A closer look at the Texans

Every Tuesday we’ll take a closer look at the Ravens’ next opponent. This week it’s the ailing Houston Texans:

Record: (3-2, 1-0) 1st in the AFC South

Wins: vs. Indianapolis, @ Miami, vs. Pittsburgh

Losses: @ New Orleans, vs. Oakland

Offense: Ranked seventh in NFL, third in the AFC

Defense: 3-4 scheme, ranked eighth in NFL, sixth in AFC

Synopsis thus far: Even before quarterback Peyton Manning was lost for the season, this was supposed to be the year the Texans jumped over their divisional rivals to claim their first postseason berth in franchise history. With Manning on the shelf, there are no excuses for this Houston team anymore, but through five games, despite the less than flashy 3-2 record, the Texans are right where they want to be atop the AFC South. Their wins have been impressive, particularly against the defending AFC Champion Steelers. But last week’s home loss to the Raiders and severe injuries to their few playmakers have put their backs against the wall. It might not take 11 wins to claim this division, but the Texans don’t want to head into their first playoff matchup with a mediocre 8-8 or 9-7 mark. We’ll see how they respond to adversity Sunday.

Where they’re strong: For the past several years Houston’s strong point has been its offense, particularly its passing attack. After Matt Schaub replaced David Carr as the franchise quarterback, Schaub and stud wide receiver Andre Johnson have been one of the top duos in football.

Even with Johnson out with a hamstring injury, Houston’s offense still has weapons in the passing game. Tight end Owen Daniels is a guy who can hurt you if you don’t pay attention to where he is on the field and Jacoby Jones seems to relish playing the unsung hero role in both the passing and return game.

* Watch out for Schaub in the second quarter. Through five games the team’s passing attack is significantly at its best during this 15-minute span. Schaub’s completion percentage is just a shade under 70 percent and without a single interception. His quarterback rating soars to a 122.8, too, while the yards per completion also top out at 9.4.

Recently, however, it’s been the ground game that has opponents taking notice. Arian Foster burst onto the scene in a big way a year ago, leading the league in rushing. Despite some early injury problems, young running back Ben Tate filled in nicely and with Foster returning to form, the Texans will bring a nice combination - one that has Houston fifth in the NFL in rushing - into Charm City.

* The Texans know their rushing attack is formidable, which is why they rely so much on it, particularly on first down. So far, first down is when Foster/Tate do most of their damage. Houston has run the ball 86 times in the opening quarter, compared to just 62 passing attempts. Nearly half of the team’s total rushing yards come during that time, too.

Where they’re weak: If you went solely by where players were drafted, the Texans’ defense ranks among the best of all-time, especially that front four. Over the last few drafts, the Texans used their first-round picks to stock up along the defensive front, drafting guys like Mario Williams, Amobi Okoye and this past year’s first-round pick J.J. Watt from Wisconsin. Add in high picks to select linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing, and the Texans should have one of the top units in the league.

Of course, if potential were the only barometer for success then Ryan Leaf would be on his way to Canton in a few years. For Houston, that defense is still a concern. The Texans are 25th in the league in yards per rush allowed at 4.8, while the secondary has allowed seven passing touchdowns, right in the middle compared to the rest of the league.

* As far as any outliers on defense, there aren’t any looking at the numbers. The Texans are steady throughout the entire game and the numbers on the road versus at home are not largely different.

Overall advantage: If Houston was at full strength, this game would almost assuredly come down to the last possession. But with injuries to Johnson, Williams and fullback James Casey, and a week off for Baltimore to prepare and get healthy, this one should go to the Ravens, pushing them to 4-1 and Houston down to 3-3.