Last week’s 14-6 win over the Browns was a start. A victory to even the Ravens’ record at 1-1.
This Sunday, it’ll be a bit more challenging with one of the NFL’s top teams coming to M&T Bank Stadium.
The Houston Texans visit Baltimore with a 2-0 record after becoming the first team since the 1970 NFL merger to win each of their first two contests on the final play of the game. That’s not to say that the Texans’ wins have been fluky.
Houston, the two-time defending AFC South champion, ranks fourth in the league in both total offense and defense and is tied for fourth in points per game, but is allowing 26 points per contest, which ranks 23rd in the NFL.
The Ravens will have their hands full with an offense led by quarterback Matt Schaub and tailback Arian Foster, as well as a defense that includes reigning Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.
When asked what makes the Houston offense a concern, linebacker Terrell Suggs replied, “The offense. They have a lot of capable guys that can beat you. That’s scary, especially when you have guys with the personnel like Houston does. They’ve shown that they can win games in more ways than one. You’ve definitely got to be concerned with all of it - the run and the pass.”
The Texans rank third in the NFL in rushing offense and ninth in passing.
As for the Houston defense, which has been stingy in terms of yardage but not points, coach John Harbaugh sees a unit loaded with talented players.
“Certainly a healthy Brian Cushing is key for them. He’s an enforcer in the middle, he’s a really good run stopper - one of the best,” Harbaugh said. He’s one of the best blitzers in the league, especially when he adds on, but also when he’s a primary blitzer. They do a lot with him and J.J. in the run game off the strong side of the defense there.
“They cause a lot of problems for everybody, and not just those two guys. They’ve got two good, young outside linebackers. Joe Mays is doing a great job in the middle. He’s a real thumper against the lead schemes. They’ve got a very athletic, young nose guard. Antonio Smith is back. The secondary is very strong, and at some point in time here - possibly Sunday - it’s about to get even stronger. It’s just a very good defense.”
The Ravens might have to take on that defense without one of their top offensive weapons, as tailback Ray Rice is considered a game-time decision because of a hip injury suffered last Sunday.
But Harbaugh expressed confidence that backup running back Bernard Pierce could handle the job if Rice is unable to go. Last week, Pierce ran for 57 yards and a touchdown.
“We’ve had confidence in Bernard since, really, the day he got here and started practicing, because he showed what he’s all about,” Harbaugh said. “He continues to get better. One thing you may not have noticed was the pass protection. He stepped up on a couple inside pressures there and really did a great job of standing those linebackers up at the line of scrimmage. He’s becoming a complete back, and we’re just very fortunate to have him on our team.”
Even if the Ravens feel comfortable with their ability to cope without Rice on the field, quarterback Joe Flacco will still have Watt coming at him frequently one year removed from a 20.5-sack campaign.
“You definitely come up with certain things to combat what he does and try to take advantage of what he does,” Flacco said. “But the bottom line is you’ve got to be physical with him. You’ve got to get your hands on him. I think if you do that, that’s when you’re giving yourself the best chance. If you’re not physical with him and you basically don’t play football, then obviously he’s going to have his day and have his way.”
A year ago, the Texans sent the Ravens to their ugliest, most lopsided loss of the season - a 43-13 beating in Baltimore’s first game without injured linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata remembers the defeat well.
“They did a great job running the ball most of the game,” Ngata said. “Usually, we slow them down, and then you can make them a one-dimensional team. They did a great job running the ball on us the whole game.”
While it might’ve been understandable if Baltimore’s coaching staff threw that tape out and started fresh in building a game plan for Houston, Harbaugh went the opposite route.
“You have to watch it. We watched it very carefully to see how they attacked us and what they did to play the type of game they did against us,” Harbaugh said. “That was a tough loss for us, but we moved forward after that game in the same way, and now we’ve got to take a look at it again to make sure we understand what they were doing to us and how they did so well against us.”
There might be reason to be more worried about the timing of the Texans’ visit had the Ravens not made significant progress on defense in Week 2.
One game after letting the Broncos put up 49 points, Baltimore shut down the Browns, holding them without a touchdown and blanking them in the second half. That has the defense’s mind frame in the right place heading into Week 3.
“The only people to hit the panic button was (the media). We weren’t too concerned about it,” Suggs said. “We didn’t play good football, and we faced a really good quarterback. Not to take anything away from the Cleveland Browns - they’re a very tough football team and they’ve proved they’re going to compete in this division and in this conference. Like I said, the only person who hit the panic button was (the media). We told you we got it - we weren’t worried about it - but we knew we had some things to correct.”
And now the Ravens will get to see just how much progress they’ve made against a far stiffer test.