RAVENS PASSING GAME:
Quarterback Joe Flacco has had a solid season, but he's struggled in the Ravens' two road games, continuing a trend from last season. He has one touchdown, two interceptions, a 50.7 completion percentage and he's been sacked six times. He has had good success against Houston with four touchdowns and one interception in three games. His offensive line, which held its own against DeMarcus Ware last week, will have its hands full versus a young and quick front.
TEXANS PASSING GAME:
Quarterback Matt Schaub missed the Texans' playoff loss to the Ravens last year, but he's come back from a significant foot injury to put together a solid start with 1,162 passing yards, eight touchdowns, four interceptions and a quarterback rating of 91.6 His long-time top target, Andre Johnson, hasn't had a 100-yard receiving game since Week 1 . But Schaub has spread the ball around while getting plenty of time from an offensive line that has permitted only six sacks.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME:
Ray Rice continues to make the most of his touches, ranking seventh in the NFL in rushing yards (482), fourth among running backs with 60 carries or more in yards per attempt (5.0) and tied for third in rushing touchdowns (six). He also is fourth on the team in receiving yards (233) and third in receptions (24). He has never scored a touchdown in three games against Houston. Fullback Vonta Leach played for Houston and he'll undoubtedly be seeking to leave an impression on his former mates.
TEXANS RUNNING GAME:
The Ravens' Ray Rice is in the conversation, but many pundits consider Houston's Arian Foster the game's best running back. He was the NFL rushing champ in 2010, finished fifth last year in rushing despite playing just 13 games, and is second in the NFL this season with 561 rushing yards. He also leads the NFL with eight touchdowns. He rushed for 132 yards in last year's playoff loss versus the Ravens. His backup, Ben Tate, is also dangerous and factors in the NFL's sixth-ranked rushing offense.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE:
The only good news here for the Ravens is things probably can't get any worse. In the last two games, the Ravens have allowed 441 rushing yards. It's the first time in team history that they they've surrendered 200-plus rushing yards in back-to-back games. Overall, they are ranked 26th overall in run defense at 136.5 yards allowed per game, and they've given up seven touchdowns on the ground. They'll be without their leading tackler Ray Lewis for the rest of the season.
TEXANS RUSH DEFENSE:
Like the Ravens, the Texans' lost their top tackler, Brian Cushing, two weeks ago to a season-ending knee injury. However, the Texans have several quick and active linebackers, including Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed and Bradie James. They've allowed only one 100-yard rusher (Tennessee's Chris Johnson) this season and are ranked seventh in the NFL in rush defense, permitting 87.7 yards per game on the ground.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE:
An already vulnerable pass defense will have to survive without top cornerback Lardarius Webb who tore up his knee and is out for the season. Second-year player Jimmy Smith will step in as a starter and Corey Graham and Chykie Brown should also get opportunities. Still, without Webb, it's hard to envision the Ravens' improving on their 22nd overall ranking versus the pass. A steadier pass rush would help as only seven teams in the NFL have fewer than the Ravens' 10 sacks.
TEXANS PASS DEFENSE:
This unit was having a really good year until they were embarrassed last Sunday night by the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers, who threw for 338 yards and six touchdowns. Still, Houston's pass defense is seventh in the NFL, allowing 213.2 yards per game. Relentless defensive end J.J. Watt leads the NFL with 9.5 sacks and cornerback Kareem Jackson is tied for third in the league with three interceptions. Johnathan Joseph, a Pro Bowl cornerback, has been slowed by a groin injury.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS:
There have been some decisive special teams plays in this rivalry, including a kickoff return touchdown for the Ravens' David Reed in 2010, and Jacoby Jones' fumble in last year's playoffs that led to a Ravens' touchdown. Jones is now a Raven and his 108-yard return touchdown keyed their victory last Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. Justin Tucker, who kicked in Reliant Stadium in college, is 12-of-13 on field-goal attempts.
TEXANS SPECIAL TEAMS:
Bryan Braman blocked a punt that resulted in a Houston touchdown last week, but this group has also allowed two return touchdowns and surrendered the second most kickoff return yards and the sixth most punt return yards in the NFL. Former Raven Shayne Graham has connected on 11-of-12 field-goal attempts. Rookie Keshawn Martin took over kick return duties last week and averaged 21.7 yards per return.
After avoiding key in-season injuries through the first five games, the Ravens' already reeling defense was decimated last week with Lewis and Webb going down for the season and Haloti Ngata, Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Smith also getting banged up. The Ravens, however, have thrived in the face of adversity under fifth-year coach John Harbaugh. They also have won 10 of their last 11 games against AFC foes . Their spotty play on the road does remain a major concern.
Motivation should be extremely high for Gary Kubiak's team. They are 0-6 all-time against the Ravens, including the defeat last season in the AFC divisional round. They also are coming off a 42-24 throttling at home at the hands of the Packers. A victory would give them early sole possession of the top seed in the AFC and their best start in franchise history at 6-1.
The Texans have been waiting for their shot at the Ravens since the playoff loss in January. This time, they get them on their home field and without several of the Ravens' top defensive players available to play. The bet here is that the Ravens' defense puts forth an inspired performance for a while, but it wears down in the end. Houston was embarrassed on its home field last week and I can't see it happening again. A 5-2 record heading into the bye week is not a bad spot to be in.