When you play on an offense that features a five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, last year’s NFL rushing leader and a quarterback who has topped 4,300 yards passing in each of his last two seasons, it’s easy to get overlooked.
Texans tight end Owen Daniels is probably used to taking a backseat to Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Matt Schaub when it comes to public attention and publicity. Even with Johnson out this week because of a hamstring injury, much of the talk about Houston’s offense has centered around Foster and stopping the Texans’ play-action passing game.
But while Daniels might not get the national attention that a few of his offensive teammates do, the tight end is highly thought of in Baltimore, and the Ravens know the importance of slowing down the six-year veteran this Sunday.
“He’s a great pass-catcher, he’s a great route runner and really, he’s one of the focal points for us this week,” cornerback Cary Williams said. “We’ve got to take him out of the game.”
Daniels appeared to be on the fast track to NFL stardom when he registered back-to-back seasons of over 750 receiving yards in 2007 and 2008, the latter of which earned him a Pro Bowl appearance. The Wisconsin product followed those years up with a dynamite start to the ‘09 season, and was on pace to top both the 1,000-yard and 10-touchdown marks after a great first half of the year. Then, he tore his ACL in early November, ending his season. Injuries limited Daniels again in 2010, holding him to just 11 games.
But after a slow start to this season, Daniels has heated up the last three weeks, posting 234 receiving yards and two touchdowns in that time. He appears to be back playing at a high level, which is great news for the Texans but bad news for Baltimore, a team that is well aware of Daniels’ physicality and pass catching abilities down the field.
“He’s as good as there is in the league,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “He reminds me a lot of Todd Heap. Capable blocker, will get after it, compete with ya, but in the receiving game, he’s as good as there is in the league. He reminds me of a young Todd Heap.”
“He’s a big receiver. Obviously, he does some blocking, too. But he’s not in there to block; he’s in there to make plays,” head coach John Harbaugh added. “He’s a game-breaking-type of player. He’s their leading receiver. He’s their top threat right now. He’s a guy you’ve got to factor in. We’ve got to know where he is at all times. They hide him a lot, too. So, you have to find him.”
At 6-foot-3, 247-lbs., Daniels is an incredibly tough guy to defend because of his size and receiving prowess. Stick a linebacker on him, and he can burn you down the field for a big play. Put a defensive back against him in coverage, and he can body up and rip down a pass in traffic.
Daniels isn’t the Ravens’ only concern among Houston’s tight ends, however. Even if Texans fullback/tight end James Casey doesn’t play (the dangerous third-year player is doubtful with a chest injury), reserve tight end Joel Dreessen has proven that he’s a threat, as well.
The Texans run lots of two-tight end sets, and they move Daniels and Dreessen all over the field. Last week against Oakland, that duo combined for 201 receiving yards and a touchdown, illustrating just how big of a part of Houston’s offense they are.
“You’ve got to do a great job of, No. 1, locating where (Daniels is) at, because they’re going to move him all over the place and displace him and do that to try and get the right matchup that they want,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “And then Dreessen - you can’t fall asleep on him. He caught a 56-yard throw-back off of one of their bootleg passes for a touchdown last week. So, we’ve got to do a good job with those guys.”