Of all the teams set to play this weekend, the one that most feels as if they are about to place their head in a meat grinder are the Houston Texans.
Coming off a 25-20 setback against the Oakland Raiders, the Texans are rewarded by having to travel to Baltimore to face the imposing Ravens.
It will mark the third home game of the season for the Ravens and if they show anything close to the ferocity they displayed in the first two, it will be a long and dreary afternoon for the Texans.
The Ravens played their season opener at M&T Bank Stadium against Pittsburgh and destroyed the Steelers 35-7. Then in Week 4 they were home to the New York Jets and hammered them 34-17.
Now it’s the Texans turn.
To make matters worse for Houston, the Ravens come into the game refreshed following their bye week last weekend. They also come into the game determined not to have any type of letdown such as they displayed in Week 2 when they were upset by Tennessee 26-13.
“You take a team like Houston lightly, and we saw that with Tennessee where we did not play well coming off a big win, and they will beat you,” Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson told the Baltimore Sun. “I would say Houston is a more talented. They have a better scheme and are really aggressive. This team can really hurt you.”
The problem for the Texans is that they are a team that is not at full strength as they will be without their best defensive player in rush linebacker Mario Williams and top receiver Andre Johnson.
The Ravens, though, intend to use Houston’s plight as motivation.
“You cannot replace an Andre Johnson, you cannot replace a Mario Williams,” Ravens running back Ray Rice said. “The next man up, I’m not saying they are better or worse, but at the same time, those guys are names in the NFL that everybody knows, and they’ve been making plays year in and year out. Having them out, I think, is going to be a blow, but needless to say, we still have to be ready to play.”
The chances are good they will be.
READY TO RUMBLE
One of the key matchups this weekend will be in Motown where the 4-1 San Francisco 49ers take on the 5-0 Detroit Lions.
Among the many challenges facing the 49ers will be Lions All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who said he will be ready for whoever he faces, be it Adam Snyder or Chilo Rachal.
“I know they’ve had a little bit of trouble at right guard and they’ve made a switch in the last two weeks with Snyder,” Suh told reporters this week. “So that will be interesting since I’ve watched both of those guys. I’m not sure which one I’ll see, but I’m assuming Snyder will be the one I’ll see first and foremost. It will be good.”
Suh, who is one of the more fearsome linemen in the league, said that whoever he goes up against will have a challenge.
“I don’t think any part of my game is intimidation or fear factor,” Suh said. “It’s more of that you either need to guard me or I’m going to continue to hit your quarterback. If you’re not going to protect me from your quarterback then I’m going to continue to hit him.
“It’s not necessarily me putting fear of like ‘I want you to be scared of me.’ It’s the fear that if you don’t take care of business, and study, and come up with a great plan, I’m going to hit him. And the other eight, nine guys that I play next to are going to hit him as well.”
That can’t be good news for San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith.
THE BUC STOPS HERE
Back at home in Tampa Bay and licking their wounds following a 48-3 beat down by the 49ers, the Buccaneers are gearing up for a pivotal inter-divisional game against New Orleans with their featured running back, LeGarrette Blount, out with a knee injury.
With no real alternative, the Bucs are willing to turn to under-sized running back Earnest Graham to do the heavy lifting on the ground game.
Graham, an eight-year veteran out of the University of Florida, is listed at 5-foot-9 and 225 pounds and has not been a featured running back since 2007 when with the Bucs he gained 898 yards on 222 carries.
The past two seasons he has totalled all of 34 carries but now finds himself as the Bucs’ No. 1 running option.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it because my team is counting on me, and they have a lot of confidence in me,” Graham said. “Over the years, they’ve always rooted for me to carry the ball quite a bit, but I didn’t get put in that situation. I’m definitely excited to step up for my team and provide something.”
It’s a pivotal game for the 3-2 Bucs who are attempting to establish themselves as a legitimate playoff threat in the NFC South. With a controlled passing game and no deep threat at wide receiver, the Bucs count on keeping defences off-balance through a two-pronged attack. That means they need Graham to step up in a big way.
“We have all the confidence in the world in Earnest, and we always have in the time that I’ve been here,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson told the St. Petersburg Times.
Graham is confident as well.
“I’ve never had a problem running the football,” he said. “It’s never been a challenge for me. I can go in and be effective and any time I’ve ever started a football game, I’ve always been effective. There’s no doubt in my mind that I can get it done.”
SINK OR SWIM
The Oakland Raiders are taking a sink or swim approach with newly acquired linebacker Aaron Curry.
A flameout with the Seattle Seahawks, the former first-round pick who was acquired on Thursday will be in the Raiders starting lineup in Sunday’s game against Cleveland. Now that’s a quick adjustment.
A strongside linebacker with Seattle, Curry is expected to start at weakside linebacker for the Raiders as a replacement for Quentin Groves.
Raiders coach Hue Jackson believes that Curry will thrive with the Raiders and finally reach his full potential.
“(Curry) is athletic. He can run, he tackles, he takes on linemen, he takes on backs,” Jackson said. “I feel very comfortable in my evaluation, watching tape of this young man and what he is and what he could do for us. I like this situation of him being a part of our football team.”