    If the Texans are going to deliver another upset, they’ll have to keep Stroud clean again. The biggest difference between the Ravens pass rush and the Browns is the presence of a dominant interior rusher.

    Justin Madubuike has enjoyed a dominant breakout season with 13 sacks. His ability to generate pressure from the interior and collapse pockets has helped the Ravens lead the league in sacks with 60.

    That’s going to shift the burden of protection from George Fant and Laremy Tunsil last week to guards Juice Scruggs and Shaq Mason. Both will draw Madubuike throughout the game depending on the Ravens’ alignment.

    Scruggs will have to turn in the best performance of his young career. The rookie has played 439 snaps this season, giving up four sacks and earning a PFF grade of 51.0, ranking 65th out of the 80 guards PFF has graded.

    Mason is better equipped to handle the job. He’s ranked 23rd and has given up three sacks all season playing 1,132 snaps.

    The Ravens will likely look to get their interior ace lined up against the rookie and force the Texans to send help.

Texans Secondary vs. Zay Flowers

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    Zay Flowers

    Zay FlowersRandy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    A lot has changed since these two teams met in Week 1, but there are still some trends from the first game worth keeping an eye on. For instance, Zay Flowers made it known that he was going to be a problem for NFL defenses in his debut against the Texans.

    Flowers was the most successful offensive player for the Ravens in their season-opening win over Houston. He caught nine passes for 78 yards on 10 targets for Baltimore, giving the Ravens a consistent target and leading the team in receiving.

    It’s also notable because the Ravens didn’t have Mark Andrews in that game. He sat out with a quad injury before returning to the lineup in Week 2. He then suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 11.

    That means the Ravens will once again be relying on Flowers to move the chains and be a consistent threat. The rookie has shown up in some of the biggest games for the Ravens.

    In the rout of the Dolphins he was a big playmaker, he took three catches for 106 yards and a score. Against the Niners, he was a consistent chain-mover, earning 72 yards on nine catches for another touchdown.

    The Texans will need a joint effort from Derek Stingley Jr., Steven Nelson and Desmond King II to stop him. Flowers spends 29 percent of his time in the slot so the Ravens will move him all over the formation to try and create matchups they like.

Christian Harris and Blake Cashman vs. Lamar Jackson

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    Christian Harris

    Christian HarrisCarmen Mandato/Getty Images

    Slowing down the Baltimore Ravens run game and offense is going to be pivotal for the Texans to pull off the upset. Doing that means relying on Christian Harris and Blake Cashman to turn in excellent performances.

    Defending Lamar Jackson is a unique experience in the NFL. He is so electric with the ball in his hands and has elite speed to make any team that wants to play man defense pay.

    Playing zone and having at least one spy dedicated to mirroring Jackson is nearly essential. Even then, it’s not that simple when it comes to containing Jackson. Fortunately, the Texans have two uber-athletic linebackers to help the cause.

    Blake Cashman posted a 9.52 relative athletic score which included elite speed, explosion and agility testing back during the 2019 draft cycle. Christian Harris had similar testing, posting an 8.8 that featured a 4.44 40 time.

    Back in Week 1, Cashman didn’t play against the Ravens. Denzel Perryman—who ran a 4.78 40 and has an RAS of 3.49 played 95 percent of the snaps.

    Playing the athletic pairing for more of the game gives them a better shot at being able to contain Jackson and win the game.

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