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Ravens defense ready to face 'a whole different' C.J. Stroud than the one they saw in Week 1 

The Baltimore Ravens gave C.J. Stroud a rude welcome to his NFL career in Week 1, blasting the rookie QB making his first start and routing the Houston Texans 25-9 at M&T Bank Stadium.

Since then, all Stroud has done is scorch defenses. He's on his way to an Offensive Rookie of the Year award and led the Texans to a dominant Super Wild Card Weekend win over the Cleveland Browns last weekend.

Ravens defenders know they will face a much different Stroud than the one they battered in Week 1 when they host Houston on Saturday in the Divisional Round.

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"I feel like they're a whole different team. C.J.'s a whole different QB," Ravens edge rusher Odafe Oweh said via the team's official website. "I feel like we matured him and he's been balling ever since. I have a lot of respect for him. In the playoffs, obviously people play harder. So we have to come with a different energy as well."

In Week 1, the Ravens sacked Stroud five times while holding him to 28 of 44 attempts for 242 yards with zero TDs, zero INTs, and a 78.0 passer rating. Notably, Baltimore didn't give up the deep shots. For the game, 31 of Stroud's 44 attempts were short (0-9 yards) or behind the line of scrimmage. He went 0 of 2 on 20-plus air-yard passes.

Since that day, Stroud and the Texans have thrived on the deep ball. The rookie was the only player with 1,000-plus passing yards and zero INTs on deep passes this season, per Next Gen Stats. Stroud was second in completion percent (58.8), pass yards (1,057), pass TD-INT (8-0), and passer rating (142.8) on deep passes, per NGS.

Conversely, the Ravens' defense finished first in completion percentage allowed (20.0), passing yards per attempt (7.1), pass TD-INT (2-5), and passer rating allowed (33.0) on deep passes in the 2023 regular season, per NGS.

The Texans also found some semblance of a rushing attack under Devin Singletary that was absent in the Week 1 tilt.

"I think they're definitely improved, but so are we when you look at it," linebacker Roquan Smith said of the Texans. "The offense is definitely clicking, but we wouldn't want it any other way. We're prepared for it, and we're ready to go to war regardless of who it's against, and they're the team that's coming in here. Business is is business handled."

Baltimore enters Saturday's tilt boasting the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL. Last week, Stroud and the Texans knocked off the NFL's No. 1 defense in yards allowed, Cleveland. The rookie is looking to become the third QB in NFL history to defeat the No. 1 total defense and No. 1 scoring defense in consecutive playoff starts (excluding teams that finished No. 1 in both): Joe Montana in 1988 (Vikings in Div. Rd, Bears in NFC Championship); Roger Staubach in 1975 (Vikings in Div. Rd, Rams in NFC Championship).

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