2. Establish the running game and stick with it

Cam Cameron's play calling was criticized after their last meeting, but you probably assumed that, since it was a loss and all. Despite having early success on the ground, the Ravens made a halfhearted effort at running the ball while the game was within reach. When all was said and done, Ray Rice had just nine carries. He could sit out Sunday, but either way, the Ravens need to get their run game going. (Baltimore Sun / January 15, 2012)

Ravens Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach already knows what to expect Sunday against Houston Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing: plenty of head-knocking collisions.

Like Leach, Cushing is an aggressive player who doesn't shy away from contact.

Cushing is healthy after returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last season, and is the Texans' leading tackler through two games.

"Cushing is another high-motor guy who can play," Leach said. "He's back healthy and playing pretty good. We look forward to the challenge. Cushing is a good linebacker. I've played with and against him, so I know what he's capable of."

Cushing's play against the Ravens' running game, especially with Bernard Pierce preparing for his first NFL start as running back Ray Rice deals with a left hip flexor strain, figures to be a pivotal matchup.

"He's a nice linebacker," Pierce said. "He's physical, he's downhill. He moves around the field well. I'm going to have to make sure to keep an eye out for him on Sunday.

The Texans signed Cushing to a six-year, $55.643 million contract extension this season that includes $21 million in guaranteed money with a $9 million signing bonus.

"He's a physical guy, a leader on their team," Ravens offensive guard Marshal Yanda said. "He's an instinctive guy who likes to get after it."

The 6-foot-3, 249-pound Cushing has 24 tackles, two sacks, four tackles for losses and one interception.

He returned an interception by Philip Rivers 18 yards for a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 31-28 victory. Cushing has eight career interceptions.

"Brian’s a force in the middle, run and pass, and pass coverage and pass rush," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "When he blitzes and he brings it up the middle, he’s a force to be reckoned with. He’s just such a powerful, strong, explosive guy."

awilson@baltsun.com

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