Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice were effusive in their praise of the Texans during conference call interviews with Houston media on Wednesday morning.
Here's what they said about…
…the Texans' defense, which is one of two in the NFL that ranks in the top 10 in scoring (8th, 19.2 points/game), yards (6th, 300.8/game), passing yards (7th, 213.2) and rushing yards (7th, 87.7):
Harbaugh: "Defensively, what (defensive coordinator) Wade's (Phillips) done with those guys, they've become now arguably the best defensive football team at this time, and it probably starts with the front seven. They create a lot of one-on-ones with what they do, and they win them most all the time on both levels. The safeties just got great football instinct and understanding, and then the corners, two top cover corners. There are really not too many weaknesses in there that we can find."
Rice: "I said it last year that those guys were an aggressive bunch and (have) tremendous respect for that defense, what they've done… I got tremendous respect for everything that they play. They play defense the way it's supposed to be played, a physical bunch. It's definitely going to be a challenge on our end… I knew last year after we played them in the playoffs that they were going to be a force to be reckoned with coming to this season."
…Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who leads the NFL in sacks (9.5) and leads the Texans in tackles (34):
Harbaugh: "J.J. is a guy that I personally just loved him in the draft, loved meeting him and loved the way he played. He's playing exactly the way we thought he was going to play. He's big. He's got great hands, great strength, natural football instincts. He gets his mitts on so many balls it's just incredible."
Rice: "J.J. Watt's a beast. What he's doing right now is crazy because he's designated as a defensive end, but he's essentially doing it from inside. A lot of guys are pass rushers but they pass rush off the edge, and from what he's doing inside, causing that kind of damage is amazing."
…and Texans running back Arian Foster, a two-time Pro Bowler who ranks second in the NFL in rushing yards (561), fourth in yards from scrimmage (633) and first in touchdowns (8):
Harbaugh: "He's just perfectly attuned to that scheme, both his talent and his understanding of the scheme. He and the offensive line are in perfect sync. He has great vision. He's got the ability to take it around the edge. He's got the ability to cut it all the way back past the back side edge if you allow it, or find any crease in there. That's what makes it so tough on a defense. He can burst. He's got that (Eric) Dickerson style, that upright, burst style, and he's a hard runner. He's got it all."
Rice: "I just think the way he catches the ball sets him aside from other backs… His footwork, his feet, his patience, his power – people talk about 40 times and all that other stuff. You could throw that right out the window with Arian Foster. It's not his 40 time, but his patience, the way he runs. He trusts. Obviously, when you study the other backs, he's one that I study because of patience. We all feed off each other, and it's a copycat league. I try to take a few tools out of his book and use his patience."
Rice, a native New Yorker, also gave a shout-out to Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, a New Jersey native who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5.
"My condolences, speedy recovery to one of my good friends over there, Brian Cushing," Rice said. "He definitely anchored the defense. He's the guy that got everybody rolling. He was a major factor. The guy, for his size, he could run with anybody. He's a force to be reckoned with. It's just an unfortunate situation."