Wideouts Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter have plenty of speed, and are able to stretch the field vertically and shake free of tacklers. Owen Daniels is one of the premier pass-catching tight ends in the league, and his backup, Joel Dreessen, is also a threat in the passing game. Running back Arian Foster averages over 13 yards per catch, and gives quarterback Matt Schaub a reliable threat in the check-down and screen game.
But c’mon, Andre Johnson is Andre Johnson. This guy might be the top wide receiver in the game.
He’s fast enough to sprint past smaller defensive backs and burn you deep, and the Miami product’s 6-foot-3, 226-lb. frame makes him nearly impossible to defend straight up because he can outmuscle you and rip down passes in tight coverage. Johnson tormented the Ravens’ defensive backs late last year, recording nine catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns in Baltimore’s 34-26 overtime win over the Texans.
That’s why, even though very few are willing to say it, the Ravens are thrilled that Johnson almost certainly won’t play this Sunday because of a hamstring injury suffered two weeks ago.
“They still pose you tons of problems, but the fact that he’s not out there, I mean let’s not kid ourselves, that’s huge,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “And if he’s out there, you’ve got to tilt the whole defense basically over top of him, or he’ll catch every pass. He can’t really be covered one-on-one on a consistent basis. So, I’m hopeful he’s not going to play. I’m not going to kid you; if he doesn’t play I’ll be smiling. But, we’ll just have to see.”
The Texans have yet to officially rule Johnson out for Sunday’s game in Baltimore, but at this point, it seems incredibly unlikely that the five-time Pro Bowl receiver won’t be able to go.
Among Ravens fans, that’s cause for celebration. Not having to face a guy who has posted two 1,500-plus yard receiving seasons the last two years he’s played a full 16 games is a huge advantage for the Baltimore defense.
Among Ravens players, however, there’s no time to celebrate. Even without Johnson, the Texans posted 473 yards of total offense last week, 403 of which came off the right arm of Schaub.
“They’ve still got Jacoby Jones, who can go deep - you have got to account for that,” Harbaugh said. “They still have Kevin Walter. They’ve got two tight ends that are incredible, they’ve got a great running back, and I think they’ve got the offensive line that’s playing the best in football right now. And (they have) a veteran quarterback, which always causes any defense problems, because he’s going to understand where to go with the ball.”
Throw in Derrick Mason, who the Texans acquired this week in a trade with the Jets, and Houston now has another proven receiver the Ravens must keep tabs on.
Assuming Johnson doesn’t play Sunday, the Texans’ offense will certainly have a different look to it. Guys of Johnson’s size and ability aren’t easily replaced. But while the Ravens won’t have to bring consistent double-teams to one side or roll their coverage on the back-end, they aren’t overlooking the receivers who will step foot between the lines on Sunday.
“If you lose an Andre Johnson, that’s a big-play wide receiver, but at the end of the day, they have capable wide receivers that can go out there and get the job done each and every week,” said cornerback Cary Williams, who likely would have drawn the matchup with Johnson. “The fact that they don’t have their leading wide receiver doesn’t mean that they’re a slouch or we should slack off or anything like that. We still respect our opponent, and we’re going to go after those guys.”