BALTIMORE RAVENS 41 HOUSTON TEXANS 13
November 9, 2008
Mother Nature conspired to cancel the originally scheduled Week Two match-up between the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans when Hurricane Ike rolled over Houston.
Eight weeks later in the make-up game it was the Ravens who rolled over the Texans en route to a 41-13 win. The Ravens were convincing in every aspect of the game. The victory was even more impressive given that it was their second consecutive road game and the 4th game away from home in their last five. Making the challenge even more difficult was the fact that the Ravens would face arguably the league’s best receiver without their top cornerback. This week Chris McAlister became the 14th player placed on injured reserve by the club after the two-time Pro Bowler opted for season ending knee surgery this week.
The Ravens kept the Texans at arm’s length for most of the day. Improved special teams play, big plays on defense, and a well-rounded offensive attack kept the Texans at bay until the Ravens busted open the game in the fourth quarter to cruise to their sixth win. For the second week in a row, they showed a killer instinct by putting away their opponent at the game’s end. That is an excellent development, leading into the meat of their schedule and a potential run at a playoff berth.
It was the kind of steady, steamrolling performance normally associated with more veteran teams. Because of it, the grades for the Ravens are strong across the board.
Joe Flacco continued his streak of throws without an interception, now standing at 111. It showed that he can both manage a game and create plays when called upon. His final numbers of 15 for 23 (65%) with 185 yards and two touchdowns are not chart-topping but were certainly good enough to help secure the win and a passer rating of 119. He caused a couple scares trying to throw the ball away under pressure, but also took three sacks rather than forcing throws into coverage. His accuracy on deep balls was excellent, if not a beat late to allow safety coverage over the top leading to pass break-ups. Troy Smith proved to be a nice spark when called upon, running the ball and throwing a touchdown late.
Running Backs: A-
Willis McGahee did not get the start in this game but it may have lit a fire under the veteran. Or perhaps it was getting his health back that propelled his game forward. Either way, he ran with more explosiveness, vision, and determination than we saw in past weeks. He had 25 carries for 125 yards and two touchdowns. At times he was facing eight and nine in the box but was still productive. By the fourth quarter he was shredding the Texans’ defense. Le’Ron McClain was a good change of pace back in getting 19 yards on his four carries, although he did cough up a fumble that was eventually recovered by Flacco. Ray Rice got the start but the rookie runner had just seven carries for seventeen yards.
Wide Receiver: B
Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton combined for just six catches and 81 yards. The Ravens got a scare when Mason leapt for a high throw and landed on his left elbow to strain his shoulder. But Mason reappeared in the second half and beat his man one-on-one for a nice first down catch. Clayton continued to show good separation for the second week in a row on his infrequent opportunities. Although he had just one catch Yamon Figurs made the most of it filling in for Mason with a 43-yard TD catch.
Tight End: A
Tood Heap silenced his critics for at least one week with five catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Another long catch was called back on a curious holding call. He also drew a pass interference call in the corner of the end zone to set up a score. As a blocker Heap was a huge contributor to McGahee’s success, including one of his touchdown runs. If the Ravens can continue to involve Heap in the game plan for the next seven games, it could keep the Ravens offense amongst the top half of the league.
This group was steady but not spectacular. Both Jared Gaither and Willie Anderson are at their best engaging defensive lineman and clearing out cut back lanes. Adam Terry was inserted multiple times as an H-Back in the Ravens unbalanced formation and this contributed to positive rushing yardage. When Anderson went down in the second half Terry stepped in at right tackle and was solid. Although Flacco was pressured at times, the pressure did not come from the outside edges and Joe had plenty of time to throw all day long.
Interior Line: B
Ben Grubbs struggled early but played better as the game progressed. He was beaten for an easy sack by Earl Cochran on a simple four-man rush, and was guilty of a holding penalty trying to control DeMeco Ryans. Chris Chester continued his steady play, looking strong in space. As the game progressed, Grubbs, Chester and Jason Brown seemed to take over in the third quarter, making stretch blocks and powering the defense back at the point of attack. They were very effective at the goal line.
Defensive Line: A-
You would be hard-pressed to find a nose tackle show the athleticism put on display by Haloti Ngata when when he batted Rosenfels’ pass up, spun, and dove in the end zone for an interception. Haloti’s pressure up the middle also directly led to the Ravens third interception. Trevor Pryce chipped in with a sack of Rosenfels. Justin Bannan controlled running lanes all day.
Bart Scott and Jarrett Johnson showed tremendous quickness filling on run support. The Ravens again prevented a 100-yard rusher. The Texans seemed to abandon the run, and Steve Slaton, Ryan Moats, and Ahman Green combined for just 60 yards on the ground with just 15 attempts, assuring the Ravens will remain atop the NFL in rush defense. Terrell Suggs was relatively quiet but did flash an excellent open field tackle covering a swing pass at the line of scrimmage. He also put on a speed rush against rookie tackle Duane Brown, whose holding penalty on ‘Sizzle’ led to a Ravens safety. Bart Scott was excellent in coverage. Ray Lewis was a bit shakier in covering backs and tight ends, including a pass interference call early to put the Texans on the goal line, he but also snared two interceptions and showed he can still run after the catch.
With Chris McAlister out for the year, Fabian Washington stepped over to the strong side of coverage, and Samari Rolle was back on the weak side corner after a six-week absence. Rolle was stout throughout the game and made a beautiful break on the ball to snag one of four Ravens interceptions. Corey Ivy provided very good coverage on the first pass attempt to Houston’s star receiver Andre Johnson. By sliding coverage the Ravens were able to hold Johnson to seven catches and 66 yards, which is encouraging with tough receivers like Plaxico Burress looming on the horizon. Although Sage Rosenfels threw for nearly 300 yards, the defensive backs kept plays in front of them. There seemed to be some confusion on a Jacoby Jones catch over Fabian Washington when he appeared to expect safety help. Rolle and Washington showed themselves to be just average tacklers. Frank Walker played well back in his role as nickel back.
Ed Reed and Jim Leonard were a bit shakier with coverage this week. Andre Johnson snared a 20-yard reception when Ed Reed did not slide coverage in his direction. Later Johnson simply outmuscled Reed for a long catch, and Reed was beat another time for a first down reception. Jim Leonard let Kevin Walter run past him for a sixty yard TD reception, the only touchdown of the game for the Texans. Together, Reed and Leonard were in on seven tackles.
Special Teams: B-
The Ravens activated Steve Hauschka and it paid off with superb kick offs and a 54-yard field goal near the end of the first half. Matt Stover badly missed a 50-yard attempt after Hauschka had nailed his longer try .Yamon Figurs was a bit suspect in his play. As a gunner he failed to down one of Koch’s punts at the goal line. As a returner he again let a punt drop in front of him as it rolled untouched for a net 50-yard play. Koch’s first punt to the five, further aided by a Texans penalty, directly led to the Ravens safety. Another of Sam Koch’s punts was a nice coffin corner kick to the five, but Edgar Jones was guilty of a hold to let the Texans escape being pinned deep. Nakamura missed a coverage tackle that could have pinned the Texans deep. Brendon Ayanbadejo played well in the coverage unit, as did newcomer Terrance Copper.
John Harbaugh had his team prepared to play on the road, in a tough game sandwiched between a critical divisional road trip to Cleveland and next week’s tough game against the Giants. He sent a needed message to Willis McGahee by starting Ray Rice, but did a good job of allowing McGahee to play his way back into the starting role. Cam Cameron did a good job of getting Heap involved early, which seemed to pave the way to his big day. That proved even more important when Derrick Mason went out in the first half. Rex Ryan’s game plan kept Andre Johnson in check.
Jerome Boger’s crew never really seemed to have a handle on the game. It was never more apparent than on a holding call that went against the Ravens’ Brandon McKinney after back judge Billy Smith could be overheard on the P.A. system admitting he had no idea on whom he had called the holding penalty. The crew also made a poor defensive holding call on the Texans’ Anthony Weaver, and another poor call went against the Texans for an offsides penalty when they lined up for their free kick. When a Texans pass rusher spun himself into the ground Chris Chester was wrongly called for holding. The refs seemed to gift the Ravens a touchdown when they failed to blow the play dead after the thirty-second clock expired. Later they never bothered to signal a McGahee touchdown, leading to some broadcast confusion.
CBS failed to provide some replays on key plays, including the sixty-yard touchdown run by Steve Slayton that was called back after a holding infraction. Ian Eagle constantly credited various linemen with good blocks when they were simply downfield in the vicinity of a successful run. The crew incorrectly explained why a Texans’ punt was called a touchback. And Solomon Wilcotts stuck to his incorrect assessment of a Flacco pass that was ruled to not be intentional grounding.
This was a week when Joe Flacco was rarely asked to do very much, and it led to an easy Ravens win. Next week against a very strong Giants defense it should be much tougher to grind out a win. However, if they can come home with a three-game road winning streak, the Ravens could quickly become one of the NFL’s most talked about teams.