The Baltimore Ravens will be without star tight end Mark Andrews when they take on the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional Round on Saturday. Andrews, who has not played since suffering an ankle injury in Week 13, did not practice this week and was ruled out on Friday. The loss of Andrews deals a significant blow to a Ravens offense that relies heavily on the All-Pro pass catcher.
In more bad news for Baltimore, top cornerback Marlon Humphrey is listed as doubtful with a lingering calf issue that has kept him sidelined in recent weeks. Humphrey’s absence will weaken a Ravens secondary that will have its hands full against Texans receivers Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins.
Andrews’ Absence Creates Concern For Ravens Offense
Andrews emerged as Lamar Jackson’s favorite target this season, hauling in 73 passes for 968 yards and 7 touchdowns prior to the injury. His size, hands, and route running made him virtually uncoverable at times and a trusted 3rd down outlet for Jackson.
With Andrews sidelined, the Ravens will turn to rookie Isaiah Likely and free agent signing Hayden Hurst at tight end. While both have had their moments this season, neither possess Andrews’ connection with Jackson or ability to take over games. The Ravens may have to adjust their offensive game plan and lean more heavily on their running game.
|Significant – Leads team in catches, yards, TDs
|Major – Shutdown corner, allows creativity in coverage
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman discussed the challenge of being without Andrews:
“Mark’s a huge part our offense, arguably our best pass catcher. So not having him will require some adjustments. But Isaiah has come a long way this season, Hayden is a proven vet who has stepped up before. It’s next man up.”
The Ravens have averaged just 16.5 points in the two games Andrews has missed this season, compared to 26.4 when he plays. They will need Jackson to spread the ball around and could utilize backup quarterback Tyler Huntley’s mobility to help manufacture offense.
Banged Up Secondary Gets Texans at The Wrong Time
Humphrey’s absence deals another tough injury blow, thinning out a Ravens secondary that has battled health issues all year. Veteran Marcus Peters was lost for the year in Week 1, and safety Marcus Williams has been playing through pain in his wrist for much of the season.
The timing couldn’t be worse, as the Texans boast a dynamic receiving duo in Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins. Cooks racked up 1,098 yards this season while the 6’4 Collins has become a dangerous red zone target. With Humphrey likely out, the Ravens may have trouble matching up.
Defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald discussed the difficulties Humphrey’s doubtful status presents against Houston’s receivers:
“Obviously Marlon is one of the top corners in the league, we’ve missed him terribly when he’s been out. Cooks and Collins present some matchup problems with their speed and size. We’ll have to give some safety help and the other guys will need to step up.”
In Humphrey’s absence, veteran Kyle Fuller and second-year corner Jalyn Armour-Davis will likely start on the outside. Both have experience but represent a significant drop-off compared to Humphrey’s All-Pro production. The Texans passing attack could have an advantageous matchup if Humphrey sits.
Texans Could Capitalize on Ravens’ Injuries for Upset Bid
At 10-7 and winners of the dreadful AFC South, the Texans enter as significant underdogs versus a 14-3 Ravens team that enjoyed a first-round bye. However, Baltimore’s injuries to key contributors could shift the landscape.
The potential absence of Andrews and Humphrey leaves the Ravens vulnerable on both sides of the ball. And while Baltimore will still bring an imposing ground game behind quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back J.K. Dobbins, losing Andrews could make them one-dimensional. If Texans defensive stalwart Jerry Hughes can set the edge and Houston’s pass rush generates pressure, Jackson may struggle without his top target.
Meanwhile, Brandin Cooks is precisely the type of speedster that gives the Ravens secondary trouble. And Humphrey’s likely absence leaves them undermanned to contain him and red zone monster Nico Collins. The Texans could put up points and make it tough on a depleted Ravens offense.
ESPN’s Dan Graziano broke down why Houston could pose issues:
“Baltimore is the better overall team, I don’t think there’s any question about that. But losing Andrews and Humphrey are big blows, especially against a Texans team with the weapons to exploit those losses.”
It would still qualify as a sizable upset if Houston pulls it out. But the injuries have created a pathway. Rookie Texans coach DeMeco Ryans could announce his arrival with a playoff win over his former team. Meanwhile, a stunned Ravens would enter another early offseason of soul searching.
Andrews “Making Progress” But Return Timeline Uncertain
Andrews is reportedly recovering well from minor knee surgery to address his high ankle sprain suffered in Week 13. He returned to practice this week, doing individual drills while seated in a chair according to observers. But the team is not rushing him back, willing to play the long game when it comes to their best weapon.
There is hope Andrews could return if Baltimore advances past the Texans on Saturday. But whether he’d be full strength after over a month off remains uncertain. The Ravens will likely continue taking things slow in the hopes Andrews can impact a potential trip to the AFC Championship Game.
Coach John Harbaugh gave this update on Andrews’ rehab:
“He’s right on schedule. He’s doing great. The doctors have been very positive with where he’s at. We’ll just see where it goes going forward.”
Getting Andrews back would be an enormous boost as the Ravens pursue a deep playoff run. He instantly improves their red zone efficiency and gives Lamar Jackson a reliable 3rd down option. But Baltimore appears set to play it safe, willing to sacrifice some short term pain to ensure Andrews’ long term health and availability down the stretch.
Texans Enter With Momentum After Dominant Wild Card Win
The Texans raced past the workload Titans last week behind an explosive offensive performance, entering this matchup with confidence. Davis Mills threw for 301 yards and 3 touchdowns, spreading the wealth to Cooks, Collins and tight end OJ Howard. Rookie sensation Dameon Pierce gashed Tennessee for 132 yards on the ground.
That balance could pose issues if it translates to Saturday. The creative play calling and quick passing of offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton made Houston tough to defend. They scored on their first seven possessions before taking the air out late.
Defensively, Houston smothered 2022 rushing leader Derrick Henry and forced Ryan Tannehill into three turnovers. Rookie Derek Stingley Jr flashed his otherworldly talent, allowing just 2 catches while notching an interception. Jerry Hughes lived in the Titans backfield with 2.5 sacks.
The Texans have come a long way since their dismal 1-3-1 start and appear an ascending team under DeMeco Ryans. Winning on the road in Baltimore would further establish their arrival ahead of schedule. Quarterback Davis Mills discussed their newfound confidence:
“We know who we are now. Coach Ryans has us playing fast and aggressive and the guys have bought in. We’re a young team but we’ve come together. We feel like we can beat anybody.”
If Houston can replicate last week’s formula of quick strikes on offense and suffocation on defense, an upset over the banged up Ravens is possible. Playing loose and confident with nothing to lose only further fuels their chances.
In summary, the Texans enter riding high while the Ravens have been rocked by impact injuries to Mark Andrews and Marlon Humphrey. If Davis Mills can outduel Lamar Jackson and Houston’s receivers exploit a depleted secondary, this could go down to the wire. Stay tuned come Saturday afternoon…
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