The Baltimore Ravens might not recognize the Houston Texans defense the second time around.
The Ravens won their regular season meeting with the Texans 29-14 on Oct. 16. It was Houston's first game without weakside linebacker Mario Williams, sidelined for the season with a pectoral injury in Week 5. And, it was the first game starting in Williams' place for rookie Brooks Reed.
It also was a low point for the Texans' defense. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips saw that changes needed to be made after the Texans gave up 402 yards, including 305 passing to quarterback Joe Flacco, in that Week 6 loss.
"Coach talked to us and he basically told us it wasn't acceptable," inside linebacker Brian Cushing said. "I think it hit home to a lot of guys. We felt it was probably, as a team, as poor as we could play. We felt we fell apart defensively and gave up some big plays.
"We know now what we don't want to do again."
It's been a sore subject ever since, and now the defense is looking for payback on Sunday in their AFC Divisional playoff game in Baltimore.
"I think that was probably our worst game as a secondary in the whole season, and we felt like we let the team down on the back end," safety Glover Quin said. "We left some plays out there that turned the game around the wrong ways."
It was a snug game until late in the third quarter with the Texans leading 14-13. Then, the bottom fell out. Flacco hit rookie Torrey Smith with a 51-yard pass to set up one of five field goals by Billy Cundiff. On Baltimore's next drive, Flacco's 56-yard pass to Anquan Boldin led to another field goal, which was followed by Ricky Williams running for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Phillips went back to the drawing board.
"It was bad in one way and good in another in that after the game, we made some changes," Phillips said. "We realized we couldn't give up big plays secondary-wise. We flipped both outside linebackers (Reed and Connor Barwin) after that game, and I think it fit both of them."
Looks like it worked. Barwin finished the season with 11.5 sacks after moving to Williams' old spot on the weakside. Reed set a team rookie record with six sacks, including one in five consecutive games.
"It allowed me to rush the passer more and not have to cover tight ends as much, and I think Brooks did a really good job with his role, because in training camp he was playing a lot of SAM," Barwin said. "Brooks got to play as a rookie, he got to play the position that he played all in training camp, so that allowed him to be more successful there."
The results speak for themselves.
"I think we improved a lot, even though we didn't play well in that game, because of the mistakes we made," Phillips said. "You learn from your mistakes, too."
Game film of that first game has been a heavy part of homework for Sunday's playoff tilt.
"We are looking at film right now and we are looking at plays we left on the field," free safety Danieal Manning said. "We didn't attack the ball like we should have in the secondary. They were making plays on the ball and we weren't. We see how important that is and where the mistakes were. That means getting in front of those guys and making the plays."
Quin expects the Texans to be much-improved at the time when it's most important.
"We feel like if we go out and play our game and play to the best of our ability and make the plays we should have made in Week 6, we'll be just fine," Quin said. "Playing against them already, knowing who they like and knowing what they like to do and knowing the guys is obviously a big help."
Although the Ravens are known for defense, their offense has held up its part.
Running back Ray Rice had a career-high and NFL-best 2,068 yards from scrimmage this year. He was second in the league in rushing with 1,364 yards and set a team mark with 15 touchdowns. He was second in the NFL among running backs with 76 receptions for 704 yards.
Rice, fullback Vonta Leach (remember him?) and guard Marshal Yanda all made the Pro Bowl.
"We got to stop the run first," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "You better stop the run against these guys first, or you're not going to get on the field. Stopping the big play with their receivers was an issue for us the first time, and hopefully we can correct it this time."
Flacco produced his third-consecutive 3,500-yard/20-TD season with 3,610 yards. Smith was third among NFL rookies with 841 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
Quin expects the secondary to see plenty of deep balls on Sunday.
"They had success," Quin said. "I think they had two passes that went for like over 100 yards. Joe Flacco, he's a great deep ball thrower, so you have to go into that game expecting that they're going to take some shots early in the game because we play a lot of press-man.
"A lot of teams have been taking shots on us early to try and back us off and soften us up. You have to expect that going into it. We have to be ready for it and make plays on it and take it away."
Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.