OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Though most of the week’s conversation has been focused on the fallout from the loss to Pittsburgh, the Ravens made final preparations Saturday for a meeting with the 5-7 Houston Texans on Monday night.
The team practiced indoors Saturday although the Reliant Stadium roof is currently scheduled to be open for the prime-time encounter in Houston.
“I thought we had a very good practice today, and I thought we had an excellent week of practice,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “One thing about our guys, they’re professionals. It’s a tough loss, and I think everyone has a tough time getting over it – fans, coaches, players. [This team] means a lot to all of us.”
Tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) and cornerback Fabian Washington (thigh) were again absent from practice Saturday. Heap was officially ruled out for Monday’s game after not practicing all week with an injured hamstring sustained on the first play of the game last Sunday.
Harbaugh held one last sliver of hope following Saturday’s practice before Heap was ruled unfit to go against the Texans on the injury report.
“Realistically, it would probably be tough for him to get back,” said Harbaugh, who added that the veteran had made substantial progress from Friday.
Washington’s status, however, is a bigger mystery. The maligned cornerback is listed as questionable against Houston. He was a limited participant in Thursday’s practice but did not practice on Friday or Saturday. With his reduced role in recent weeks and inexperience on special teams, the former starter could find himself on the inactive list for the second time in three weeks.
“We’ve been staying on top of [the injury] all week,” said Washington, who acknowledged his status would be a game-time decision. “It’s going to be close.”
Cornerback Lardarius Webb (thigh) was present and fielding punts after being listed as a limited participant Friday. Fullback Le’Ron McClain (ankle) was also present for the open portion of practice and appears fully ready for the Texans after missing last week’s game.
McClain, Webb, and safety Tom Zbikowski (foot) were all listed as probable on the team’s official injury report for Monday’s game.
Despite Friday’s news of police searching receiver David Reed’s apartment in regards to possible narcotics, the rookie return man was present and returning kicks at Saturday’s practice. No immediate discipline is expected to be taken against him, and no charges have been filed to this point.
“He’ll play [against the Texans],” Harbaugh said following Saturday’s practice. “It’s not something that really affects his football status certainly at this time. He’ll have a chance to tell his side of it in the proper way when the time comes. We just have to see how it all shakes out.”
Dickson ready to step up
With Heap out against the Texans, rookie Ed Dickson has prepared all week to make his first career start as the team’s primary tight end. Despite playing the entire game against Pittsburgh after Heap exited on the first play, Dickson admitted his excitement level has climbed substantially this week despite the misfortune of his close friend and teammate.
“I’m just excited,” said Dickson, who had three catches for 21 yards against the Steelers. “I’m ready to get out there. After a loss like that, I’m ready to get back at it and get another victory.”
Dickson and quarterback Joe Flacco have put in extra time this week to develop a higher comfort level in the passing game. Of course, an underthrown pass to Dickson fell incomplete on a fourth-and-2 play that ended the Ravens’ bid for a comeback in the closing seconds against Pittsburgh.
“I feel really comfortable [in the offense]. It’s [about] getting that chemistry down between me and Flacco.”
Jump-starting the offense
The Ravens will look to get well offensively against the league’s 29th-ranked defense, but the means by which they’ll try to do it remain to be seen.
Harbaugh spoke earlier this week about his team’s need to become more physical in the running game where the Ravens are tied for 30th in yards per carry (3.6), a stark contrast from a season ago when Baltimore ranked fourth with a 4.7 yards per attempt clip.
However, the Texans’ biggest weakness lies in the pass defense where they’ve given up a staggering 287.4 yards per game, ranked 31st in the NFL. Establishing the run is critical on the road, but offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has to be licking his chops with an underachieving passing game desperate to prove its worth.
“Every week presents its own challenge,” said Harbaugh about the Houston defense. “We’ve got our hands full in a lot of ways. I think we’ve got to go out there and focus on what we do and try to do it well and try to attack the defense that’s presented to us. They’ve got a lot of good players.”
“Those two outside pass-rushers (Mario Williams and Antonio Smith), if you don’t handle those guys, nothing really matters. They’ve got a nice little blitz package, so it presents a big challenge for us.”
Taking care of business
The Ravens hold a 15-1 mark against teams with sub-.500 records during Harbaugh’s three-year tenure in Baltimore. The only loss came in Week 2 this season when they fell to the 0-1 Cincinnati Bengals.
However, much is at stake for both teams Monday night, as the Ravens desperately want to stay on the heels of the Steelers in the AFC North race and the Texans are holding on to their postseason hopes for dear life after losing five of six games after beginning the season 4-2.
The job status of fifth-year coach Gary Kubiak is on tenuous ground after many expected the Texans to finally break through for their first postseason berth in 2010.
“They’re one of the most talented teams in the league by far,” Harbaugh said. “We understand what kind of team we’re going down there to play. And we understand their mindset going into the game.”
Perhaps the biggest key for the Ravens to continue their success against below-.500 teams is a fast start in a primetime road game, something they were unable to do last month in Atlanta when the offense was shut out in the first half. A slow start against a high-powered Texans offense (ranked seventh in the NFL) that includes the league’s leading rusher in Arian Foster (1,230 yards) and star receiver Andre Johnson (71 catches, 1,018 yards) could prove disastrous.
“I think they’re going to come in with a different game plan and definitely try to have some different things we haven’t seen to match up against us,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “But for us, it’s just for us going down there to play our type and style of football.”
The Ravens are 3-0 in the all-time series against the Texans, which includes two in Houston. The most recent came in 2008 when Baltimore dominated in a 41-13 victory.
RAVENS: OUT – TE Todd Heap (thigh) QUESTIONABLE – CB Fabian Washington (thigh) PROBABLE – FB Le’Ron McClain (ankle), CB Lardarius Webb (thigh), S Tom Zbikowski (foot)
TEXANS: OUT – TE Garrett Graham (hamstring) PROBABLE – LB Xavier Adibi (hamstring), G Mike Brisiel (shoulder), LB Brian Cushing (knee), TE Owen Daniels (hamstring), TE Joel Dreessen (ribs), WR Andre Johnson (ankle), CB Glover Quin (hand), QB Matt Schaub (knee), DE Mario Williams (groin), T Eric Winston (shoulder)