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Ravens-Texans Monday night primer

The Ravens were the picture of a cool, poised and confident team last week. They put the huge loss to Pittsburgh behind them. They faced up to the scrutiny of Ray Rice’s missed blocking assignment on Troy Polamalu on the game’s biggest play. They acknowledged the underachieving offense, the eroding run game, and the chance to regroup in time to make a run into deep January.

But which team shows up Monday night in Reliant Stadium against the Houston Texans? The poised, confident team of last week or the team that went 2-2 the past month and didn't look impressive doing it?

It's time for this team to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. It's time this team takes advantage of what its opponent presents in way of opportunity. That means touchdowns, not field goals. It's time this team protects a fourth-quarter lead and doesn't gag on it.

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For all the talk about running the ball better, the answer Monday night could be a hail of deep throws against an overmatched Houston secondary. This is an opening for Cam Cameron to turn Joe Flacco loose, to pump some air into the deflated passing game. If the Ravens commit to the run game early, that bodes well for the play-fake game later.

And while a domed stadium is not an ideal setting to run the no-huddle offense, it's not prohibitive, either. If the Ravens scale down some of the offense this week, as they hinted, it would make the no-huddle more palatable in this environment. It won't be snowing or freezing in Houston.

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It's time to put Flacco in position to take the next step, the step that owner Steve Bisciotti mandated last winter when he said he wanted Flacco to be able to carry the team on his shoulders if need be. It's time to find out if Flacco is ready for that challenge and there's not a better place to find out than against the 32nd-ranked pass defense in the NFL.

Finally, it's time for the complete game the Ravens have been missing, time to put away a vulnerable team early. In the stretch run, it's time to see if the Ravens are Super Bowl contenders or just pretenders.

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