HOUSTON TEXANS 43, BALTIMORE RAVENS 13
October 21, 2012
Before we get to the criticism of the Ravens play in this 43-13 shellacking at the hands of the Houston Texans – and there is plenty of criticism to come — let’s assess whatever good news is possible to take from this game, a rare blow-out loss by the Ravens.
The Ravens are still 5-2, atop their division, and they are now headed into their bye week, with a winnable division game against the Browns next up in two weeks.
On a lighter note, a bunch of commentators in Baltimore owe Adam Schefter an apology. Schefter, the rumor-mongering ESPN Insider Tweeted earlier in the week that Terrell Suggs would be active and could play against the Texans. Despite being thoroughly mocked from local media know-it-alls, it turns out Schefter actually mongered himself a correct prediction. Suggs played, played a lot, and he played well.
That’s the second bit of good news coming out of Houston. Despite a lack of practice time, Suggs seemed nearly all the way back from the torn Achilles tendon injury he suffered in May, aside from a few excess LBs that he needs to work off.
Another promising area emerging from this bad loss is the improved contributions of players who the team will need to count on going forward. That includes Courtney Upshaw, their first overall draft pick, who plays better each week, and who can nearly make fans forget that the team just cut ties with their first overall pick from 2010, Sergio Kindle. Kindle never overcame off the field issues and injuries and was cut to allow Suggs back onto the 53-man roster.
Undrafted free-agent kicker Justin Tucker continues to be money in the field goal department, making the likes of Steven Hauschka and Billy Cundiff distant, painful memories for fans. At this rate he may make folks forget another Ravens kicker out of the state of Texas, Matt Stover.
The entire special teams unit seems to be clicking for the Ravens, particularly with Jacoby Jones returning kicks and with improved performances on the punt-coverage unit.
Here’s another plus. Dannell Ellerbe stepped up after Ray Lewis went down last week with a torn right triceps and frankly Ellerbe played better this week than Lewis had played in the last six. Sacrilegious to say in Baltimore, but true.
And then there’s Tandon Doss, heir apparent to Anquan Boldin, who caught his first NFL touchdown against the Texans.
Speaking of good news and young players coming up big for the Ravens, promising rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele was carted off the field in the first half of this Texans game with a touching kiss atop his head from Ray Rice and a hang-dog look on his face that seemed to predict a long off-season rehabbing. But when tests administered in the locker room proved no structural damage to his right ankle Osemele was back in the game in the second half, and moving well.
Okay, that’s a lot of positives – more than the team deserves credit for after playing so badly in a blowout loss. The overall grades, as you might guess, aren’t so rosy.
Joe Flacco started each half well, conducting a faster no-huddle attack than the previous “sugar huddle” version. But slowly the wheels fell off. He looked rushed and flustered at times waiting for receivers to get open. He was too slow to react at other times, unaware of Barwin coming in off the blind side for a sack and allowing Whitney Mercilus to knock the ball out of his hand on an early recovered by the Ravens.
While an interception return for a touchdown by Johnathan Joseph can’t be pinned entirely on Flacco since the pass was tipped by JJ Watt at the line, there were far too many tipped balls on the day. At some point Flacco has to stop staring down targets on his three step drops. He completed fewer than 50% of his 43 throws for just 143 yards, with two interceptions on tipped balls and he threw as many TDs to his team as theirs. It’s hard to avoid putting a good share of the blame on the Ravens signal caller this week.
Running Backs: B
Ray Rice didn’t get many chances, but he did a lot with the ball in his hands, sidestepping Watt for gain of eight and then powering the ball for a first-down conversion on his next carry, for instance. His best moment was eluding Bradie James on the edge and then running over Joseph down the sideline. Rice had his hands full picking up blitzers off the edge, butt he did well enough when not outnumbered. Vonta Leach powered the offense out from its own end zone to pick up six critical yards.
Wide Receivers: C+
Torrey Smith’s speed caused a lot of problems for cornerback Joseph, picking up interference calls and breaking off patterns with good recognition of the defense. But he didn’t have much to show for it with just four catches on 13 targets. He and Flacco were not on the same page on too many deep balls. And Smith had one flat-out drop.
Tandon Doss did a nice job setting up blocks on a well-designed screen for the Ravens’ only score. With defenders getting a lot of leeway to put their hands on receivers, Anquan Boldin had trouble getting going, with just three catches for 24 yards off eight targets.
Tight Ends: B-
Dennis Pitta managed a nice lead block to free Rice for a long run early off the right side. He failed to chip Connor Barwin before releasing into his pattern to allow a free run at Flacco and a botched play.
On the opposite side Ed Dickson completely whiffed trying to stop Brooks Reed from coming off the edge. The Ravens would be better served by playing one blocking tight end, and one pass catching tight end. Right now Pitta is the better pass catcher. Although, he started slowly in Houston and had trouble coming out of breaks. But he showed good hands on consecutive passes in the two-minute drill.
Credit Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele with managing to hold Watt without a sack – he had come into the game with a league-leading 9.5 sacks. However, both tackles need to work on getting defenders’ hands down to prevent balls from being batted at the line.
Oher was beaten badly once by Watt who recorded a run-stuff in the backfield. Bryant McKinnie stepped in for Oher when Oher flipped to Osemelle’s spot on the right, and Big Mac was fine as a pass blocker, and still not so much as a run blocker.
Interior Line: C-
Bobbie Williams missed assignments to allow numerous hits up the middle on Flacco. That included being fooled by the same stunt on consecutive plays as Antonio Smith ran up the middle on a four-man rush, with no help from center Matt Birk to slow the interior. Birk did recover a fumble. Marshal Yanda and Birk did a very nice job getting down field on the touchdown screen pass to Doss.
Jimmy Smith was burned by double moves by Kevin Walter, one that led to a dropped touchdown, and another that led to a long gain when the defense had a chance to get off the field. He was also slow to find the receiver on a bootleg, but did show good recovery speed.
Cary Williams seemed too wary of the double move and consistently gave Andre Johnson too much cushion. He also seemed to have trouble figuring out his safety help. For instance, he should have had inside position on Johnson on a slant, with Reed bracketed behind the receiver, but instead he gave Johnson the inside of the field for an easy first down. He also seemed to get his signals crossed with Bernard Pollard and it cost the Ravens a TD when Kevin Water beat him for 25 yards. Williams did pick up a sack on a corner blitz from the blind side of Schaub.
Bernard Pollard seemed to have trouble containing his emotions playing against his old team. He was flagged for a facemask when coming up to defend a dump off to the tight end and was nearly ejected for arguing a hit to a defenseless receiver in the end zone. He made numerous mistakes being overly aggressive and ending up out of position. He and Reed both made a number of hard hits but it did not make up for issues with being out of position, particularly on underneath throws in the middle of the field.
Terrell Suggs was back in a big way, shedding a block and getting a stop on the first snap of the game, and not letting up much from there. Despite limited action he registered a sack, a pass defended, two QB hits, and a tackle for a loss.
His performance was only surpassed by Dannell Ellerbe, who led the team with 12 tackles and was outstanding in pass coverage. On the other hand, Jameel McClain was nearly invisible, despite taking Ray Lewis’s spotlight at middle linebacker and calling the defensive signals. It may be time to give Albert McClellan some snaps on the inside, where he had played well last year when Lewis was out.
Paul Kruger continues to regress, not holding the edge at times and not staying on his feet. He offered nothing as a pass rusher.
Courtney Upshaw got a lot of up-field push, played off blocks, and chased plays down from the backside. He also showed good acceleration off the snap, something that had been lacking in past weeks.
Defensive Line: C
With Ma’ake Kemoeatu out, Terrence Cody got the start at nose tackle. He was inconsistent, not always getting off blocks, falling down, and on a couple of occasions getting blown off the line. Arthur Jones disappeared at times. Haloti Ngata is noticeably hampered by his knee injury, but gamely came back and played on it in the second half. DeAngelo Tyson and Bryan Hall were active this week, and saw a number of reps. They did look fresher, but were not always in position.
Special Teams: A
Justin Tucker didn’t give up many kick return opportunities to the Texans and was reliably accurate on both his field goals, from 51 and 54. His only blemish was a weak onside kick.
Jacoby Jones made a number of strong kick return runs behind excellent blocking, notably Anthony Allen. Jones tallied over 200 return yards on seven chances. The only punt returned by the Ravens came from Ed Reed, for a yard on a bouncing ball that he scooped up.
Corey Graham nearly blocked a punt when he slid away from the gunner to rush at the snap. And he did very well covering punts, forcing Keshawn Martin to muff one before falling on it. Chykie Brown and Christian Thompson also covered well. Thompson was flagged for a personal foul when he lost his cool after the whistle.
Ray Rice got the ball just 14 times, with nine runs and five catches. That’s always a recipe for failure, even when the Ravens fall behind early, and Cam Cameron can’t be lulled into allowing it to happen. He also continued to have Flacco take a three-step drop, turn, and throw the ball into leaping wall defenders too many times. When defenders are running free time and again off the edge and you don’t have a play to counter the numerical disadvantage, that’s a problem.
Dean Pees pledged to fix the porous defensive line. Houston’s three running backs averaged over five yards a carry on 35 carries. The problem is not fixed.
Tony Corrente’s crew seemed to take the day off. They overlooked multiple offensive holding calls on both teams’ lines. And they seemed incapable of calling defensive pass interference on the Texans’ secondary as they held arms and jerseys running down the field. And then when they did finally start calling PI on Joseph on one of the calls he actually never touched Torrey Smith.
Back judge Greg Wilson was standing directly in front of the Texans’ Owen Daniel as a touchdown catch bounced off the turf, and yet he failed to call it incomplete. Worse, Corrente added insult to injury by failing to overturn the obviously bad call.
The crew also failed to waive-off offensive pass interference on Ed Dickson on a ball that was obviously tipped at the line of scrimmage – it took a John Harbaugh challenge to get the call right. Well, sort of. Corrente turned his mic back to announce the call was indeed overturned, but not because of the booth review that had already taken place, but rather because one of his apparently quieter crewmembers already knew the ball had been tipped. Huh?
Dan Dierdorf and Greg Gumbel were indifferent, at best, in their presentation of what should have been the best AFC matchup of the week.
Viewers endured numerous errors throughout the broadcast, some as basic as misidentifying players, including Dierdorf referring to Pollard as McClain – Dan, they bear no resemblance except for uniform colors — and Gumbel later referring to “Antwan Boldin.” It only took Dierdorf seven minutes to forget that it was Conner Barwin, not JJ Watt who sacked Flacco in the end zone for a safety.
After Garrett Graham was flagged for a facemask on a punt return to move the Texans’ starting spot back to their own 12, CBS broke for a commercial and then came back to show the ball being spotted instead on the Texans’ 42. Presumably Corrente had announced the wrong #88 had committed the facemask. But not only did the CBS broadcast crew fail to explain the thirty-yard difference in field position, they didn’t even notice it.
When it took a replay challenge to reverse offensive pass interference on Dickson, Dierdorf tried to tell viewers that it was still possible to commit offensive pass interference after a ball is tipped–unlike defensive interference, he claimed. Come on, Dan, learn the rules. Of course both teams can start shoving each other when a tipped ball pops up for grabs.
Later, four series into the second half, CBS showed Kelechi Osemele on the sideline and Dierdorf applauded him for still having his shoulder pads on and professionally keeping his head in the game after he had been carted off in the first half. Uh, guys, hello?! Osemele had already been out there playing for two series in the second half.
Although, the way the Ravens were playing, perhaps it’s understandable that these two casual observers would miss it. Much of it was hard to watch.