Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 1/13/12

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 11: Head Coach Wade Phillips of the Dallas Cowboys looks on during warm-up prior to the NFL game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadiumin on October 11, 2009 Kansas City, Missouri. The Cowboys defeated the Chiefs 26-20 in overtime. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
HOUSTON - Wade Phillips saw no need to dance around the subject. The Ravens have served as a standard bearer for defensive superiority for a decade and the Texans seek to establish a reputation equally esteemed. The Texans closed the season ranked second and between the Steelers and Ravens in total defense, and at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Sunday they will observe a unit that personifies all they hope to become. "They've been a top defense for 10 years now," said Phillips, the Texans' first-year defensive coordinator. "They had one of the greatest defenses that ever played that won a Super Bowl (XXXV) and they still have certainly the (one) star player from that team (middle linebacker Ray Lewis). So, they've got what we're trying to build. "We're trying to build that type defense. We've got a lot of young players right now that are on their way up that I think can be star players, and we're second in the league this year. And you know all those stats and all that stuff, but I think they mean something in that we're good on defense and we want to remain that way. And I think we will for awhile too, so that's what we're looking to be." The Texans (11-6) are seeking to become the Ravens (12-4), their AFC divisional-game opponent. Baltimore won its lone Super Bowl on the strength of its mighty defense with Lewis, then in his fifth season, at the heart of that unit. Lewis, taken 26th overall in 1996, was the first of four consecutive first-round draft picks used on defensive players, followed in succession by linebacker Peter Boulware in 97, cornerback Duane Starks in '98, and corner Chris McAlister in '99. All four were starters in the Ravens' Super Bowl win over the New York Giants in Tampa, Fla. In the seasons since, the Ravens have upheld their reputation for defensive excellence by drafting wisely. The core members of that unit Lewis, rush end Terrell Suggs, tackle Haloti Ngata and free safety Ed Reed were first-round selections. Over the last 12 seasons the Ravens are 40 games over .500 with eight postseason appearances (including four in succession) and AFC North titles in 2003, '06 and this season. "As far as comparison or anything, they've done it for so long and they've been good for so long and that's something eventually we hope we can do is to emulate the way they play," Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing said. "It's their identity. When you think of the Ravens, you think of defense. You think of Ray Lewis. You think of Ed Reed and all those guys, Terrell Suggs; of the ones that have just been holding it down for so long over there. "That's just something we hope to do one day. We know we've got a good start with a good beginning with a good bunch of core guys, and that's something hopefully we can evolve and stay the way we are." By combining their league ranking with the profile of their top defensive contributors, the Texans can lay legitimate claim that they are initiating a Ravens-like run. Of the 16 players that finished with at least 20 tackles this season, none were older than 29 by the opener against the Colts. Free agent free safety Danieal Manning is the veteran of the secondary at 29 years old. End Antonio Smith turned 30 in October. Reserve cornerback Jason Allen and nose tackle Shaun Cody are 28. Inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans, the longest-tenured member on defense, is a grizzled 27. Cushing and rookie outside linebacker Brooks Reed are 24. Outside linebacker Connor Barwin is 25. The Texans' key reserves, from safeties Troy Nolan and Brice McCain to nose tackle Earl Mitchell, are between 24 and 25 years old. Linebackers Mario Williams and Darryl Sharpton, key cogs lost to season-ending injuries, are 26 and 23, respectively. Rookie defensive backs Brandon Harris (21) and Roc Carmichael (22) certainly have potential. If the Texans can hold on to their core players and keep building under the guidance of Phillips, they stand positioned to enjoy years of success. "It's just buying into what the scheme of your defense is, and once you get that started, of course you're plugging in those type of players like Brian Cushing and DeMeco, Mario, those guys like that," said Manning, who was part of a defense in Chicago that built around linebacker Brian Urlacher and has sustained exceptionality. "You start putting those guys in, you just start to develop this model of what type of players you want and what type of system you want, and guys just buy into it. It's basically that, and then you can stay consistent with it." Should the Texans continue to develop defensively with their current group representing the foundation, the 2009 offseason will serve as the flashpoint for the franchise's turnaround. Cushing, Barwin, McCain and Nolan, along with strong safety Glover Quin, were drafted that April. The Texans landed Smith, Cody and reserve end Tim Jamison in free agency. Those players were the second wave of personnel added to Ryans and Williams, both of whom were drafted in 2006. The 2011 draft class, with Reed and end J.J. Watt at the forefront, could bypass its predecessors if Harris and Carmichael mature into significant roles as key contributors. "We continue to get better over the years," Ryans said. "We continue to add good, young players, like Cushing, J.J., Brooks, Connor. We just continue to add good players through the draft and this past year through free agency, getting Danieal and J-Joe (cornerback Johnathan Joseph). It's just constantly bringing in good, quality players that have the ability to make plays. That's been the key to our defense is that added depth, that added addition of great players and us coming together. Putting all that together has made us a really good defense." The Ravens represent the best of the best, and they have done so for more than a decade. From a micro perspective the Texans shouldn't concern themselves with outdoing the Ravens at what they excel at, and that's playing a physically intimidating brand of defense. However, from a broader view, this contest will be regarded as a measuring stick. For what they have built thus far and where they have designs on going, the Texans would serve themselves well to announce their arrival before a national audience against a team revered for its defense. If the Texans are poised to take the mantle, they should snatch it on Sunday. "I think that this defense is not a fluke," Smith said. "I think that what we've done this year is what we expect and what we're capable of doing. So, right now, we are the defense we are. If it stays that way, we should be one of the defenses with those types of names and things like that." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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