*The Ravens are set to take on the Houston Texans Monday in Reliant Stadium (8:30 p.m. ET). BR.com offers a breakdown of Baltimore's second opponent. *
Sizing Them Up
The Texans are a young team that many have picked to become a sleeper in 2008 after finishing 8-8 last season, but that didn't translate into a good start in Week 1.
Houston traveled to Pittsburgh and were shellacked 38-17 by the Steelers.
That doesn't mean the Texans are going to lie down at home. There is talent on this squad, and head coach Gary Kubiak will have them primed for their Reliant Stadium opener.
Quarterback Matt Schaub leads an offense for his second campaign in Houston. He suffered a slew of injuries last year, but finished with a team-record 87.2 passer rating in 2007. Schaub's favorite target is wideout Andre Johnson, who is having another stellar season in '08, totaling 112 yards against the Steelers.
Their running game needs a boost after only totaling 75 yards in Pittsburgh. Houston will rely on rookie Steve Slaton, a third-round draft pick that accounted for 43 of those yards.
The Texans have a hungry defense that features defensive end Mario Williams, the first-overall draft pick in 2006, and linebacker DeMeco Ryans, a 2007 Pro Bowler. Williams is coming off a 14-sack season where he earned All-Pro honors from the Associated Press, while Ryans is a tackling machine, boasting 127 stops last year. He started at middle linebacker for the AFC squad in Honolulu.
My counterpart, Brooke Bentley of HoustonTexans.com, writes that Ahman Green is nursing a sprained ankle.
"Running back Ahman Green missed his second practice of the week with a sprained ankle and will be listed as day-to-day going into the team's game against the Ravens. Kubiak said that playing Green probably would be a game-time decision."
The Houston Chronicle covers the impact that Ike is going to have on area stadiums, including Reliant.
"The roof and glass walls at Reliant Stadium are designed to withstand high winds and debris associated with hurricanes, but the facility was not built to withstand the 130-mph winds that a major hurricane can generate."
The Chronicle's Dale Robertson writes about how the Texans are going to put pressure on Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco.
"The Texans want to find a way to get deep into the head of Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco on Monday night. But, after what happened to them in the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers — never mind what could happen to their city, with Hurricane Ike closing in — first things first. They'd better get their minds right."
Offensive - Johnson. Period. He is a big-time talent that can break a game open with a big reception. He missed seven games last season with a knee injury, but still managed to lead the team with 851 receiving yards and 60 catches. Think he's tailing off in his sixth year? Johnson posted 112 yards against the Steelers.
Defensive - Williams is a pass-rushing beast that is already asserting himself as one of the best in the league this year. Last week, the All-Pro posted two sacks and a forced fumble. He's the Texans' all-time sack leader with 20.5 over his career.
Cornerback Fred Bennet is someone to watch. The 2007 fourth-round draft pick heads into his sophomore campaign as the leader of a young Houston secondary. Bennett recorded a team-high three interceptions in eight starts as a rookie.
Bennett forced a fumble in Pittsburgh last week to go along with five tackles.
Ravens CB Chris McAlister vs. Texans WR Andre Johnson
McAlister was shutdown last week against Pro Bowler Chad Johnson, limiting him to only one reception for 22 yards. McAlister rounded out his showing with an interception and a fumble recovery against the Bengals. The 6-foot-3, 223-pound Johnson will provide another big test, as Johnson is one of the premier young targets in the league. McAlister will need to be aggressive and physical with the powerful Johnson.
Ravens OT Jared Gaither vs. Texans DE Mario Williams
This is a proving-ground game for Gaither, who was solid against the Bengals. Williams, however, is a huge (6-foot-6, 283 pounds) threat in the pass-rushing game. In order for Flacco to be successful, Gaither will have to keep Williams out of the backfield. The Ravens are expected to use extra blockers from tight ends or running backs at times, but Gaither also has some one-on-one battles to win.
Kubiak on Williams' development:
"Mario, for us, has had a really good preseason. He's a kid that we've got big expectations for. He played really well at the end of last year and he's one of the few bright spots we had last week down in Pittsburgh. We've got great expectations for him, and his play is very important to the success of our football team."
Williams on targeting Flacco:
"We've got to start out fast. Last week, that's behind us. This week, we know what we need to do as a defense. We've got to start out fast, we've got to get back there and stop the running game. We've got to get to the quarterback and disrupt him a little bit. Yeah, he is a young guy, but it's just one of those things that we've got to get back there, knock him off his mark and just try to get things going."
It's another big week for the Ravens - and Flacco especially. Baltimore hasn't won away from Charm City since a 9-7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers last year on Oct. 7. That's five-consecutive road games.
Throw in the fact that there is a rookie quarterback in the loud and hostile dome of Reliant Stadium, it's going to be critical that players besides Flacco do their jobs.
That means the offensive line has to give Flacco time and push the line of scrimmage like it did against Cincinnati. Ball-control is the key, because this game is going to be won or lost up front. Don't make any mistakes and let Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain do the bulk of the work. The Texans have an inexperienced secondary that can be exploited if play-action fakes are working.
Defensively, the Ravens are too stout in the trenches to run against, so it will be on the back end to guard against any connections between Schaub and Johnson. Pressure on the quarterback is a must, so Schaub doesn't have time to pick apart the defensive backs, and that's why Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson will be screaming towards the quarterback from the edges.
*Ed. note: These aren't necessarily the beliefs of the Ravens organization.