The more things change, the more they stay the same. How appropriate that on a day when Ed Reed returned to play against his former team and the Ravens honored arguably the greatest middle linebacker to ever wear a football uniform—much less a purple one, the defense led the hometown Ravens to a convincing 21 point victory over the Houston Texans.
It was not quite the beating the Texans delivered to the Ravens last October in Houston but the 30-9 victory sent a message to the rest of the National Football League that the demise of the Super Bowl Champs might have been greatly exaggerated.
Here are a few facts and opinions about the Baltimore Ravens victory at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Fact: The Houston Texans ran 61-plays for 264 yards in Sundays contest. They converted just three of 12 third downs, were held to just 94 yards rushing. Texans QB Matt Schaub was 25-35 for 194-yards and one interception. He was sacked three times, losing 24-yards. His rating was a paltry 72.8.
Meanwhile, Arian Foster and Ben Tate combined to carry the football 21-times for 90-yards. For the second consecutive week, rookie DeAndre Hopkins led all Texans receivers in receptions (6) and yards (60). Andre Johnson was hobbled with a leg injury and no factor while TE Owen Daniels was also no factor with five catches for 29-yards.
Opinion: The Ravens defense was good on Sunday but they must continue to get better. This unit has the potential to be special, as they simply imposed their will on a Texans offense that has quality talent. They are not the Denver Broncos but they have weapons. The Ravens defense bent but did not break on the Texans two drives that resulted in field goals. In fact, Houston gained 26 percent of their total yardage for the day on their opening drive when they marched 69-yards in 16-plays. On their third drive, Houston only had to go 18-yards to make the score 6-0. On three separate drives, the Texans gained a total of minus one yard.
Led by Daryl Smith, who had 10-tackles and an interception returned for a touchdown, the first of his NFL career, the Ravens defense was consistent and dominating on Sunday. How appropriate that the player of the game was Smith on a day when the franchise honored the best ever MLB to play the game. The Ravens are now 30-2 since 2000 when they record a pick 6.
Haloti Ngata, whom Greg Gumbel referred to as the Rock of Gibraltar continues to play well inside. He, along with Terrell Suggs and Arthur Jones each registered a sack of Schaub. Jones and Suggs have now combined for five sacks this season for the Ravens. The biggest difference in the game was perhaps the speedy play of the safeties. This was critical in taking away the short middle of the field, preventing TE Owen Daniels from killing the team as other TE’s of Daniels skill set has done. James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam played quick and showed phenomenal closing speed. Both combined to make 14-tackles while breaking up three passes.
In fact, according to Profootballfocus.com, Ihedigbo registered six defensive stops against the Texans, only one less than he registered in 294 snaps in last year’s regular season. The biggest noticeable difference to this fans eye was the speed of the Ravens defense vs. the zone-blocking scheme of the Texans offensive line. Arian Foster is a very patient back and at times found the hole but on most occasions, the speed of the Ravens defense did not allow for the Texans running game to develop, as the secondary closed fast and the linebackers tracked well all day. The defensive line clogged running lanes and consumed blockers allowing the Ravens back seven or eight to make plays and stops.
It was easy to sit back and flash back to the early part of the 2000’s when the Ravens defense dominated and special teams made big plays, especially after Tandon Doss, who did not make the final roster cuts but was brought back after the Jacoby Jones injury, returned a Shane Lechler punt 82-yards for a TD.
Doss, who showed flashes of breaking one, last week vs. Cleveland, did on Sunday against Houston. The Doss punt return TD came just 1:54 following Smith’s pick 6. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, over the last 12 seasons, 15 teams have scored a pair of defensive or special-team TDs within a 2-minute span and those teams have a 15-0 record.
FACT: Through three games, the Ravens rushing attacks has just 232-yards on 88 attempts and is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry. Bernard Pierce had 24-carries for 65 yards on Sunday, while newcomer Shaun Draughn saw his first action as a Raven with four carries for just two yards.
Opinion: Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is showing no signs of abandoning the running game and I’m not so sure his predecessor (Cam Cameron) would be doing the same at the moment. The Ravens had just 24 yards on the ground at halftime but utilized the running game to kill clock and make a few plays in the second half. The biggest play came with the Ravens once again pinned down deep late in the third quarter. From their own four-yard line, Bernard Pierce took a Flacco handoff and scooted up the right sideline for 25-yards getting the Raves out of trouble.
The drive was huge in that it consumed 13 plays for 69 yards and led to three more points, essentially ending the contest for Houston who would now have to score three times to win. The Ravens rushed six times on the drive totaling just 27-yards. Therefore, that means after Pierce’s 25-yard scamper, the Ravens gained just two yards on five carries—But they stayed with it, killing valuable clock time. The yards will come but they will not if the Ravens give up on running the ball, which is a big part of Flacco being able to go down the field.
FACT: Speaking of Flacco, he was 16-for-24 for 171 yards, was sacked twice and posted an 87.3 rating. He targeted WR Torrey Smith only three times in the first half but after the Ravens' defense and special teams put them on the board, Flacco and Smith, who finished with five catches for 92-yards, seem to find a rhythm. Two plays between Flacco and Torrey Smith changed the way the Texans were forced to play defense in the second half.
The first was when Flacco beat his nemesis in Texans cornerback Jonathan Joseph, who has four career pickoffs against Flacco, for a 48-yard pitch and catch to the Houston 35-yard line. Not long after, Flacco went after Kareem Jackson, who committed two pass defense penalties on the day, as Smith made a spectacular catch but replay overturned the catch because Smith did not have complete control all the way to the ground.
The plays backed up the Houston secondary and forced them to play the speedy Ravens receivers more aggressively. On the same drive but a later sequence, Flacco found Smith running a left-to-right crossing route, beating Brice McCain to the sideline and getting the ball to the Texans' 8-yard line. Kareem Jackson was then flagged for interfering with Tandon Doss in the end zone, which gave the Ravens first and goal at the one. Flacco was 3-5 on the drive for 77-yards with Smith hauling in two of them for 75.
Opinion: I was worried if Smith could improve his game enough this season to be the go to guy the Ravens would have to have in the receiving corp. This drive proves he has become just that. Smith seemed to put the offense on his back during this drive and simply made plays, even if they did not count. Yes, Flacco made some nice throws with nice touch, as he stood in the pocket under constant pressure but this was shades of Flacco to Boldin in the playoffs. Without Smith making those plays, the Ravens offense likely falters again and is forced to punt. Bernard Pierce scored form the one to give the Ravens a 24-9 lead to cap off the nine play 80-yard 3:55 drive– but if the Ravens do not get this touchdown, the game likely remains 16-9 and well within reach of a Houston team that won its first two games in come from behind fashion.
Fact: The Ravens offensive line was offensive at times in the game on Sunday. According to Pro-Football Focus, JJ Watt had one of his best games as a pro. His +7.0 run defense grade from this game is highest single game run defense grade of his career. During their ReFo segment yesterday, PFF said, “Through three games Watt is already at a +20.8 overall grade, only marginally behind the +23.8 he sat on at the same stage last season. What makes this performance all the more astonishing is who he did it against, doing what very few defensive players can do and making an All-Pro guard like Marshal Yanda (-1.7 overall) look ordinary. Watt did a lot, more than any other player, of his good work against Michael Oher more so than Yanda but his work against the Ravens ground game (+7.0) was astonishing and the seven stops he recorded this week is a mark he only topped once last season, when he recorded 10 against the Colts in Week 15. His base stats may be down on last season, but don’t for a second think he isn’t playing just as well as he did all of last season.”
Opinion: Just like last year’s game in Houston, the Ravens were unable to stop Watt but unlike like last year’s game in Houston, the Ravens did not let Watt beat them. He made his plays but the Ravens were able to minimize the damage Watt was able to do. The team's perennial leading tackler, inside linebacker Brian Cushing and his partner Joe Mays were dominating against the Ravens rushing attack but Flacco stayed cool unlike last year, when he posted the lowest total ESPN QBR in five seasons. While this was not the Ravens best offensive line performance, getting a win vs. a defense like the one the Texans have is always a step in the right direction.
JUST THE FACTS PLEASE—JUST THE FACTS
Joe Flacco is now 11-0 at home in September starts in his NFL career, the best record for a quarterback in the Super Bowl era (minimum 10 attempts per start). The Ravens are now 6-1 vs. Houston all-time and the Texans remain one of four AFC teams that have yet to win in the Charm City. San Diego, Miami and Oakland are the others. (Press Box On Line)
Following the Ravens Week 1 debacle in Denver, in which they were the last ranked defense in the NFL, Baltimore is now ranked 15 and climbing the charts, allowing an average of 344.3 yards per game. The Seahawks, Texans, Jets, Saints & Steelers are 1-5.
Staying with the statistical theme, the Ravens are sixth in the NFL with 11 sacks this season. They are ranked No. 12 at stopping the pass and fourth against the run, allowing just 74.7 yards per game on the ground. The offense is heading in the opposite direction, as they are ranked No. 30 overall in the NFL after three weeks. They are No.20 in passing and No.25 rushing the ball with just 77.3 yards per game. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars rank lower in the league in terms of yards per carry.
The Ravens are much better on third down on both offense and defense this season than they were last year at this time. On offense, the Ravens are 24 for 54 on third down and are ranked eighth in the NFL with a 44.4 percent conversion rate. On defense, they are ranked 13, holding opponents to a 35.7 conversion rate. The Ravens have held the Texans and Browns to 7-for-27 on third down (25.9) the previous two weeks after allowing the Broncos to convert on 8-of-15 attempts.
The Ravens ran the ball 31 times and threw it 24 times, including two sacks allowed. The team's total run-pass ratio through three games is now minus-39 (88 runs, 119 passes, including eight sacks allowed).
The Texans' defense allowed 236 total yards in Sunday's loss, the first time Houston allowed an opposing team less than 250 yards and lost the game since Week 8 of 2007. The team was 15-0 in those games from 2008-13 before Sunday's loss.
The Ravens have posted a record of been 2-1 or better through the first three weeks for 10 of the last 11 seasons. The team has lost only three of its last 29 at home and has not lost two of its first three during any season since 2005. The last defeat I can find in September, at home for the Ravens, occurred when the Indianapolis Colts beat them 24-7 back on Sept 11 2005. The Ravens are now 37-23 in September, their most successful month.
The Ravens have not been shut out at home since eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, beat them 25-0 in the Ravens 2002 home opener. That was the game in which the Ravens honored Johnny Unitas, who passed away earlier in the week. They have now gone 177 consecutive regular-season games without being shut out and have scored in 293 of its 295 games.
The Ravens will travel to Ralph Wilson Stadium to play the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. The Ravens last and only visit there resulted in a 19-14 loss, which was the first of a club-record nine straight defeats, following a 4-2 start. Baltimore is 3-2 all-time vs. Buffalo. They beat them the last time the two teams played in Baltimore on October 24, 2010 but it was not easy for the Ravens.
The Bills jumped out to a 24-10 lead before the Ravens stormed back to take a 27-24 lead. Following a Willis McGahee two-yard plunge, the Ravens would lead by 10 points but Buffalo did not quit and scored 10 fourth quarter points to tie the game at 34-34. Billy Cundiff would win the game for the Ravens with a 38-yard field goal in overtime.
The Bills once beat the Ravens way back in 1999 on a memorable Halloween afternoon in Baltimore. In a game in which both teams combined for just 449 total yards of offense, the Ravens led the Bills all afternoon. The only offense the Ravens could produce was a Tony Banks to Justin Armour TD pass and a Matt Stover field goal.
However, with a 10-6 lead, Banks fumbled the ball with just 3:48 to play giving Bills QB Doug Flutie one more shot. After pressuring the former Heisman Trophy winner all afternoon, forcing three interceptions and sacking him three additional times, Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis elected to play a prevent scheme and Flutie took full advantage. Flutie needed just 1:50 to drive the Bills 45-yards on nine plays completing four of eight passes. The completion was a five-yard TD pass to Jonathan Linton to give the Bills their first lead of the game and the eventual 13-10 win. The prevent defense had once again done its job by preventing the team using it from wining the game.
The Ravens would get one more shot with 1:50 to play but Banks could not recover from the fumble and was sacked by ESPN’s Marcellus Wiley to start the final drive. He would complete just one pass of the five he threw, as the Bills took over downs to run out the clock. The Ravens dropped to 2-5 on the 1999 season with the loss but did rebound to finish 8-8 before winning the Super Bowl the next season.
** fact stats courtesy of ESPN Stats & info, Elias Sports Bureau, and Ravens Media Press Guide.