Keys to the game: Texans-Ravens

US Presswire/Don McPeak

Arian Foster will be looking for running room, which may be tough to come by, against the Ravens.The Houston Texans-Baltimore Ravens playoff matchup doesn’t have quite the quarterback matchup of the Tim Tebow-Tom Brady rematch in the other AFC Divisional Round playoff game, but it has plenty of intriguing storylines nonetheless.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup here:

When the Ravens have the ball

Earlier this week, we detailed how valuable home-field advantage has been for the Ravens offense and quarterback Joe Flacco. His play will be a huge key in this game.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Flacco will be the first quarterback to start a playoff game in each of his first four seasons.

Flacco had career lows in completion percentage (58 percent) and yards per attempt (6.7) in 2011 and tied a career high with 12 interceptions. But much of that came in the early part of the season.

Flacco finished strong in his last seven games, completing 63 percent of his throws, with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. Flacco’s Total QBR in that span was 68.6, ninth-best in the NFL (only one spot behind Brady and his 72.0 Total QBR).

When the Ravens keep the ball on the ground, they’ll pound it between the tackles with Ray Rice. Only Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew had more rushes between the tackles this season than Ray Rice.

Rice scored 10 of his 12 rushing touchdowns on rushes between the tackles after scoring 11 such touchdowns the previous three seasons.

Ray Rice Between the Tackles
2011 Season

Fullback Vonta Leach, formerly with the Texans, will help pave the way for Rice. The All-Pro has been the fullback on 325 halfback runs this season and those runs produced 1,463 yards and 14 touchdowns, all NFL highs.

The Texans defended runs between the tackles well at the end of the regular season. They yielded 3.6 yards per run to that area in the final four games, fifth-best in the NFL, but they did allow 4.4 per carry in their win over the Bengals last week.

When the Texans have the ball

After completing only five throws of at least 15 yards in the air in his last three regular season games, Texans quarterback T.J. Yates was 4-for-8 on such throws in the Wild Card playoff win over the Cincinnati Bengals last week. Three of those went to Andre Johnson, including a key touchdown reception.

The Ravens figure to be ready for longer throws. In their last four games, they held opponents to 10-for-29 on throws of that length, a rate that was tied for sixth-best in the NFL in that span.

When the Texans run, it will be worth keeping an eye on their success running both inside and outside the tackles. Arian Foster had 71 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win by running outside the tackles, and 29 yards on three carries doing so against the Ravens in Week 6.

But when forced inside against Baltimore, Foster struggled, netting only 20 yards on 12 carries in that 29-14 defeat.

This season, the Ravens have allowed the fewest yards per rush (3.51) between the tackles of any NFL team.

Stats of the Game

The Texans are 0-5 all-time against the Ravens. The only other team the Texans have played five or more times and never beat is the Jets (0-5).

Ravens coach John Harbaugh is one of two coaches in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first three seasons, along with former Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer. No coach has ever won a playoff game in each of his first four seasons.