BALTIMORE — Despite his gliding, seemingly effortless running style, Houston Texans star running back Arian Foster had no answers for the Baltimore Ravens’ defense.
The reigning NFL rushing champion was stonewalled, held to 49 rushing yards and no touchdowns on 15 carries.
Containing Foster allowed the Ravens to concentrate on keeping quarterback Matt Schaub from beating them through the air as they defeated the Texans, 29-14, Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
Foster was the last running back to eclipse the century mark against the Ravens’ stingy defense, rushing for 100 yards on 20 carries against them last December at Reliant Stadium.
"We knew what we had to do," said All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who recorded a game-high 12 tackles. "We took it personal coming out this week. We knew the challenge was going to be huge. That’s one of the best backs in football right now, the leading rusher in the NFL last year.
"Dealing with that offensive line, we knew running that zone scheme, it was going to be a very hard scheme to deal with. They made a couple plays here and there, but I just think the adjustments we made at halftime all really went in our favor."
Foster averaged only 3.3 yards per carry, catching six passes for 52 yards while being targeted 11 times.
He was frustrated by the Ravens’ defense, met at almost every turn by a tackler to prevent him from breaking free. His longest run was 16 yards.
"I played terrible," Foster said. "I didn’t play a good game. It was obvious. That will never happen again. I played a bad game. It doesn’t matter what the variables are. As a football player, I didn’t bring my A game."
Heading into this game, the Ravens ranked second in the NFL against the run by allowing only 72.5 yards per contest.
They limited Foster and backup running back Ben Tate (nine carries, 41 yards) to 93 rushing yards.
"We said we needed to stop the run," said All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who had eight tackles. "I think we did well throughout the game. We were careful not to let them get the big runs and be able to stop them, and I think that’s what helped us a lot."
BIG DAY FOR BOLDIN: Veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught eight passes for 132 yards, marking his first 100-yard receiving game of the season.
The former Pro Bowl runner leads the Ravens with 23 receptions for 154 yards.
"I think for me, I’m past stats," Boldin said. "My whole career has been built around that. I’m just to the point now where I just want to win a championship. Whatever that takes, I’m going to do it."
Boldin has had an even larger role with Lee Evans sidelined with a left ankle injury.
"For me, I don’t feel pressure at all," Boldin said. "I play football, I’ve been doing it all my life. So, I don’t feel any pressure at all."
NO BIG DEAL?: For fullback Vonta Leach and strong safety Bernard Pollard, it was a win against their old football team.
Leach played for the Texans for five seasons, and Pollard for the past two.
Pollard started with Tom Zbikowski out with a concussion, posting five tackles and two pass deflections. And Leach blocked for Ray Rice, who gained 101 yards on the ground.
"No matter who were playing, I wanted to win," Leach said. "They were just another team that we had to play against. A lot of my friends are over there. They’re a good football team, but we’re just a little better."
Pollard took a similar stance.
"We all need to be playing every week for a reason," he said. "A guy didn’t get drafted as high as he thought he would, or a guy was just on that team, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. With this team, we all take it personally every week. The one thing Ray always says is beat the guy across from you. If you beat the guy across from you, nothing but good things can happen."
ADJUSTMENTS: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was under some duress, getting sacked twice and hit seven times.
However, the offensive line eventually settled down against a fast Texans front seven.
"We worked on it," guard Andre Gurode said. "They’ve got a good defensive front and we had to make some adjustments to keep the pressure off of Joe."
Flacco wasn’t sacked in the second half.
"They did bring some things we didn’t see," offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "We had to make some adjustments, but we came back. They’re pretty quick."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh downplayed the breakdowns, attributing them to mistakes more than the offensive line being overwhelmed.
"We didn’t really make any changes," Harbaugh said. "We just cleaned up a couple of things. The one pressure we had backed up down there was because we misidentified the front. It was a simple mistake, but we made it. Joe expected it to be picked up when he wasn’t. That’s what happened there."
Flacco had no complaints.
"Yeah, they did a good job," Flacco said. "The offensive line fought and fought all day."
TEMPERS FLARE: Texans defensive end Antonio Smith got into a brief fight with Ravens offensive guard Andre Gurode.
Smith went after Gurode on the ground, throwing punches before the players were separated. Smith was flagged for consecutive personal fouls.
"He pushed me," Gurode said. "I was blocking on the play and he threw a couple of punches at me. I was about to retaliate, but the referee broke us up. I was going to get him, but it’s good."
Smith acknowledged that he needs to control his temper.
"I just have to find the player that I am and harness it and control it," Smith said. "I feel like he tried to finish me off with a foul. The play was over, the running back was down. He tried to finish it off a little bit, and I just flipped him off. Then, it got out of hand after that. The second play, he knocked me off the ball. He started walking up to me, bouncing his head.
"By the time he got close to me bouncing it, I kind of head-butted him like, ‘Get away from me, back up off me.’ It wasn’t a punch or anything. I have to keep my composure at all times. It’s hard to do that because the same thing that makes me go is the same thing that, in a right, is a wrong. The only thing that I can do is just work and be a better man."
GRUBBS UPDATE: Left offensive guard Ben Grubbs missed his fourth consecutive game due to a painful right turf toe that he aggravated during practice last week.
Grubbs’ toe got stepped on.
Afterward, he was in no mood to provide an update on his status.
"I’m not talking about my toe," Grubbs said. "No, I’m done. I don’t even want to talk about it. I’m tired of talking about it. When I get back, I’ll give you all the time in the world. I’m tired of it."
LEWIS HITS MILESTONE: Lewis sacked quarterback Matt Schaub in the third quarter, making him the first player in NFL history to record 40 sacks and 30 interceptions.
Now, Lewis has 40 ½ career sacks and 31 interceptions.
"We’re talking about Ray Lewis," free safety Ed Reed said. "Ray is an awesome player. One of the best football players of all time because he loves this game. Me and him were talking before the game, and it’s something we were born to do. You do other things off the field business-wise, but football is what we were born to do."
BIG PLAY ROOKIE: Rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee decked Schaub in the fourth quarter for a sack, forcing a fumble recovered by Texans offensive lineman Wade Smith.
The fifth-round draft pick from Mississippi State had a strong preseason, but is looking to build off that foundation.
"I just keep hustling, keep pushing, stay on my feet and keep my eyes on the ball," McPhee said. "It was real emotional. I felt like I was fading out. The plays in the preseason, that was yesterday. I had to keep pushing and show the coaches I still belong on the field."
FIRST TOUCHDOWN: Backup running back Ricky Williams scored from four yards out for his first touchdown since joining the Ravens.
"It’s nice with a new team to get into the end zone," Williams said. "It’s special, especially to do it in front of the home crowd.
"It was just kind of an off-tackle play, a play that we were running all day long. The guys in front of me did a nice job."
INJURY UPDATE: The Ravens reported no new injuries.
LINEUP LOOP: Besides deactivating Grubbs, the Ravens also scratched offensive guard Mark LeVoir, outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, cornerbacks Chris Carr (left hamstring), cornerback Jimmy Smith (left high ankle sprain), safety Tom Zbikowski (concussion) and wide receiver Lee Evans (left ankle).
In addition to scratching star wide receiver Andre Johnson (hamstring) and starting fullback James Casey (strained pectoral), the Texans also deactivated rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, wide receiver Trindon Holliday, cornerback Brandon Harris, offensive guard Thomas Austin and offensive tackle Andrew Gardner.
BY A FOOT: Reserve cornerback Danny Gorrer made an unusual, pivotal play in the fourth quarter.
Covering Texans wide receiver Jacoby Jones, he seemingly allowed a four-yard pass that would have converted a fourth down. However, an instant-replay challenge by Harbaugh overturned the play when officials discovered that Jones only got one foot down in bounds.
His other foot came down on Gorrer’s cleat, never touching the ground.
"Whatever it takes," Gorrer said. "It worked out. I tried to play technique. I thought they might be coming my way. I tried to make a play for this team. I can’t relax, period. I got to take advantage of every opportunity. That’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t want to let these guys down. That’s what I think about when I’m out there."
QUICK HITS: The Ravens’ game captains were outside linebacker Jarret Johnson and Leach and Pollard. … The Ravens observed a moment of silence before kickoff for Pat Modell, the late wife of former Ravens and Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell. The philanthropist and actress died Wednesday at the age of 80. The Ravens wore decals on the back of their helmets with the initials, PBM, short for Patricia Breslin Modell. … The Ravens are now 4-0 under Harbaugh following a bye, 11-5 all-time coming off a bye and have won 9 of their past 10 following a bye. … The Ravens are 68-23 at M&T Bank Stadium since the 2000 season, 22-5 at home under Harbaugh. … The Ravens have 15 sacks in five games and are on pace to record 48 this season. They set a franchise low with 27 sacks last season. … Kicker Billy Cundiff set a franchise single-game record with seven touchbacks, breaking his previous record of five touchbacks. He’s now the Ravens’ all-time franchise leader with 64 touchbacks, topping Matt Stover’s record of 60 touchbacks. Cundiff’s five field goals ties Stover’s four five field goal games for the most in franchise history.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times