Five things to know about the Houston Texans, the Ravens’ divisional round playoff opponent

The wait is finally over.

After the AFC wild-card round ended Monday with the Buffalo Bills’ 31-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game postponed a day by a snowstorm, the top-seeded Ravens (13-4) know they’ll host the Houston Texans (11-7) in the divisional round at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

It’s a rematch of the Ravens’ season opener at M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 10, but much has changed for both teams since then. Here are five things to know about the Texans as they prepare to make a return trip to Baltimore:

They have a record-setting rookie quarterback

In NFL history, only Joe Montana and Tom Brady have ever finished the season first in both passing yards per game and touchdown-to-interception ratio. C.J. Stroud did it as a rookie.

The No. 2 overall draft pick threw for 4,108 yards with 23 touchdowns and five interceptions to lead the Texans to a 10-7 regular-season record and their first AFC South title since 2019. Then, at 22 years and 102 days old, the former Ohio State star became the youngest quarterback to win a playoff game when he torched the Cleveland Browns’ vaunted defense for 274 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-14 rout.

“C.J. is the reason why we’re in this position,” first-year coach DeMeco Ryans said after Saturday’s victory. “He’s special, a special young man. Special player. Continues to shine no matter how big the moment is.”

Backup quarterback Case Keenum, an 11-year veteran, took it a step further.

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“I think he’s gonna be the best of all time,” Keenum told The Athletic. “Like, he truly has the ability to be that way. … I know, it’s very early to say that sort of stuff. But, man, he does some stuff that is just out of this world.”

They’ve made an unprecedented turnaround

After churning through Bill O’Brien, interim Romeo Crennel and former Ravens assistant David Culley, the Texans went 3-13-1 with former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith last season. He, too, was fired.

The Texans then hired Ryans, a former All-Pro linebacker in Houston who had become one of the league’s budding stars as defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. In one season, the 39-year-old Ryans rebuilt the franchise into a contender.

One year after allowing 2,894 rushing yards, the sixth-most in NFL history, the Texans allowed the sixth-fewest (1,643) in the league. They rose from 28th in Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) last year to 16th this season, according to FTN Fantasy. They jumped from 31st in defensive grade to 11th, according to Pro Football Focus.

After finishing in last place in the AFC South, Houston is the first team in the Super Bowl era to win its division with a rookie coach and a rookie quarterback.

They’re a completely different team from Week 1

The Texans hardly looked like a playoff team in the season opener, as the Ravens rolled to a 25-9 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.

Houston averaged just 3.7 yards per play that day, while Stroud was sacked five times and lost a fumble. Running backs Dameon Pierce and Devin Singletary averaged fewer than 3 yards per carry.

Since that game, Stroud blossomed into an NFL Most Valuable Player candidate, Nico Collins grew into an elite wide receiver and Singletary became one of the league’s most productive running backs. Rookie wideout Tank Dell also flashed his potential with 709 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 11 games before suffering a season-ending leg fracture.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Collins finished top 10 in both receiving yards (1,297) and touchdown catches (eight), while Singletary recorded a career-best 898 rushing yards after supplanting Pierce, who struggled in the team’s new outside zone running scheme. From Week 9 on, only Christian McCaffrey and Najee Harris rushed for more yards than Singletary, who had 66 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland.

The defense is peaking at the right time

The season opener offered a glimpse of what was to come for Houston.

After sacking Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson four times in Week 1, the Texans finished the season with 46 sacks and ranked fifth in the league in pressure rate (25.7%) despite blitzing at one of the lowest rates in the league (21%).

Will Anderson Jr., who Houston traded up to select No. 3 overall, led all rookies with 59 quarterback pressures and recorded seven sacks while grading well against the run. Fellow defensive end Jonathan Greenard also enjoyed a breakout season, ranking 10th in the league with 12 1/2 sacks.

That ability to generate pressure made the difference in Saturday’s win over the Browns, as Joe Flacco was sacked four times and threw a pair of interceptions that were returned for touchdowns on back-to-back drives. The former Ravens quarterback had a passer rating of 31.7 when pressured, according to ESPN.

The Texans also have a budding shutdown corner. After struggling during his rookie season, Derek Stingley Jr. is playing at a Pro Bowl level and is coming off perhaps the best performance of his career. Stingley covered Browns star receiver Amari Cooper on 83.3% of his routes Saturday and allowed just one catch for minus-6 yards just three weeks after Cooper burned Houston’s secondary for a franchise-record 265 yards.

They’ve had some impressive wins … and disappointing losses

While a 23-19 win over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 18 sealed a playoff berth for the Texans, some head-scratching losses earlier in the season nearly kept them out.

An 0-2 start was followed by dominant wins over the Jacksonville Jaguars (37-17) and Pittsburgh Steelers (30-6), but then Houston allowed Desmond Ridder to throw for 329 yards in a 21-19 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on a last-second field goal.

Two weeks later, the Texans fell, 15-13, to the Carolina Panthers, who finished the season 2-15. Stroud was held to 140 yards and was outplayed by No. 1 pick Bryce Young.

After winning four of its next five games, including a 30-27 victory over Joe Burrow and the Bengals, Houston allowed Zach Wilson to throw for 301 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-6 loss to the reeling New York Jets. Stroud went just 10-for-23 for 90 yards and was sacked four times before exiting late with a concussion, which forced him to miss the next two games.

But Stroud returned in Week 17 to lead a 26-3 win over the Tennessee Titans that kept Houston in playoff contention. After the game, he offered some prescient words of encouragement.

“The time is now,” he said. “It’s not next year. It’s not the year after that. It’s right now.”