Here are five things to watch when the Texans (3-2) face the Baltimore Ravens (3-1) at MT Bank Stadium in Baltimore in Week 6. Kickoff is at 3:05 p.m. CT on Sunday.
1. Life after Mario: With out for the season, outside linebackers and are moving to the forefront of the Texans’ pass-rushing plans.
Reed, a rookie second-round pick from Arizona, is taking Williams’ place in the starting lineup on the weakside. Barwin, a second-round pick from Cincinnati in 2009, will continue to play on the strongside.
“There were certain things that we would run that Mario was going to rush no matter what,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said on Friday. “Now, we have some versatility that they don’t who’s going to rush and who isn’t. That helps a little bit.”
Texans coaches love Reed’s intensity and burst off the snap. He had four tackles and two quarterback hits against the Raiders last Sunday after Williams left with a pectoral injury in the first quarter. Barwin has 2.0 sacks, seven quarterback hits and two pass deflections this season.
Williams has five of the Texans’ 15 sacks. Since 2007, he has 48.5 of the Texans’ 131 sacks (37.02 percent); n o player in the league has accounted for a higher share of his team’s total.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of pressure,” Reed said. “I’m a rookie and first year playing and stepping in for a Pro Bowler. There’s pressure, but I like that. I think I’ll respond well to it.”
Undrafted rookie and practice squad call-up are the backups to Reed and Barwin.
2. Mason’s debut: Wide receiver will make his Texans debut on Sunday, just four days after being acquired via trade from the New York Jets.
A 15th-year veteran who has 12,006 career receiving yards, Mason played for the Ravens from 2005-10. He had 61 catches for 802 yards and seven touchdowns with Baltimore last season. He played at Baltimore two weeks ago with the Jets and had two catches for 37 yards.
“Derrick is a great route runner and has great hands,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who coached Mason from 2008-10, said this week. “Anytime he gets any kind of one-on-one coverage, he’s not going to be a guy you’re going to be able to cover that way. He’ll find a way to get open. Matt (Schaub) is a good timing passer and very accurate. He can get him the ball.”
That’s certainly what the Texans were hoping for when they made the decision to trade for Mason, 37, for a conditional 2012 draft pick.
“We’ve played maybe two-and-a-half games with three healthy wide receivers, so it’s really been scary from that standpoint,” Kubiak said. “We had a chance to go get a guy that still runs very well even though he’s played a long time in this league. He’s been very effective in this league. We feel like we can catch him up real fast, so that was a big key.”
3. Familiar faces: Two former Texans now play prominent roles for the Ravens after leaving Houston in free agency this offseason.
Fullback Vonta Leach, who played for the Texans from 2006-10, earned All-Pro honors last season after helping Foster lead the league in rushing. He signed with the Ravens in the offseason and has helped the Ravens imitate the Texans’ stretch zone running scheme.
“He’s been so well coached by that coaching staff that he’s helped us with some of the nuances that have helped us clean some things up,” Harbaugh said this week. “Also, obviously he’s a heck of a blocker, and he’s caught five passes for us. He’s the kind of guy we really needed.”
Bernard Pollard, a Texan from 2009-10, is starting for the Ravens at strong safety. Despite not being re-signed by Houston this offseason, Pollard said that he doesn’t harbor any resentment and that Sunday’s game is just another one on the schedule.
“I can’t look at it and be pissed about whatever because this is a business,” Pollard said. “This is what happens in this league. You make business decisions. You keep guys, you keep coaches. You let go of guys, you let go of coaches. That’s just what happens, so I have no hard feelings. I’m just ready to play football.”
4. Rolling on the road: The Texans have the AFC’s best road offense since 2008, averaging 391.0 yards per 26 games. They averaged 409.0 yards of offense in their first two road games of 2011.
Quarterback ranks second in the NFL since 2008 with 295.7 passing yards per game on the road. In 24 road games, he has completed 65.8 percent of his passes and thrown for 7,097 yards and 40 touchdowns.
Of course, Schaub had All-Pro wide receiver in most of those games. Johnson will miss his second consecutive game this Sunday with a hamstring injury.
“We all need to step up and make plays,” said wide receiver . “I think we all need to go out there and execute our game plan and fly around, and for the receivers, there’s some big plays to be made out there. Obviously, there’s some man coverage on third down and some different things that they’re going to do. We need to go out there and beat our man and make big plays. There’s some holes out there. We’ve all got to do a great job of making plays and executing them.”
The Ravens are tied for eighth in passing defense (212.0 yards/game). They have allowed only three passing touchdowns all season.
5. Rushing to win: This is the first time all season the Texans will have three top three running backs – , and – healthy in the same game.
Foster missed two of the first three games with a hamstring injury. Tate missed the last two games with a groin injury. Ward hasn’t played since suffering a sprained ankle in Week 1. The Texans still have managed to rank fifth in the NFL in rushing (132.8 yards per game) and third in time of possession (33:25 per game).
Tate, a Maryland native, will back up Foster on Sunday. Ward, who averaged 6.3 yards per carry last season, will be the third running back. Kubiak said that all three will likely get touches in the game.
The Texans are 3-0 this season and 26-3 since 2006 under Kubiak when rushing the ball 30 or more times in a game. The Ravens have the league’s second-best rushing defense, allowing 72.5 yards per game, but Foster ran for 100 yards on 20 carries against them last season at Reliant Stadium.