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Five things to watch: Texans vs. Ravens


The Texans (3-5) will host the Baltimore Ravens (5-3) on Sunday in a game that originally was to be played in Week 2. The Ravens boast the second-best defense in the league. The Texans rank fourth in offense. Here are the five things to watch for in the contest.

1. Rosenfels answers the call: Sage Rosenfels will take over as starting quarterback while Matt Schaub is sidelined with an injured MCL. In the two games in which Rosenfels has played, he moved the team up and down the field, completing three touchdown passes. The only thing holding him back has been turnovers, but Rosenfels plans to be a lot more careful with the ball this week.

"Every play I'm up there, I'm going to be wary of trying to be as smart as possible with the ball," he said. "That might be taking some sacks this week and that might be throwing the ball away, and that's just going to be fine. Punting is not a sin, and usually if you end a game with all kicks at the end of the possession whether that be field goals, extra points or punts a lot of times you win those games."

The eighth-year pro was 4-1 as a starter last season, excelling when he had a week to prepare for games. Rosenfels needed all the time he could get to prepare for a Ravens' defense that ranks second in the league.

Baltimore's front seven is loaded with Pro Bowlers who execute some of the most complicated blitz schemes in the league.

"They don't just stand there and say, 'We're better than you,'" Rosenfels said. "They've got great players and they just do it all. It's hard to put a finger on what exactly their doing sometimes. They're just all over the place and they blitz from everywhere and on top of that, they've got great players. So, it's a great defense, and there's a reason why their number one in the league."

The Texans have struggles against 3-4 defenses this year, most especially against the Blitz-burgh Steelers. But Rosenfels' quick three-step drop and fast release will help him get the ball down field and avoid hits from outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who has five sacks this season.

{QUOTE}If Rosenfels can get into a rhythm with Andre Johnson, the receiver should be able to take advantage of a banged-up Baltimore secondary. Cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle have combined to miss eight games and safety Dawan Landry is sidelined with a neck injury.

2. Little rest for Slaton: Steve Slaton's introduction to the NFL has been brutal. He has faced two of the top five run defenses in the league at Pittsburgh and Minnesota. Now, he's about to go against number one.

The Ravens allow just 64.2 yards rushing per game and surrender only 2.8 yards per carry. Their stout defensive linemen Haloti Ngata, a 345-pounder, and Trevor Pryce are excellent at making tackles in the backfield. Behind them, stands a linebacking unit that includes Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, Jarret Johnson and Suggs.

Lewis, a nine-time Pro Bowler, doesn't look like he's lost a step and leads the team in tackles with 54.

"Their defense right now is playing as good as I've seen them play, and I've seen them play very, very good," coach Gary Kubiak said. "I played them in the playoffs the year they won the Super Bowl and they got after us pretty darn good – a very demanding group and Ray leads the group. If you don't play hard, he's not going to let you come on the field with him."

Slaton won't see many holes and he will have to keep pounding away by making short-yardage gains. The rookie ranks third in the league in rushing with 538 yards, but he might have to make some catches to move the chains on Sunday.

"You just have to take what they give you,' Slaton said. "They don't really give up to much, but you have to keep pressing and rely on the run game."

After carrying the load by himself against the Vikings, Slaton will get help this week from veteran Ahman Green, who has experience playing against Lewis and his nasty brand of defense.

"They blitz the run," Green said. "They blitz the pass. They've got aggressive guys. They've got physical guys. They've got big guys that can do the things they want to do as a defense. Mentally, I'm going to be ready and our offense is all going to be ready to know that they're going to be basically sending the house."

3. Feeling the pass rush: The Texans' fifth-ranked passing offense will face a stiff test in the Baltimore Ravens' fourth-ranked passing defense this Sunday. They have held opponents to an average of 182.1 passing yards per game, and the heart of their pass rush is Suggs.

"They have special guys on the edge that can really cause some disruption," tight end Owen Daniels said. "They have two guys that do a really good job and one guy, Suggs, who's doing some special things this year."

For the Texans, the key will be protecting Rosenfels. The offensive line allowed five sacks against the Vikings and two quarterbacks hits caused Schaub to injure his knee.

Rookie left tackle Duane Brown will have to play much better his Sunday if the Texans want to maintain their average of 262.4 passing yards per game.

"When you get a quarterback hurt, as an offensive lineman, that's the last thing that you want to see," Brown said. "So, me personally, that raised my standard of what I have to do and how I have to perform. I've got to try to keep the quarterback as clean as possible."

Brown will have more to deal with than just Suggs. Nine other Ravens besides Suggs have recorded at least one sack this season, including Pryce (3) and Johnson (2).

4. Rattling the rookie quarterback: Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco hasn't been playing like a rookie at all this season. After being handed the starting job due to injuries, Flacco has shown poise while managing the Ravens' offense.

One reason Baltimore has a three-game winning streak and a 5-3 record is because Flacco hasn't thrown an interception during that stretch. The Ravens have focused on running the ball to take the pressure off of him, but Flacco is averaging 183 passing yards and completing 61.8 percent of his throws. Plus, the Ravens have started to open up the playbook for him.

"He's getting better each week," Kubiak said. "Cam's (Cameron) asking him to do a lot. They are even playing two quarterbacks. They're playing Troy (Smith) also and doing some things. They're presenting a lot of problems for (defensive coordinator) Richard (Smith) and the defense. I'm going to have to worry about him all day long."

Kubiak will be a lot less worried if the Texans can get pressure on Flacco. Mario Williams will draw a lot of double-teams from the Ravens, so one of the linemen will need to get some heat on Flacco.

"He's a tall kid," defensive end Tim Bulman said. "He can run the ball. He's a rookie. He's a rookie quarterback, so he has a lot on his plate. But he's made some plays and he's a starting quarterback.

"I think any quarterback gets rattled with pressure in his face, getting to him, frustrating him. I mean, I think that's the key to getting any quarterback off his game."

If the Texans can rattle the rookie, the Ravens will look a lot more one-dimensional on offense.

5. Texans' LBs vs. Ravens' RBs: The Texans rank 17th in defense (328.9), including 23rd against the run (126.8). The Ravens are 19th in offense (322.5), including fifth in rushing (148.8).

Baltimore has relied on a trio of weapons in the backfield to help rack up 303 rushes for 1,190 yards: Willis McGahee with 351 yards, Le'Ron McClain with 347 and rookie Ray Rice with 339.

The Texans will need big performances from their linebackers to stop that group. It doesn't help that Zac Diles, the team's leading tackler, broke his leg and is gone for the season.

Kevin Bentley will start at the strongside position and is more than capable. Bentley, DeMeco Ryans and Morlon Greenwood will need to be tackling machines. They can't afford to give up big plays against the Ravens' run-heavy offense.

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