BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans are quite content to run against the grain in the pass-happy NFL.
Baltimore relies heavily on running back Ray Rice and a stingy defensive unit led by Pro Bowl linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. Houston depends on the rushing prowess of Arian Foster and the NFL’s second-ranked defense.
Neither team intends to alter that approach in Sunday’s playoff game, so the one that stays true to form the longest likely will advance to the AFC championship game.
The Ravens (12-4) respect rookie quarterback T.J. Yates and the breakaway speed of wide receiver Andre Johnson, but they figure their best chance to win is to bottle up Foster and force the Texans to throw.
“The objective, first and foremost, is to stop the run. You can’t let him get going,” Baltimore defensive end Cory Redding said. “And then No. 2, get guys on No. 80 (Johnson). Then No. 3, get after Yates, period. You have to stop the run, control the pass and get after the passer. That’s the formula for winning every single week. That’s been our formula from Week One, and it hasn’t changed.”
When Houston (11-6) came to Baltimore on Oct. 6, the Ravens limited Foster to 49 yards on 15 carries in a 29-14 victory. But Foster rambled for 153 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-10 rout of Cincinnati last week, leaving little mystery as to what the Texans’ game plan will be on Sunday.
“We’ve got to see how the game goes, but I know that we need to stay committed to running the football,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “Hey, we’re going to have to run the ball effectively to win this football game. We know that. We know it will be a difficult task, but we’re preparing to go do it.”
The Ravens have never allowed a runner to amass 100 yards on the ground in a playoff game, and they have every intention of keeping that mark intact.
“Our focus is, No. 1, we’ve got to stop the run,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “Their whole idea is to get third-and-manageable. There are a lot of third-and-2s, 3s, 4s and 5s, and then it puts the pressure back on the defense. You’re a little bit leery of coming after them in those situations because of the run and the pass. So if we do a great job on first and second down and get them in third-and-long, we’ll be able to dial some things up.”
The last thing Yates needs is to be dropping back in the pocket with the Baltimore defense looking for him to throw.
“They’ve seen it all. They’ve been through it all,” Yates said. “We know that they’re going to do things to try to trick us and kind of catch us off guard, so we have to do things to counteract that. We’ve been doing different things all week long to give us the best chance against an experienced defense like that.”
The most effective way to blunt a pass rush is to have an efficient running game. That’s where Foster comes in.
“We know that they’re going to run the ball,” Lewis said. “We know they’re very good at running the ball.”
So is Baltimore, which plans to feed the Texans plenty of Rice, a double-threat who ran for 1,364 yards and had a team-leading 76 catches for 704 yards. In that earlier Ravens victory over Houston, Rice ran for 101 yards and had five receptions for 60 yards.
Let those other teams throw the ball all they want. Baltimore has plenty of faith in quarterback Joe Flacco, but their main priority is getting the ball in Rice’s hands—one way or another.
“It’s been a pass-friendly league. Let’s just put it out there: There’s been a lot of passing going on,” Rice said. “There wasn’t a 2,000-yard rusher this year; there wasn’t even an 1,800-yard rusher this year. But, if you look at where I put myself in the situation, I gave you 13 (hundred yards rushing) and seven (hundred yards receiving) to put myself at 2,000 yards. It might not be 2,000 yards rushing, but me just doing my job this Sunday, whether it’s rushing or receiving, I think will be good enough.”