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Texans defense healthier for rematch with Patriots

Texans defense healthier for rematch with Patriots

HOUSTON (AP) The first time Houston faced the Patriots, top cornerback Johnathan Joseph played while still struggling to get healthy, and outside linebacker Brooks Reed sat out with an injury.

That game turned into an embarrassing 42-14 loss to New England. Now both are back to full strength, and the Texans believe that makes their defense much stronger this time around.

``Right now, I can probably say this is the best I've felt all year,'' Joseph said.

He was slowed by a hamstring injury that kept him out the two games before the first matchup against the Patriots.

``Obviously, back then I was good enough to play but I wasn't at my best,'' he said. ``Right now I can say I'm 100 percent.''

Joseph, who often shadows the opponent's best receiver, knows that he and the rest of the secondary will have their hands full. Not only must they deal with New England's wide receivers, but also its tight end duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski didn't play in the first game against Houston.

``They can place the ball on his back side or throw it up top and those guys both have great hands where they can make the difficult catch in traffic,'' Joseph said. ``For us, it will be a task, but I think that we have the guys here that are up for the challenge. It's just about making plays.''

Reed, a second-year player, started 12 games in the regular season. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips called him a ``physical force.''

``He's obviously a good player, but I think just his physicality really helps us as far as our mental toughness overall as a defensive unit,'' Phillips said.

A frustrated Reed had to watch the team struggle against the Patriots and not be able to help out.

``Now, it's a little bit different,'' he said. ``So I'll be out there and try to make plays of my own.''

Reed had a sack last week against the Bengals; he now has at least one in each the three postseason games in Texans history. His best playoff performance came last season against the Ravens when he had 2 1/2 sacks.

Joseph appreciates Reed's versatility.

``He can play the run and the pass, so he's a two-sided guy,'' Joseph said. ``I think he had just experience from last year coming in ... so just having Brooks back and those guys rotating and whatever they're doing up front, I think it just helps those guys from a health standpoint and just being fresh all the time.''

Houston is hoping to build on last week's dominant defensive performance in its 19-13 wild-card win over the Bengals. The Texans limited them to 198 yards, which was the lowest yardage total in the first round of the playoffs, and only 53 before halftime.

They also cleaned up their problems on third down, not allowing Cincinnati to convert any of its nine third-down chances.

This week the Texans know they must get pressure on Tom Brady and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. They'll look to defensive star J.J. Watt to lead that charge. Watt led the NFL with a franchise-record 20 1/2 sacks in the regular season. He also had 107 tackles, including 39 for losses, 16 passes defended and forced four fumbles.

In Watt's rookie season, the Texans lost to the Ravens in the divisional round.

``We were happy to make it as far as we did, but this year, new year, new goals,'' he said. ``Biggest goal of them all, Super Bowl, and this is a big step for us, and we're really excited about the challenge.''

Phillips, who began coaching in the NFL in 1976, believes Watt is clearly the best defensive player in the NFL this season.

``He had the best season ever,'' Phillips said. ``I mean, nobody has had a season like that. Nobody has made that many tackles, that many sacks, that many pass breakups and that many tackles for loss or tackles for no gain in the history of football. Nobody has had a year like that. It's the best I've ever seen, sure.''

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Ravens Mock Draft Roundup: A wide receiver, defensive end favorites at 22

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Ravens Mock Draft Roundup: A wide receiver, defensive end favorites at 22

This is not a drill. We are one week away from the 2019 NFL Draft.

Will the Ravens get Lamar Jackson help at wide receiver or will they focus on filling their holes on defense?

We will have answers to those questions in no time, but in the time being let's take a look at who experts are predicting they take with the 22nd overall pick.

NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig and NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah: DE Clelin Ferrell, Clemson

Ferrell had 38 tackles for loss and 21 sacks over the last two seasons. A young threat would fit in quite nicely for the new-looking Ravens defense. 

Bleacher ReportNFL.com's Charles Davis and Sporting News: WR Marquise Brown, Oklahoma

Brown, who posted 1,318 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns during the 2018 season, reportedly made a visit to the Ravens this week

It's no secret that the Ravens need help at WR with only two guys on their current roster who have caught a pass in the NFL. 

SB NationSports Illustrated and CBS Sports: WR D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss

After an impressive combine performance and a picture surfacing of him looking insanely jacked at the gym, Metcalf is definitely the most talked about receiver in this year's draft.

Despite missing part of the 2018 season with a neck injury, Metcalf's draft profile describes him having "projectable upside to become a home-run threat as a WR1." Just what the Ravens need.

ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay: C/G Erik McCoy, Texas A&M

The center position is not seen as a sexy pick in the draft, but Bradbury's skillset is enough to get you excited.

He has three years of experience while at Texas A&M and was only called for five penalties in 2,811 snaps over his college career.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set!  See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Way too early season win totals predictions after 2019 schedule release

Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Way too early season win totals predictions after 2019 schedule release

The NFL released the Baltimore Ravens' full 2019 schedule Wednesday and we're officially one week away from the 2019 NFL Draft.

Here's the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. The Ravens' 2019 schedule perfectly alternates between home and away games each week, which has only happened three other times since the 16-game schedule was implemented in 1978, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Among other notable tidbits, the Ravens will play four 2018 playoff teams over a five game span starting in Week 7. Their three home games in the month of December could prove crucial with them wrapping up the season at home for the third-consecutive year vs. the Steelers. The Ravens have three scheduled primetime games, none of which are against the Steelers marking the first time since 2006 fans won't be able to watch the rivals on a national stage. 

2. There's nothing quite like way too early season win totals predilections after the release of the full season schedule. Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport took his shot at it and have the Ravens finishing the 2019 season at 9-7.

"In addition to a pair of games against the rival Steelers and upstart Browns, the Ravens will play five teams that made the playoffs in 2018, including the reigning NFC champion Los Angeles Rams on the road," Davenport said. "The Ravens will play host to the New England Patriots (Week 9) and Houston Texans (Week 11) and travel to face the Kansas City Chiefs (Week 3), Seattle Seahawks (Week 7) and Rams (Week 12). It's a fairly daunting slate."

Davenport has the Browns finishing 2019 atop the AFC at 10-6, the Bengals at 6-10 and the Steelers at 8-8. For perspective, the Ravens finished their 2018 season at 10-6. 

Looking Ahead:

April 19: Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets

April 25-27: 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, Tn.

May 3-6 or May 10-13: Potential three-day rookie mini camp

The 2019 NFL schedule is set!  See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

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