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Ravens’ Crafty Defense Looks to Take Advantage of Tom Savage and the Texans on Monday Night

The Ravens' defense has pitched three shutouts already this season, and it picked off backup QB Brett Hundley three times last week. Can the team put up a similar performance against the Texans, led by backup QB Tom Savage?

Three things to know ahead of Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens on NFL Week 12 Monday Night Football...

1. Texans QB Tom Savage is coming off the best performance of his NFL career, completing 22 of 32 attempts for 230 yards against Arizona, with a few of those completions coming improvised throws later in the down, under heavy duress. Now, he’s facing a Ravens defense that has pitched three shutouts already this season, largely on the strength of its secondary.

Baltimore safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson are interchangeable and smart, and their ability to move around leads to crafty coverage disguises. Along with the Giants’ Landon Collins, Jefferson is among the best in the league at inserting down as an unblocked eight defender in the box. He locates the ball, including as a blitzer.

On the flip side, Baltimore’s corners rarely move around. Top cover artist Jimmy Smith plays the right side, veteran Brandon Carr plays the left and first-round rookie Marlon Humphrey rotates in on both sides. Last week Humphrey took a huge chunk of Carr’s snaps and played well, so don’t be surprised if Humphrey starts Monday night. Look for the Texans to put No. 1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins out wide on the left side, against Carr (or Humphrey), rather than across from top cover artist Jimmy Smith, whose size and physicality matches up well to Hopkins’s contested-catch style.

2. Through 12 weeks, we still don’t know what Baltimore’s offensive identity is. The running game is inconsistent at best, and there’s little continuity with the passing game. QB Joe Flacco’s poor 2016 campaign is bleeding into this season, but the exact reason is unclear—maybe because of a lack of help from his sub-par receiving corps? A lingering subconscious effect from his knee injury in 2015? He can get jittery in the pocket, and he’ll sometimes predetermine throws, which leads to interceptions. His strong arm is evident only in flashes, not on an every-down basis.

Even though Houston’s defense is ravaged by injuries, it is schematically diverse, and it’s hard to see the Ravens finding much rhythm Monday night.

3. Amidst the hype over Deshaun Watson, it’s easy to forget that the Texans have one of the NFL’s least talented offensive lines. Head coach Bill O’Brien has successfully crafted his offense in ways that aid that offensive line, and with Watson, O’Brien hid the line with misdirection concepts that forced defenders to slow down. But with Savage, O’Brien has employed more traditional tactics like chip-blocks and heavier protections that keep a back or tight end in to block. He’ll also bring in Kendall Lamm as a sixth offensive lineman. It’s not how O’Brien’s offense is constructed—he prefers to get all five eligible receivers out in routes—but good coaches tweak their schemes to fit their players. One thing O’Brien must have his men ready for this week: double-A-gap fronts. The Ravens love to put linebacker C.J. Mosley and dime ‘backer Anthony Levine in the A-gaps on third down. They’ll do this to dictate one-on-one matchups against Houston’s pass-blockers.

Bold Prediction: The Ravens defense will generate 10 points, either through its own scoring or by creating turnovers deep in Houston’s territory.

Score Prediction: Baltimore 19, Houston 14