The Ravens 2011 season is only four games old, so it's hard to forget the week leading up to Game No. 2 against theTennessee Titans.
Only the week before, the Ravens had trounced the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener in a game that was felt around the NFL.
Seven days later, the Ravens were upset, 26-13 in Tennessee in a game where they gained only 229 yards of offense and surrendered 432.
"You take a team like Houston lightly, and we saw that with Tennessee where we did not play well coming off a big win, and they will beat you," said Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson. "I would say Houston is a more talented. They have a better scheme and are really aggressive. This team can really hurt you."
The Ravens need to proceed with caution. Their matchup against the Texans (3-2) Sunday is a game that can be put into the "trap" or "ambush" category.
The Ravens are coming off a bye week, having beaten the New York Jets, 34-17, the week before. Houston lost to Oakland, 25-20, on the final play of the game last week, and they will be without their two best players, outside linebacker Mario Williams and receiver Andre Johnson, because of injuries.
Williams and Johnson always get your attention because they always bring out the best in an opponent. The question now is: Will the Ravens be ready to play Sunday?
"You cannot replace an Andre Johnson, you cannot replace a Mario Williams," said Ravens running back Ray Rice. "The next man up, I'm not saying they are better or worse, but at the same time, those guys are names in the NFL that everybody knows, and they've been making plays year in and year out. Having them out, I think, is going to be a blow, but needless to say, we still have to be ready to play."
Johnson said: "Coming off the bye week, I don't think that will be a problem for us regaining the momentum. I think the bye week has been an advantage for us. We had a lot of guys with injuries, especially on the back end. We've always handled the bye week pretty well."
The Ravens are 10-5 all time coming off the bye week, and have won eight of their last nine, including all three under fourth-year head coachJohn Harbaugh.
But a lot of teams play harder when they are without their top players because they want to prove they aren't a one- or two-man team. Johnson had set an NFL record of eight straight seasons with 60-plus receptions. He was leading the Texans in receptions with 25 for 352 yard and two touchdown until a leg injury forced him out of the Oakland game, and probably Sunday's game.
The Ravens, though, don't plan to let up. They can't. Against the Raiders, Houston quarterback Matt Schaub completed 24 of 51 passes for 403 yards and two touchdowns.
"You can't say a guy like Andre being out doesn't matter because when you have a player like him, everything is kind of centered around him," said Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. "A player like that, you have to tend to him. If you double him you have to play light in the box and use seven-man spacing, and do the best you can versus the run, and help out that guy as much as possible.
"With him out of the lineup, you still got capable guys. You got a big, strong guy like Kevin Walter and a fast guy like Jacoby Jones. They've played, they know what to do, and we have tape on them. Without Andre though, you just have to mix it up more, and we should be all right. But I'd be lying — the players would be lying — if they said he [Johnson] doesn't make a difference."
Williams has led the Texans in sacks every year since they drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2006 out of North Carolina State. At 6-6 and 283 pounds, Williams is big enough to play defensive end, but also quick and fast enough to make the transition to outside linebacker.
Williams led the AFC in sacks with five through the first five games until a torn pectoral muscle sidelined him for the season last week.
Williams' absence won't have as much effect on the Ravens as Johnson's.
"Him not being out there doesn't force us to change too much," said Ravens center Matt Birk. "You don't slide a lot to a defensive end. He's a great player, obviously, and they play pretty good defense. But we're going to do what we do, and they are going to do what they do best."
In last year's game, the Ravens won, 34-28 in overtime as Houston came back from a 21-7 halftime deficit. That should be another motivating factor for the Texans. They aren't going to quit, and the Ravens better be prepared.
"It's one thing to overcome injuries — that's part of the business — but you're talking about two leaders on the football team with Andre and Mario," said Houston coach Gary Kubiak. "But you've got to get over it, you've got to move on, got to have guys step up. It's a long season in this league, and you've got to stay positive and keep everybody working for the long haul."