BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Ravens have 13 players on injured reserve and were without their three best offensive linemen in Green Bay last weekend.
Taking advantage of the mistakes of an inexperienced quarterback, the Ravens won easily 23-0.
During an NFL season marred by injuries to key players, Baltimore (5-5) has found a way to remain in the middle of the AFC playoff hunt — in part by capitalizing on its opponent's woes.
Miami starting quarterback Jay Cutler, Oakland's Derek Carr and Green Bay star Aaron Rodgers were all sidelined with injuries in games the Ravens won handily. And now, on Monday night, Baltimore faces a Houston (4-6) team left to depend on its backup quarterback.
Rookie Deshaun Watson had the Houston offense humming, throwing for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns before a torn ACL abruptly ended his season earlier this month. Backup Tom Savage stumbled through two straight defeats before rebounding last week to help Houston beat Arizona. He's played in only 10 games; Baltimore starter Joe Flacco has been at it for 10 years.
"He does not have a ton of experience," Houston coach Bill O'Brien said of Savage. "So every game that he plays, it is really important for him to remember the things that went on during that game, so he can really use that experience to get better."
Savage will be tested by a Baltimore defense that has three shutouts and leads the NFL with 19 interceptions.
"They're a great defense," Savage said. "We've definitely got our work cut out."
Baltimore has remained afloat despite season-ending injuries to guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis, tight ends Dennis Pitta and Crockett Gillmore, linebacker Albert McClellan and cornerback Tavon Young. In addition, left tackle Ronnie Stanley missed the Packers game with a concussion.
"It is very important to adjust to injuries in the National Football League, no doubt," coach John Harbaugh said. "Probably over the last four years, five years even, we have probably had more than our fair share of practice at it. But our guys don't flinch, they don't bat an eye."
It helps that Flacco has started all 10 games for the Ravens despite sitting out the entire preseason with a back injury.
"He's held up very well," Harbaugh said. "That has been good for us."
Some things to know about the Ravens-Texans matchup:
PRIMED AND READY: Baltimore is 11-1 in prime time since Harbaugh took over in 2008 and has won an NFL-best nine straight prime-time games. This, however, will be only the second time in that span that the Ravens have been home on Monday night.
"That adds to the game a little bit, just because you know how excited your fans and the world can be to watch those games," Flacco said.
BALL SECURITY: The Ravens have forced 23 turnovers. Houston has won its last 13 games with a positive turnover differential. So it's obvious what the Texans must do.
"Against the Ravens, you better make sure you take care of the football," O'Brien said. "Whoever is carrying the ball, obviously throwing the ball, everything (is important). That is one of the biggest stats in our game today, that turnover-takeaway ratio. We have to do a great job in that area."
SACK HAPPY: The Ravens have 28 sacks this season, including 7 ½ by 35-year-old Terrell Suggs and five by rapidly improving second-year linebacker Matthew Judon.
Judon has three sacks in his last two games, including two last week.
"I'm going to throw the credit to the coaches," Judon said. "I felt like I believed in myself, and then I came in here and showed it. Then everybody started to believe in me as well. Now, I'm just reaping the benefits."
CLOWNEY ON A ROLL: Though the Texans have lost star defensive end J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney has picked up the slack. Clowney has a career-high eight sacks, including at least one in four straight games. He has 15 tackles for a loss, tied with Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones for the NFL lead.
PLAYOFF PUSH: The Ravens currently own the sixth and final spot in the AFC playoff picture and play four of their final six games at home. With seven teams sitting at 5-5 or 4-6, there is no margin for error.
The good news: Baltimore's remaining schedule is not imposing. There's a game in Pittsburgh on Dec. 10, but besides that, the Ravens will face winless Cleveland on the road and host Detroit, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.
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