Ravens run offense vs. Texans run defense: This has been a major point of emphasis for the Ravens, who have the second-worst rushing average (3.6 yards per carry) in the NFL. Ray Rice ranks 13th in the NFL in rushing (70.3 yards per game), but he hasn't broken a run longer than 18 yards in his past nine games. The Ravens' rushing yards have decreased every week since the bye: 146, 116, 100, 92 and 43. The return of Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain, who was sidelined for the last game with an ankle injury, should provide a boost. Houston has limited teams to 3.9 yards per carry, which is No. 8 in the league, and has given up five runs over 20 yards. Only two running backs ( Thomas Jones and Maurice Jones-Drew) have cracked 100 yards against the Texans this season. Strong safety Bernard Pollard leads Houston with 90 tackles.
Ravens pass offense vs. Texans pass defense: The root of Houston's demise has been its pass defense, which ranks last in the NFL. The Texans gave up 400 yards passing in the first two games and have allowed 300-yard passers in three of their past four games (the only one who didn't was Tennessee's Rusty Smith). It's not surprising that Houston's starting cornerbacks, Kareem Jackson and Glover Quin, have the second-least experience of any starting tandem in the league. Texans defensive end Mario Williams, who has 28 1/2 sacks in 38 career home games, is battling a sports hernia injury. Pass protection is a concern for the Ravens, who have allowed 17 sacks in their past five games. In the past three weeks, Joe Flacco has averaged 285.3 yards passing, throwing four touchdowns and one interception. Tight end Todd Heap is out with a hamstring injury, which means rookie third-round pick Ed Dickson will make his first NFL start.
Texans run offense vs. Ravens run defense: Stopping the Texans' Arian Foster is perhaps the Ravens' biggest challenge of the season. Foster has been the biggest surprise of the NFL, leading the league in rushing, yards from scrimmage, touchdowns and first downs. He has six 100-yard rushing games and has scored eight of his career 16 rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The Ravens have quietly tightened up their run defense and now rank No. 6 in the NFL. They are coming off one of their best games in shutting down Pittsburgh to 54 yards rushing. But this defense has been more inconsistent against the run than in previous years. Inside linebacker Ray Lewis has 108 tackles this season, which is sixth in the NFL.
Texans pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: Two of the Texans' top targets — wide receiver Andre Johnson (high ankle sprain) and tight end Owen Daniels (hamstring) — have been dealing with injuries. Johnson is one of the most dangerous downfield threats in the league, ranking third in the NFL with 1,018 yards receiving. But the Ravens have contained Johnson in two meetings, holding him to 11 catches for 136 yards receiving and no touchdowns. Daniels is expected to return after missing five games. Houston quarterback Matt Schaub has thrown seven touchdowns and one interception in his past four games. The Ravens have allowed an average of 196 yards passing the past three games. Terrell Suggs should cause problems for left tackle Duane Brown, who has allowed 24 1/2 sacks in 40 games.
Special teams: This features two of the hottest kickers in the NFL. Houston's Neil Rackers has made 12 straight field goals. The Ravens' Billy Cundiff has connected on 16 of his past 17 tries. The Ravens' return game has shown some signs of life with Lardarius Webb on punts and rookie David Reed on kickoffs. But Houston's coverage teams both rank in the top half of the NFL. The Texans, however, rank in the bottom five in punt and kickoff returns.
Intangibles: The Ravens need a win to maintain their lead for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC and keep their outside chance of winning the AFC North alive. The Texans have faded from the postseason race after losing five of their past six games. Under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have a 15-1 mark against teams with a losing record. It will be a challenge for the Ravens to rebound from a devastating loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. But the Ravens haven't lost consecutive games since October 2009.
Prediction: Cam Cameron, Joe Flacco and the Ravens' wide receivers have to be licking their chops when looking at the Texans' floundering secondary. If the Ravens' offense can't regain its confidence against Houston, it may not happen at all this season.
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