BALTIMORE RAVENS 29, HOUSTON TEXANS 14
October 16, 2011
Credit the Houston Texans for coming into Baltimore and throwing everything they had at the Ravens, even without their top players on both sides of the ball – the injured Mario Williams and Andre Johnson. While the Texans played the Ravens tight for nearly three quarters, in the end the Ravens had too much talent for the Texans to match, and rode the home field advantage to a 29-14 win, outscoring Houston 19-7 in the second half.
Both the Ravens and the Texans came into the game with a reputation for starting fast. Advantage Ravens in this game, as they allowed the Texans to cross midfield on their opening possession and then forced Houston to punt the ball down to the Ravens’ three. Joe Flacco brought his offense onto the field and orchestrated a 15-play, 97-yard opening drive for a score, using 8 throws and 7 runs. One drive by Houston, one for Baltimore, and there was just a minute left to play in the first quarter.
Then the sledding got tough for the Ravens in the second quarter and into the third. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was able to send free runners past a confused Ravens offensive front on multiple occasions to harass Flacco into taking sacks, throwing the ball away, and coughing up a fumble and interception, with just one field goal to take a narrow 10-7 lead into the half.
The Texans were still in the game thanks to the Ravens defense’s inability to get off the field on third downs. Quarterback Matt Schaub was able to convert on half of his ten third down attempts in the first half, and most of those coming on third and long situations. While Schaub was able to move the ball, Flacco was harassed into a 56 QB rating by halftime. Ray Rice, meanwhile, had just 16 yards on 8 carries at the break.
The pesky Texans were still very much in the game, trailing just 16-14 into the fourth quarter.
But that’s when the Ravens offensive linemen asserted themselves and began to protect Flacco and create running lanes for Ray Rice. The unit that struggled early diagnosing where the Texans were coming from got the upper hand and helped the Ravens overcome a 0-2 turnover differential to win the ballgame going away.
It was an up-and-down performance for most of Baltimore’s units, with the good coming at the front and back end of the game, and a lot of bad in between. It leads to mostly middling grades.
Flacco played better than his first half numbers suggest. Despite the pressure, and the turnovers, he moved around very well in the pocket and stayed locked-in downfield to find open receivers. He made a number of throws with Texans linebackers in his face, including tremendously accurate long throws to Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin. His interception was on a tipped ball, but more concerning was the fact that he missed a wide-open Ed Dickson on the throw. He also badly missed an open LaQuan Williams later in the game. His blank expression betrayed whether the problem may have been his accuracy or the fact he was throwing to young receivers who may have been running poor routes. The fact that he was nearly perfect hooking up with the veteran Anquan Boldin may be telling. Flacco made clutch throws in the fourth quarter to extend drives and eat clock.
Running Backs: A-
Ray Rice took advantage of better blocking and then took over the game in the fourth quarter. He was simply better than any defender the Texans had on the field. He went over 100 yards rushing on 23 attempts despite his slow start, and hauled in nearly everything thrown to him — five tough catches for 60 more yards. His balance and vision are unsurpassed in the league. But he also got a lot of help from his friends, including some tremendous blocks by his fullback Vonta Leach, who sprung Rice down to the three and then stoned DeMeco Ryans on the goal line to allow Ricky Williams to slide in for his first touchdown as a Raven. Leach also had a fantastic takedown on a blitz pick-up that kept Flacco upright and allowed him to step up in the pocket.
Wide Receivers: A-
Anquan Boldin had his best outing of the year, snaring eight of the nine balls thrown his way for 132 yards, including three clutch catches on the opening drive. After the Texans adjusted, Torrey Smith got loose in the secondary, making some tough catches along the side, and then outrunning Daniel Manning for a 51 yard strike to immediately answer the Texans second score. Smith also made a tremendous fingertip catch that was just out of the back of the end zone. The rookie averaged 28 yards on three catches.
Tight Ends: C
Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson only caught 4 of the 8 balls thrown to them for a total of 29 yards. They seemed to be out of synch with their quarterback. Other than a nice catch and stretch for a near TD on the opening drive by Dickson, there was not a lot to like about the tight end performances. Both missed a number of chip blocks, which contributed to the pressure in Flacco’s face, and Pitta was flagged for an unconscionable false start penalty.
Bryant McKinney struggled sorting out blitz pick-ups with left guard Andre Gurode and his running backs, and it led to a number of hits on his quarterback. As a drive blocker, however, he showed he could dominate using his superior size to full advantage. His lack of experience in the offense is still showing despite having played five games at left tackle. On the right side Michael Oher was inconsistent, but overall put in a better performance than we’ve seen in past games. He had lapses when asked to seal the backside and it left Rice nowhere to cut back to on a few occasions. He’s better when the team runs to his side and is very good executing the stretch block and sliding to the second level.
Interior Line: C-
Andre Gurorde is no farther along figuring out the blocking assignments on the left side than his teammate McKinnie is at this stage. And he was flagged for a false start early. However, when firing off the ball he and Matt Birk were playing well together, particularly as the game wore on. The Ravens were able to run behind this interior tandem frequently in the fourth quarter. Birk destroyed Earl Mitchell in the end zone to allow Rice run the ball up the gut.
On the right side, Marshal Yanda did not achieve his typically dominating performance. He struggled with high pad level against the rookie defensive end JJ Watt throughout the game, and particularly on the goal line. Yanda was also badly beaten one-on-one by Tim Jamison, who blew past him to strip the ball from Flacco and bounce on it for a recovery. A shaky performance by the interior group overall forced a number of field goal attempts by the Ravens rather than finishing drives.
The usually prolific Schaub was held to a pedestrian 220 yards passing. Part of that was pressure up front, part of it was missing Andre Johnson, but a lot of it was good corner play. Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb played tight man coverage well enough to force most of the throws inside against the safeties. Webb continues to tackle well including a fantastic job stopping Kevin Walter in his tracks short of a first down after a catch. Webb finished with seven tackles and Williams five more. The only ball thrown over them with success was a questionable holding call on Webb when the receiver cut and turned into his body. Danny Gorrer had a second straight impressive outing playing the nickel while frequently covering Jacoby Jones in the slot. His sideline hit on Jones caused him to juggle a catch to prevent a first down and essentially end the game.
Other than Ed Reed getting beat deep by Jones for a TD where Bernard Pollard may have failed to bracket over the top, the safeties played well. They were depleted with Tom Zbikowski sidelined by a concussion and Haruki Nakamura just back after missing time with a knee injury. Both Pollard and Reed were a dominating presence closing and delivering big hits in the middle of the field. The former Texan Pollard welcomed the former Ravens receiver Derrick Mason with a rib shot that left him sucking air on the bench for an offensive series. Pollard showed he could cover as well, stripping Arian Foster of a catch to force a punt. Reed was particularly good timing his run blitz.
Jarret Johnson was dominant at times, forcing the cut-back run, dropping into coverage, and applying pressure. He ran through a block by blocking tight end Joel Dreessen and hooked Schaub for a sack. Ray Lewis finished the game with 12 tackles. His play was not all that consistent however. At times he was sealed or he overran plays to allow some of the Texans longer runs. But he was in the right spot a number of other times, including a delayed blitz and sack, or his tackle of Foster a foot short of the sticks to bring out the offense and the victory formation. Dannell Ellerbe was on the field quite a bit to stop the run, but was badly fooled when Foster slipped past him for a wide-open catch.
Defensive Line: B+
The Texans zone blocking scheme was effective in slowing down the Ravens pressure up front, but not effective enough in jump-starting their running game. Foster and Tate combined for just 86 yards on the ground, and the defensive line was able to force the Texans into a number of third and long situations. Terrence Cody and Cory Redding stood out for their ability to penetrate and slide to the ball carrier.
As a group, they could have done a better job getting their hands up on passing plays, as Schaub managed to thread a number of low throws past them into the middle of the field. Terrell Suggs had one of his more quiet games – he did not register a tackle, and was a step too slow getting to Schaub.
Haloti Ngata was more active, with eight tackles on the interior, and managed to blow past the Texans’ very good offensive line on just a four man rush for a sack. Ngata was also credited with a QB hurry and a tackle for a loss. Paul Kruger continues to improve dropping into coverage. Pernell McPhee played a number of second half snaps and was able to get decent penetration to go with a sack and a forced fumble, something he’s developed a knack for.
Special Teams: A
By connecting on five out of five field goals, including his two longest of the year – 43 and 48 yards – Billy Cundiff may have been the player of the day for the Ravens. He accomplished this despite a tricky wind swirling inside M&T Stadium. He also helped in the field position game by sending all but one of his kickoffs through the back of the end zone, including a kick that landed in the stands. Sam Koch made the most of his one punt attempt, pinning a fair catch at the 14. Bryan McCann made his Ravens regular season debut by returning the opening kick of the second half out of the end zone to the 23. He averaged 26.5 yards on his two returns.
Cam Cameron did a nice job scripting the opening drive with a diverse mix of X’s and O’s. It was nice to see Cameron and Flacco studying photographs together on the sideline after the opening score – demonstrating that indeed the coach and player do communicate.
Cam was a little slow adjusting the Wade Phillips’ array of blitzes in the second quarter. But he did correctly adjust by finally putting Flacco in the shotgun, spreading the field, and getting the ball out quickly to the edges of the field to slow down the pressure off the edges from Texans’ linebackers. He also paced the game well by emphasizing the run later in the game to milk the clock and impose his offense’s will over the Texans.
Credit John Harbaugh with continuing to be perfect winning after the bye, and pushing the team’s post-bye-week record to 9-1 over the last ten seasons. His team was ready to play.
Gene Steratore’s crew had trouble getting the facemask penalty right. They missed Terrence Cody grabbing Arian Foster’s facemask as Foster stretched ball across the twenty for what should of been a first down, but was marked a yard short. Later they missed Ray Rice getting face masked. Rather than extending a drive, the missed call forced a field goal attempt by the Ravens. They didn’t get it right a third time with Rice running out of bounds.
They also missed the fact that Torrey Smith trapped the ball on the turf on his way down on what was ruled a 51-yard reception. The Texans were hurt by the lack of a replay playing on the road on two calls that should have gone their way.
The crew made a very questionable holding call on Webb when the receiver cut right into his body, despite Webb’s hands out to the side. Defensive holding on receivers seems to be one of the least consistently called rules in the game.
And finally, Steratore correctly overturned a first down catch by Jacoby Jones at the end of the game, but for the wrong reason. Jones should have been given a catch a yard short of the first down marker, but instead, on replay, he was incorrectly ruled to have failed to get both feet down. On replay?!
This is the best grade possible for a game featuring Dan Dierdorf’s commentary. He’s awful. Once again he exhibited a tendency to blurt out incorrect assessments of on-field action, and then stick to a feeble defense of his comments despite replay after replay showing that he was completely wrong.
On the plus side, Dierdorf only managed to reveal his man crush on Ben Roethlisberger once during the telecast even though the Steelers game in PITTSBURGH was over.