A casual NFL fan might look at Sunday's Ravens-Texans match-up and make the claim that without Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson and Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams, Houston doesn't stand a chance against a 3-1 Baltimore team playing at home.
Anyone who has actually studied the Texans this season, however, knows that isn't the case.
The Texans will be without two of their top playmakers Sunday, but they've still got the reigning NFL rushing champion, a strong-armed, proven quarterback and a much-improved defense which has been playing well of late. Baltimore might have an edge going into Sunday's game, but the contest won't be a cakewalk.
Here's how these two teams match up statistically entering this weekend's game:
Ravens: 358.5 yards per game (14th)
Texans: 398.6 yards per game (8th)
Ravens: 123.8 ypg (9th)
Texans: 132.8 ypg (5th)
Ravens: 234.8 ypg (18th)
Texans: 265.8 ypg (11th)
Ravens: 284.5 ypg (3rd)
Texans: 314.0 ypg (7th)
Ravens: 72.5 ypg (2nd)
Texans: 105.8 ypg (12th)
Ravens: 212.0 ypg (t-8th)
Texans: 208.2 ypg (6th)
Ravens: +7 (tied for 4th)
Texans: +2 (tied for 9th)
With the Texans, it's clear where their offensive focuses are. Just follow the three healthy Pro Bowlers.
Running back Arian Foster is a dangerous one-cut runner who is perfect for the zone-stretch running game that Houston utilizes. He's fast, strong and will test you from sideline to sideline. Quarterback Matt Schaub often isn't discussed as part of the NFL's elite quarterback class, but he might deserve to have his name in that mix. He's got a strong arm, makes good decisions with the football and works really well off play action. His favorite healthy target in the passing game is tight end Owen Daniels, who quietly has become one of the top pass-catching tight ends in the game. Daniels can block a bit, but he's mainly out there to catch the ball, and he's a big threat over the middle.
The Ravens will key on Foster and try to slow him down, but Houston is so dynamic offensively that even if their running game doesn't get on track, they can still beat you.
On the other side of the ball, the Texans have made massive adjustments to a defense which ranked 30th in the league last year and was last in the NFL in passing defense. They brought in former Cowboys coach Wade Phillips as their defensive coordinator, infused their front-seven with young talent by drafting defensive end J.J. Watt in the first round and outside linebacker Brooks Reed in the second, and signed former Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph to provide a stronger presence in the secondary.
Overall, the changes have worked. The Texans do a good job of getting after the quarterback (they've recorded 15 sacks on the season, tied for fourth-best in the NFL), and even without Williams, they could cause the Ravens' offensive line some issues because of their youth and speed up front.
Joseph has developed into a nice playmaker and has two interceptions on the season, and he'll likely be matched up against wide receiver Anquan Boldin for much of the day. Despite the Texans' improvements in the secondary, they've already allowed seven passing touchdowns this year, so there might opportunities for the Ravens to put the ball up in the red zone and come down with points.
Based on what we've seen so far this year and how last year's match-up between these two teams ended up, we know both squads can score points in bunches and that no lead is safe. Houston was down 28-7 in the second half last year, only to rattle off 21 straight points to force overtime.
This should be another entertaining clash between AFC foes, although the Ravens hope Sunday's battle won't give them as much heartburn as did last December's OT clash. Given Baltimore is coming off a bye week, is at home and has the superior defense, I'm inclined to give them the edge here. I expect Ray Rice to have a nice day on the ground and the Ravens to force at least two more turnovers.
Put me down for a 24-16 Baltimore win.
What's your take on this Sunday's match-up? Think the well-rested Ravens will roll through a Texans team without two of its top playmakers, or do you see Houston giving John Harbaugh's team some trouble?
Who you got?