OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Only a Josh Wilson interception return for a touchdown saved the Ravens from an absolute nightmare against the Houston Texans last season.
Having squandered a 28-7 second-half lead as they were held to just four first downs after halftime, the Ravens survived as much as they won a 34-28 overtime thriller in Houston last December. With that uncomfortable memory fresh in their minds, nobody in Baltimore is taking the Texans lightly, even after they lost two of their best players in outside linebacker Mario Williams and wide receiver Andre Johnson.
“The one thing I tell the guys about Houston is that they never quit,” safety Ed Reed said. “They have a playbook — I’ve always said they have a great playbook — and they have plays to get them up and down that football field. You’ve just got to play 60 minutes against them. They do not quit.”
The Texans relied on a 393-yard passing performance by quarterback Matt Schaub, who completed two touchdown passes to Johnson, including the game-tying score with 21 seconds remaining in regulation. Schaub was 24 for 41 in the second half after completely just 7 of 21 passes in the first two quarters in that game in Houston.
Despite Shaub lacking his favorite target in the dynamic and physical Johnson, the Ravens are cognizant of the veteran quarterback’s ability to release the ball quickly in the way Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck did while picking apart the Baltimore defense in Week 2. The Texans possess the sixth-best passing attack in the NFL after Schaub threw for 416 yards — without Johnson — in a 25-20 loss to the Raiders on Sunday.
“Matt Schaub can do it all,” Reed said. “He can throw the deep ball, he can throw the deep outs, and he can definitely throw the [quick routes]. It’s just a matter of them executing their game plan against ours. If we are executing better, hopefully we can take those things away.”
With Johnson sidelined, the Texans will rely heavily on running back Arian Foster, who ran for 100 yards in the Ravens’ win over Houston last season. After being sidelined with a hamstring injury to begin the season, Foster has 350 yards from scrimmage since returning in Week 4. After winning the rushing title a season ago, Foster is coming off his first career 100-yard receiving effort in the loss to Oakland last Sunday.
The Texans will need a big day from Foster, but the Ravens’ second-ranked run defense will have something to say about his success.
“Everything starts with the run,” Harbaugh said. “They do want to establish the run. They’ve been really good at that, obviously, then hard play-action gives them protection. It gives Matt time to get back and sit back there and give those downfield routes time to develop. That’s where you see Owen Daniels and Jacoby Jones downfield.”
The 6-foot-3 Daniels becomes Houston’s leading receiver with 21 catches, 271 yards, and three touchdowns, presenting a challenge to Ravens safeties and linebackers in making sure he’s accounted for in the middle of the field.
“He’s a big receiver,” Harbaugh said. “Obviously, he does some blocking, too, but he’s not there to block. He’s in there to make plays. He’s a give-and-breaking-type of player. He’s their leading receiver. He’s there top threat right now.”
The Texans have made a habit of starting quickly in games this season after scoring in each of its last four opening possessions, including touchdowns in their last three games. The only game this season in which Houston has failed to score on its first drive took place in Week 1 when Schaub was picked off by Indianapolis on the second play of the game.
In all, Houston has scored 24 points and collected 348 yards in 52 plays on its five game-opening drives this season. However, the Ravens defense hasn’t allowed any points on their four opening defensive series this season.
“Something has got to give,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to be really important, I think, to start the game well. Both teams are going to try to do that.”
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