NFL GAME PREVIEW

MVP candidates clash as Texans visit Ravens

Field Level Media

November 14, 2019 at 5:35 am.

For all the razzle-dazzle that Baltimore Ravens second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson brings to the table, one factor that acolytes and critics alike tend to overlook is his ability to steward an efficient ship.

Jackson has passed and dashed his way near the top of the NFL Most Valuable Player leaderboard while helming an offense that leads the NFL in rushing (197.2 yards per game) and ranks ninth in passing efficiency (101.3 rating). The latter is aided by the former, and the Ravens’ ability to run the ball with impunity is derived from their consistency in scoring touchdowns on opening possessions.

Baltimore (7-2), set to host the Houston Texans (6-3) on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, has scored on eight of nine opening possessions this season, including six touchdowns. Establishing early advantages feeds into the Ravens’ ability to commit to their punishing rushing attack.

“(It is) really important,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We talk about starting sharp. We want to be on point. We want to be focused. It’s both sides of the ball. Obviously, anytime you can get the lead, that’s an advantage. We want to get the lead. We want to keep the lead and extend the lead, if we can. So, I really think our guys have done a good job of that.

“It kind of goes (back to) what I said before, with the guys and the preparation, being on point and coming out and being ready to play. That’s really important.”

The Texans, sixth in the NFL in yards per play (6.08), aim to strike a similar run-pass balance despite star quarterback Deshaun Watson at the controls. Central to the Texans’ efficiency is ball security, and Watson has an interception rate (1.7) that ranks 15th among 34 qualified signal-callers.

Watson continues to advance by executing the finer points of his job. In consecutive wins over the Raiders and Jaguars, Watson passed for 480 yards and five touchdowns while completing 73.1 percent of his attempts and without tossing an interception. An offensive line beset by injuries surrendered just four sacks over 67 passing attempts, enabling Watson to establish a rhythm.

Of course, finer details aren’t driving the MVP conversation for either Jackson or Watson. Both have amassed enough dynamic plays to bloat any highlight reel, and whoever performs best on Sunday could carve an advantage over the signal-caller stewarding the losing team.

“It’s cool, I guess,” Watson said of the MVP chatter. “The only thing I can really control is performing on the field, and then everything else is to the voters and whoever decides on that decision. I don’t get too much caught up in that. My ultimate goal is trying to win as many games as I can to get to that ultimate goal.

“That MVP stuff is going to take care of itself. If it’s deserving for me, then I’ll do it, but if not, then best to whoever wins that award.”

At this stage, Watson, like Jackson, is certainly deserving of consideration. Fans, NFL media and players recognize everything both Jackson and Watson offer as exceptional talents. The hype is real.

“He dope,” Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters said of Watson. “He’s an excellent quarterback. You’ve got to give him respect.”

Both teams made mid-week additions. The Ravens added veteran D-linemen Justin Ellis and Domata Peko to reinforce an injured group up front, while the Texans claimed former first-round cornerback Vernon Hargreaves off waivers from Tampa Bay.