Five things to watch: Texans vs. Ravens


Here are five things to watch for when the Texans (5-7) take on the Baltimore Ravens (8-4) on Monday Night Football at Reliant Stadium on Battle Red Day presented by Halliburton. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. CT.

The Texans are 0-3 all-time against the Ravens. Baltimore won the last meeting 41-13 in Houston in 2008.

1. Tough test for Foster:Texans running back Arian Foster, who led the league in rushing yards through 12 games, will contend with the league's sixth-ranked rushing defense.

The Ravens are allowing only 97.8 rushing yards per game. Cleveland's Peyton Hillis and Carolina's Mike Goodson both eclipsed 120 rushing yards against Baltimore this season, but nobody else has run for more than 79.

Foster already has had the seventh-best season by an undrafted player in NFL history with 1,230 rushing yards. He needs 49 more to reclaim the league rushing lead from Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew.

With 53 rushing yards, Foster will top Steve Slaton (1,282 yards in 2008) for the Texans' single-season rushing record. With 68 total yards, he'll pass Domanick Williams (1,776, 2004) for the Texans' single-season record for yards from scrimmage.

2. Withstanding the heat:A big night from Foster would help mitigate the impact of Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, one of the key players in Monday's game.

The Ravens have only 22 sacks this season, but Suggs (6-3, 260) has nine of them. He has 5.5 sacks in his last five games, including 1.5 in a dominant performance against the Steelers last Sunday.

The Texans also will try to slow down massive defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, a 350-pound force who lines up inside and out. Ngata is second on the Ravens with 5.5 sacks.

The Texans' pass protection has improved over the course of the season. Quarterback Matt Schaub was sacked 11 times in the first three games of the season, but he has been sacked only 15 times in the last nine games.

3. Rested-and-ready stars:Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and defensive end Mario Williams will be well-rested following an 11-day break between games. The two Pro Bowlers have been playing through injuries for most of the season.

Johnson suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 2 and has been taking gameday shots to numb the pain ever since. He still ranks fourth in the league with 1,018 receiving yards and will face a Ravens secondary that has question marks at cornerback.

Williams has a sports hernia that Texans coach Gary Kubiak said was tough for him to play through on only five days' rest in Week 13. He's ready to go for this one. The two best games of Williams' career have come in primetime, and only five quarterbacks have been sacked more times this season than the Ravens' Joe Flacco (27).

4. Tight end effect:Texans tight end Owen Daniels will return after missing the last five games with a hamstring injury.

Joel Dreessen will start the game, but both he and Daniels will see a significant amount of reps. Daniels hasn't played since aggravating his hamstring on Nov. 1 at Indianapolis, as the Texans have patiently worked their 2008 Pro Bowler back to 100 percent.

One of the Texans' biggest issues this year has been sustaining drives in the first half, which has contributed to consistent halftime deficits. Daniels could be part of the solution: Almost 68 percent of his career catches have resulted in first downs.

For the Ravens, starting tight end Todd Heap will be inactive with a thigh injury. Heap has 37 catches, 546 yards and five touchdowns this season. Starting in his place will be rookie Ed Dickson, who has a eight-career catches for 112 yards.

5. Defending deep:The Texans will have to be wary of the deep ball against Flacco. The strong-armed quarterback ranks third in the league with 57 pass attempts of 21-plus yards in the air. He has completed 20 of those passes with seven touchdowns, good for a 108.4 situational passer rating.

The Texans have allowed the third-most completions on passes of 21-plus yards in the air (19), which includes five touchdowns. They rank last in the league in total passing defense by more than 21 yards per game.

It's not all gloom and doom for the Texans, as the Ravens have had struggles of their own on offense. Baltimore ranks 17th in the NFL in scoring (21.7 points/game) and is tied for 31st with 3.6 yards per carry.

Every team on the Texans' schedule this season currently ranks in the top-15 in the league in offense, with the exception of three: the Titans (28th), Redskins (17th) and Ravens (16th). The Texans shut out the Titans 20-0 in Week 12 and shut down the Redskins in the fourth quarter and overtime of a 30-27 victory in Week 2.

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