Ravens at Texans Game Preview

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The Ravens are set to take on the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m.

*BR.com offers a breakdown of Baltimore's Week 10 opponent. *

Rankings

Total Offense - 4 (373.8)    Total Defense- 17 (328.9)

Rush Offense - 16 (111.4)    Rush Defense-23 (126.8)

Pass Offense- 5 (262.4)    Pass Defense-14 (202.1)

Points Per Game- 10 (24.5)    Points Per Game- 27 (26.6)

Sizing Them Up

The Texans are a young team that many had picked to become a sleeper playoff candidate in 2008 after finishing 8-8 last season, but that didn't translate into a good start in Week 1.

Houston dropped their first four games and looked lost in a time where Hurricane Ike ravaged the city and even forced the NFL to move the Ravens' matchup to this weekend.

Now, it seems the Texans have righted their ship, winning three of their last four, all at Reliant Stadium.

Talented young quarterback Matt Schaub, however, will sit against the Ravens after he tore a medial collateral ligament in one of his knees last week against the Minnesota Vikings. He could miss up to four games, paving the way for 10-year veteran Sage Rosenfels to get the nod.

Rosenfels has been a steady backup, leading the Texans to four wins in five starts last season. He has three talented targets, the best being wideout Andre Johnson, who leads the NFL by averaging 104.3 yards per game and owns 22 career 100-yard receiving games.

Tight end Owen Daniels is another weapon. The Wisconsin product is in the midst of the best campaign of his career. He owns 43 receptions for 528 yards to top all tight ends with 66.0 yards per game. Last week, Daniels exploded for 11 catches and 131 yards.

Also adding to the receiving game is Kevin Walter, who is tied for second in the NFL with five receiving touchdowns.

While the Texans are not known for running the football, rookie Steve Slaton has emerged as a speedy scatback behind legendary offensive line coach Alex Gibbs. Slaton is a multi-threat player, with 719 total yards on the season.

Defensively, Houston is stout up front with 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.

Both are on pace for another stellar campaign, as Williams already has eight sacks and Ryans has 51 tackles.

What's Up?

My counterpart, Brooke Bentley of HoustonTexans.com, writes that the Texans will try to baffle rookie quarterback Joe Flacco by mixing up the defense.

"With rookie quarterback Joe Flacco leading the way, the Ravens have started the year 5-3. But the Texans' defense plans to get after Flacco, using a new rotation with their front seven."

The Houston Chronicle covers the impact of Slaton and fellow rookie Ray Rice in light of Ravens linebacker Bart Scott's comments that Slaton was "dumb enough to think he [could] run on [the Ravens]."

"Slaton, who ranks third among rookies and 13th overall with 538 rushing yards this season, is poised to face the league's toughest run defense this weekend. He knows the serious task he has ahead, but found Scott's comments humorous."

The Chronicle's Jerome Solomon thinks Kubiak's job could be in jeopardy if he doesn't start winning.

"The Texans are three up and five down at halftime of the 2008 season, and coach Gary Kubiak is disappointed. The Texans had a horrible first quarter (0-4), played better in the second (3-1), but they are behind."

Awards

Offensive - Johnson. Period. He is a big-time talent that can break a game open with a big reception. At 6-foot-3, 223 pounds, Johnson is a matchup nightmare. He leads the Texans with 60 receptions for 834 yards, adding three scores. In the past five contests, Johnson has averaged 131 yards per game.

Defensive - "Super Mario" ahs averaged a sack per game since Oct. 1, 2007. Not too bad. Since that date, Williams has posted five multi-sack games. And, in addition to his eight sacks this year, Williams has been able to force three fumbles, tied for the league lead among defensive linemen.

Emerging Star

Returner Jacoby Jones may have come from tiny Lane College, but NFL teams definitely know his name. He scored his second touchdown of the season on a 73-yard punt return in Week 8, contributing to a 35-6 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

With a 12.9-yard average per punt, Jones is fifth in the league.

Key Matchups

Ravens DBs vs. Texans WR Andre Johnson

There has been a lot of talk around Owings Mills about containing Johnson, who has been a game-breaker all year. The Ravens will have cornerback Samari Rolle back, and Fabian Washington and Frank Walker have been solid. But, there could still be some help over top from safety Ed Reed, or perhaps the Ravens will sic a bigger linebacker on Johnson at the line of scrimmage.

Ravens OTs Jared Gaither and Willie Anderson vs. Texans DE Mario Williams

Williams is around 50-50 as to which side he lines up on, so both Ravens offensive tackles should get a crack at the monster defensive end. Expect the Ravens to use tackle Adam Terry as a glorified tight end on some snaps to keep tabs on Williams, as well as a running back to chip him to keep Flacco clean.

Quotable

Kubiak on if the Texans will game-plan to attack the secondary by throwing the ball rather than running against the Ravens:

"I think we've got to look at ourselves. First off, I've been up against this defense many times and have the utmost respect for it. They are a very, very difficult [defense] and they present a lot of challenges for you from a personnel standpoint and all the looks they give you. The job that they have done there for a long, long time, in my opinion, is second to none.

"They have a tremendous leader in the middle [in Ray Lewis]. They've got guys who play extremely hard all around him and just make it very difficult for you as an offensive football team. But I go back to us. We've got to worry about our situation and protecting the football because regardless of who we play or when we play them, if we don't get better from that standpoint, we're going to struggle."

Johnson on if he likes the thought of being matched up with a smaller corner and thinks it's a matchup that he can win:

"You can think that, but if you don't go out and do what you're supposed to do, the size doesn't really matter. If you don't go out and work your technique and things like that, you're not going to be successful on routes. It does help, the size, sometimes you can use your body. [Like in] basketball [where] a guy boxes the guy out and gets the ball still, but you definitely have to work your technique and things like that."

Duff's Take

Really, this is a game that is tough to get a read on.

We all know you can't run the ball against the Ravens, but the Texans don't really like to run. They do better chucking the ball around the field to their talented targets, especially Andre Johnson.

The Ravens typically set up shots downfield with a successful rushing attack early in the game, but the Texans have a few pass-rushing nightmares in their front seven, especially Mario Williams.

And the Ravens' special teams are hoping to bounce back from getting lit up from Cleveland's Josh Cribbs last week, but have to face Jacoby Jones in the return game.

There are going to be some great matchups in this one.

But getting even deeper into the game, the Ravens have a solid chance to make it three in a row on the road, something that hasn't been done since 2001. The players and coaches in Baltimore say they aren't thinking about it, but one mark of a truly good team is the ability to steal a win away from home.

The Texans, on the other hand, are tough in Reliant Stadium. Under Gary Kubiak, Houston is 13-7 at home.

It is going to take a lot to turn around the Ravens' history of road woes, but they'll help their chances by marking Johnson at all times and keeping Williams off Joe Flacco with blocking help on the edges.

That would be a good place to start.

Ed. note: These aren't necessarily the beliefs of the Ravens organization.

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