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Scouting report for Ravens at Texans

Who will have the edge when the Ravens face the Houston Texans on Sunday? @jeffzrebiecsun's scouting report:


RAVENS: Joe Flacco isn't putting up huge numbers, but he's playing arguably the most efficient regular-season football of his career. Over his past five games, he's thrown seven touchdowns and one interception. He has 23 touchdown passes overall, leaving him two shy of tying his career high. Battling a knee injury, Torrey Smith has just two catches over the past two games, but Marlon Brown has picked up the slack. Steve Smith is 74 receiving yards away from his eighth 1,000-yard season.

TEXANS: Coach Bill O'Brien has been mum about whether he'll start Thad Lewis or Case Keenum at quarterback even though reports out of Houston indicate that he'll likely go with Keenum. Neither Keenum nor Lewis has thrown a pass in a regular-season game this season. Whoever plays will have weapons at his disposable. DeAngelo Hopkins is averaging 16.9 yards per catch and Andre Johnson has 69 receptions. The Texans' offensive line has allowed only 23 sacks all season.



RAVENS: Lorenzo Taliaferro's season-ending foot injury leaves the Ravens relying on a two-back system going forward. Justin Forsett had 48 yards rushing last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, his second lowest total since becoming the Ravens' primary back. Forsett didn't look 100 percent and the Jaguars also stacked the box and focused on stopping him. The blueprint is there for the Texans to do the same. The Ravens need Bernard Pierce to be more decisive and explosive.

TEXANS: Arian Foster is sixth in the NFL with 1,127 rushing yards and tied for fourth with eight touchdowns despite missing three games because of injuries. He's averaged 102.5 yards on the ground per game, which ranks second in the NFL behind the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarco Murray. As a team, the Texans are averaging 136.8 rushing yards per game. That's fourth highest in the NFL. Alfred Blue has proven to be a capable backup for Foster who is a threat out of the backfield as well.



RAVENS: The Ravens' streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher extended to 24 games last week, but they'll have their hands full in trying to maintain it. Arian Foster is the most accomplished running back that they've faced this season. Not only will Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan be counted on to plug the middle, but Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw will have to be disciplined in setting the edge. Foster likes to bounce outside when given the opportunity.

TEXANS: The Texans' run defense has been a little better than league average, surrendering 109.1 yards per game on the ground. They've gone three straight games without giving up a rushing score. Middle linebacker Brian Cushing has 69 tackles and the Texans' safeties — Kendrick Lewis and D.J. Swearinger — are extremely active in run support. Houston tacklers go after the football, evidenced by the 14 fumbles they've forced this season. Justin Forsett, beware.



RAVENS: Cornerback Rashaan Melvin had not played in an NFL game at this time last week. On Sunday, he'll likely start and be matched up against either DeAndre Hopkins or Andre Johnson. Melvin would become the sixth different cornerback to start for the Ravens this year. The Ravens are ranked 30th in the NFL against the pass, allowing 259.9 yards per game through the air. Terrell Suggs is looking to get a sack in his sixth straight game, which would be a team record.

TEXANS: Houston has given up its share of big plays and they do allow 257.1 passing yards per game. Just six teams, one of them being the Ravens, allow more. But they also have created 29 turnovers and defensive end J.J. Watt has been the most disruptive and destructive player in the NFL. He has 16 ½ sacks, 22 tackles for loss, 43 quarterback hits, one interception and three forced fumbles. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph, a former Bengal, has been a thorn in Joe Flacco's side for a long time.



RAVENS: This group is looking to bounce back after its penalty and mistake-marred performance last week. The Ravens returned a blocked punt for a touchdown against the Jaguars but that was overshadowed by allowing a successful onside kick and fake punt, three penalties and the normally-automatic Justin Tucker missing two long field goals. Long snapper Patrick Scales will make his debut. Returner Jacoby Jones would love to make a big play against his former team.

TEXANS: Punter Shane Lechler is a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and his career average of 47.5 yards per punt is the best in NFL history. Young kicker Randy Bullock is 4-of-5 on field-goal attempts from 50 yards or more. But the coverage teams have been pretty poor and they've gotten nothing from their return game. Danieal Manning and Keshawn Martin are the Texans' primary returners but Houston is in the bottom five in the NFL in both kickoff and punt return average.



RAVENS: The Ravens should be ultra prepared and motivated for this one, given how much is on the line and how many of their players and coaches used to be in the Texans' organization. They'd like nothing more to knock their former team out of the playoff hunt. The Ravens have beaten the Texans six times in seven all-time meetings. The Ravens have been a much better road team this season, going 4-3 away from home.

TEXANS: After going 2-14 last season, the Texans are clearly headed in the right direction under O'Brien. They are second in the league in turnover ratio and tied for sixth in fewest penalties committed. Injuries, though, have taken a toll as their top three quarterbacks — Ryan Mallett, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Savage — and top draft pick Jadeveon Clowney are all on injured reserve. The Texans, who need to win to stay alive for the postseason, are 3-3 at home and 1-2 against the AFC North.



I thought this was going to be an extremely difficult matchups for the Ravens several weeks ago and I still feel that way even though the Texans are down to their fourth-string quarterback. Houston still has a star running back, a good offensive line, two dangerous wide receivers and arguably the NFL's most dominant player in Watt. They also still have playoff hopes, which makes them especially dangerous. But the Ravens can see the finish line now and things keep falling into place for them to get back to the postseason. They'll rally behind offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and the rest of the ex-Texans in their organization to claim a close victory.

Ravens, 20-17

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