Ravens-Texans: Five predictions for Sunday

With Lamar Jackson and other starters sitting, Robert Griffin III made his first NFL start in three years.

The first NFL meeting between Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson was one of the most anticipated matchups of the 2019 season in the wake of their classic showdown in the ACC a few years earlier.

But the outcome was a flop from a competitive standpoint as the Ravens dominated Houston in a 41-7 blowout at M&T Bank Stadium. The fresh memory of that encounter has taken some of the air out of Sunday’s rematch, but the Texans are feeling much urgency trying to avoid an 0-2 start after their season-opening loss to Kansas City. Meanwhile, the Ravens are aiming to win their 14th consecutive regular-season game and seventh straight road contest dating back to last October.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Texans meet for the 11th time in the regular season with Baltimore holding a decisive 8-2 advantage as well as a victory in the only playoff game between these teams. Counting that postseason victory, the Ravens are 7-2 against Houston in the John Harbaugh era.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Rookie Devin Duvernay will score his first NFL touchdown. The third-round pick from Texas played only 11 offensive snaps in the opener, but it was interesting to see Greg Roman call a wide receiver screen to him for Jackson’s first pass of the season. Duvernay showed off his speed on a pair of kick returns for 64 yards, and his ability to gain yards after the catch was a major selling point for the Ravens. Finding ways to get him the ball in space figures to become a bigger priority moving forward, and Houston had its share of problems with open-field tackling in Week 1.

2. Houston’s J.J. Watt will register a sack and a forced fumble. The Ravens quietly had some problems along the offensive line in Week 1, particularly inside with Matt Skura making his return from last November’s knee injury and Tyre Phillips playing in his first NFL game. That wasn’t all that shocking, but Watt’s tendency to move around the line makes it paramount to identify where he is pre-snap. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year may not be the unstoppable force he once was after missing 32 games over the last four years, but he still dominates against the run at the very least.

3. Jackson will run for a touchdown and over 100 yards. There was much talk after last year’s opener about the Ravens quarterback rushing only three times — one of those being a kneel — in his record passing day against Miami, but Jackson proceeded to run 16 times for 120 yards the following week on his way to a record-setting rushing season. It’s natural to anticipate Jackson’s carries diminishing as he becomes a more and more dynamic passer, but last week’s issues running between the tackles and shaky protection feel like the latest setup for the Ravens to zig while an opponent zags.

4. Baltimore will sack Watson five times. Much of the defensive success last week stemmed from coverage as the Ravens pressured Baker Mayfield only 11.9 percent of the time despite blitzing on nearly 55 percent of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Reference. Watson’s tendency to hold the ball led to him being sacked six times by Baltimore last season, and a DeAndre Hopkins-less wide receiver group puts even more pressure on the star quarterback who’s now depending on Will Fuller as his top target. After playing in coverage more than usual in Week 1, Matthew Judon will register his first sack.

5. The Ravens will use a balanced effort in a 33-20 win over the Texans. With Baltimore clearly being the better team on paper, this matchup represents a noteworthy checkpoint with a big Monday night game with Kansas City looming next week. In the offseason, Jackson shared his belief that the Ravens got caught “peeking ahead” against Tennessee in the playoffs as so many were already counting down to a conference championship showdown with the Chiefs the following week. With this being their first road game in this COVID-19 world against a Houston team feeling urgency and coming off extra rest, the Ravens need to come out of the locker room focused and energized in what will be an empty NRG Stadium. That’s exactly what they’ll do in a game that won’t be a blowout due to a better showing from Watson this time around, but Baltimore will take control by the third quarter on the way to a 2-0 start and the aforementioned clash with the Chiefs.