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OWINGS MILLS - Who are the Baltimore Ravens?

Are they the team with the explosive up-tempo offense? The one that dismantled the Cincinnati Bengals and overcame a late deficit to defeat last year's AFC champions. Or are they more the team with the offense that's struggled to find a consistent rhythm of late and the defense that's appeared very much vulnerable through the early part of the season?

The next two weeks will provide a good indication, both offensively and defensively.

The Ravens (4-1) face the Dallas Cowboys Sunday and the Houston Texans next weekend.

The Cowboys (2-2) have sputtered through the early part of the season, but rank among the NFL's best in both passing offense (4th) and passing defense (1st).

The Texans (5-0) are the AFC's lone undefeated team, a balanced squad that leads the conference in scoring defense and ranks second in scoring offense.

"It's exciting to play guys that are supposed to be the best," Baltimore defensive end Arthur Jones said. "Those are two great teams, so it does kind of give us a scale of where we're at and what we need to work on and improve on."

And it starts with Dallas.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is coming off his most lackluster statistical performance of the season and will face a similar defense to the one that he and Baltimore's receivers struggled with this past weekend.

Like Baltimore's previous opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Cowboys have a physical secondary that plays primarily press-man coverage, something the Ravens' receivers had trouble getting open against with the Chiefs as well as with the Philadelphia Eagles during Week 2.

"We have to handle that," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "We talked about that quite a bit [Monday]. ... Those are things we can do better."

Also like the Chiefs, Dallas has a pass rush, led by outside linebacker Demarcus Ware, that has proven capable of getting after the quarterback.

Harbaugh referred to Ware as "one of the premier players in the National Football League." Ware's 99.5 sacks since entering the NFL in 2005 are the most of any player during that time period.

The Ravens' offensive line has surrendered four sacks each of the last two weeks.

"We're not going to accept that," Harbaugh said of the sacks. "We're going to try to make it no sacks. That's the goal. And there's a lot that goes into that, whether it's protection or the timing of the routes or guys getting open, or whatever it may be."

Offensively, the Cowboys will test a Baltimore pass defense that's been porous through the early part of the season.

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has thrown eight interceptions, but is averaging just less than 290 passing yards per game and has four pass catchers that have hauled in 17 catches or more.

The Ravens' pass defense was ranked fourth-worst in the NFL prior to facing run-heavy Kansas City this past weekend.

"I think they have probably one of the most talented groups in the National Football League," Ravens safety Bernard Pollard said of the Cowboys' passing game. "And they've got a quarterback that can get the ball to them. We just have to be white on rice in our pass coverage. We have to do that. ... We've got to have a focus like no other this week."

And it won't get any easier next week against a Texans team that doesn't appear to have many weaknesses.

Houston's defense will be without its leading tackler Brian Cushing (knee) for the rest of the season, but ranks among the NFL's best against the pass (4th), against the run (9th) and in sacks (T-6th).

The Texans' offense, meanwhile, has a two-time 4,000-yard passer in quarterback Matt Schaub, one of the game's top receivers in Andre Johnson and maybe the NFL's top running back in Arian Foster.

But while the Dallas offense is more centered around its passing attack, Baltimore outside linebacker Albert McClellan said Houston's is more built around Foster and its ground game, something McClellan acknowledged will provide a nice challenge for a Ravens defense that struggled to stop the run against the Chiefs.

"This [two-game stretch] will let us know what kind of defense we are, and it will let us know what kind of team we are," McClellan said. "We know that we're a physical team. Now, we've just got to show it, especially in these two games."

Reach staff writer Matt Zenitz at 410-857-7896 or matt.zenitz@carrollcountytimes.com. Follow him on Twitter @mzenitz.

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