Texans' defense can learn from Ravens

Houston Texans defensive players DeMeco Ryans (59), Brian Cushing (56), Zac Diles (54) and Bernard Pollard (31) sit on the bench during the closing minutes of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009, in Houston. The Colts scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to win 35-27. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

December 12, 2010 7:33:40 AM PST
Texans safety Bernard Pollard is looking forward to seeing the Baltimore defense in person Monday night. He's hoping that Houston's younger players also watch -- and learn. Baltimore (8-4) doesn't have the league's top defense, not this year anyway, but still has a reputation for punishing hits and fierce intensity.

The Texans (5-7), meanwhile, rank near the bottom of the league in every defensive category, and the secondary has given up big plays in the fourth quarter of their last four losses. The unit has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks, but Pollard laments how many mental breakdowns the Texans are still making at crucial moments.

The Ravens, Pollard says, simply don't have those kinds of lapses.

"They go out there and fight all game," Pollard said. "That's been one of our biggest knocks. Nobody can question the talent we have on this team. What they can question is the effort that's been given, as far as for 60 minutes. We have to evaluate ourselves, because we're not who we think we are."

The Texans have dropped five of six, but sit only two games behind first-place Jacksonville in the AFC South. They draw hope for salvaging this season. Last year, they won their last four games to finish 9-7, the franchise's first winning record.

Baltimore is in much better shape for the postseason, though last week's 13-10 loss to Pittsburgh dropped them out of first place in the AFC North.

Coach John Harbaugh called the defeat the toughest he's had in three years in Baltimore, but he doesn't expect any mental letdown heading into Monday's game.

"I think they do a good job of taking it one day at a time," Harbaugh said. "We've got a lot of preparation to put in before we can be prepared to play that game. That's our focus."

Harbaugh is more concerned about the Ravens' offensive consistency after they mustered fewer than 20 points for the fifth time this season. Baltimore averaged only 2.2 yards on 20 carries in the game and ranks 16th in rushing this season (108.4 yards per game).

"I'm disappointed in the fact that we haven't run the ball for a better yard-per-carry average," Harbaugh said. "I think we're capable of doing better than that. That establishes a lot of other things."

Harbaugh expects fullback Le'Ron McClain (sprained ankle) to return for Monday's game, but said tight end Todd Heap "doesn't look good" for the game due to a hamstring injury.

The Texans have hardly slowed down any offense, regardless of who's been hurt on the other side. And Pollard thinks that teams actually gain confidence when they study the Texans on film, knowing that sooner or later, the defense will give up a pivotal play.

"A lot of teams come in here say, 'If our passing game isn't going right, it's going to go right on Monday. If our running game isn't going right, it might be all right on Monday,"' Pollard said. "They're going to slap us around a few times. We're going to just keep swinging, and eventually we're going to knock them out."

The Texans' offense has done its part to keep the season afloat, averaging 373 yards and 24 points per game. Arian Foster leads the league in rushing (1,230 yards) and yards from scrimmage (1,709), while Andre Johnson ranks fourth in yards receiving (1,018), despite playing most of the season with a sprained right ankle.

Foster is Houston's second-leading receiver, with 50 catches for 479 yards, and reminds Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis of former San Francisco 49ers running back Roger Craig.

"He's very shifty and very smooth," Lewis said. "Very shifty with high knees, and (he) runs way faster than people think. He's more of a glider with good hands out of the backfield. The kid has the total package when it comes to an all-purpose back."

Lewis has a closer bond with Johnson, a fellow Miami Hurricane. He offered counsel when Johnson was in the early stages of his NFL career, and admires how Johnson's career has flourished.

"From the first time I saw him, I saw somebody that was hungry to be great at his craft and he's never shied away from it," Lewis said. "He's a very quiet and mild-mannered dude. To see him on the field to play like that, he's just an animal."

Johnson is thankful for the praise.

"It's a tremendous compliment, especially coming from a guy like him, definitely a Hall of Famer," Johnson said. "It just goes to show that the things you do get recognized. I feel the same way about him. His track record speaks for itself."


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