Texans-Ravens scouting report
Texans on offense: Arian Foster ran roughshod over the Bengals in his playoff debut last week, but it will be much tougher sledding this week in Baltimore. The 6-foot, 232-pound running back has an envious combination of speed and strength. Foster locates and darts through creases quickly. He has the power to break tackles at the second level but will take his share of big hits because of his upright running style. Quarterback T.J. Yates is a tough, smart, and confident rookie with a decent arm. He handles pressure well and excels in the short passing game. He lacks zip, though, and his accuracy is suspect on deep balls. Andre Johnson came back from balky hamstrings to collect five catches for 90 yards last week. He’s a tremendous receiver who is too fast for safeties and too powerful for cornerbacks.
Ravens on defense: Linebacker Ray Lewis is the heart and soul of this defense, even though safety Ed Reed is the best player. Lewis has great read-and-react skills and will explode into ball carriers. Reed is the rare safety who can control a game. He is rarely out of position and is always around the ball.
Ravens on offense: Short and stocky tailback Ray Rice is the force that drives this unit. The 5-8, 212-pounder with the thick thighs and bulging biceps rushed for more than 1,300 yards and collected another 700 receiving. A powerful lad with an explosive first step, Rice won’t shy away from contact. Backup Ricky Williams is no longer a workhorse but still has miles left in his legs; he could still start for a few teams. QB Joe Flacco is at his best when he is handing off to Rice and Williams. A solid game manager, Flacco has an excellent arm. He needs to find his rhythm early, however, because he tends to wilt after a few mistakes. Anquan Boldin (super strong hands), Rice (a demon in the open field), and Torrey Smith (he’s slippery) are Flacco’s favorite targets.
Texans on defense: Athletic and intelligent linebackers Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans will be charged with trying to stop Rice. Both have excellent instincts and are relentless in pursuit. The ball-hawking secondary is led by cornerbacks Danieal Manning and Johnathan Joseph. Hard-hitting safety Glover Quinn collected 77 tackles.
Special teams: Manning (27.4-yard average) and Sherrick McManis (20.5) are the main kickoff returners for the Texans . . . Jacoby Jones has a 10.6-yard average on 49 punt returns, including a TD . . . Neil “Nerve’’ Rackers hit 33 field goals on the season, with his longest a 54-yarder . . . Matt Turk (42.7-yard average) is Houston’s punter . . . David Reed (29.7-yard average) and Tom Zbikowski (23.2) will handle kick-return chores for the Ravens . . . Lardarius Webb averaged 10 yards on 30 punt returns, including a TD . . . Billy Cundiff hit 28 of 37 field goal attempts with a long of 52 yards . . . Sam Koch averaged 46.5 yards on 73 punts.
Miscellany: Ravens lead the series, 5-0, including a 29-14 win in Week 6 . . . Rice led the NFL with 2,068 yards from scrimmage and led AFC running backs with 76 catches . . . Texans had four sacks in last week’s win over Bengals . . . Not surprisingly, Lewis led the Ravens with 95 tackles (did we mention he missed four games?) . . . Baltimore is 8-0 at home . . . Houston coach Gary Kubiak is 1-0 in playoffs; Baltimore’s John Harbaugh is 4-3.