The Ravens improved to 2-1 on the season yesterday with a one-sided, 30-9 win over the Houston Texans. After the way that the Texans handled the Ravens last season, there were a number of reasons to be concerned beforehand. Truth be told, I had a much worse feeling about what might happen against Houston than I did before the beat down the Ravens suffered in Denver in Week1. Hindsight however is 20/20, so here’s a quick rundown of what we know now after the Ravens latest victory:
5. Justin Tucker is Back on Track
…for now at least. Maybe it was the reception that Billy Cundiff received from the Ravens faithful last week that had Tucker out of sorts. Maybe it was just the presence of Cundiff in the building that infected Tucker’s right foot last Sunday. Regardless, Tucker made enough big kicks in his rookie year to have some equity built up with fans. That equity though wouldn’t have lasted through too many 0-for-2 performances like he had last week vs. Cleveland, especially if those misses began to cost the Ravens games.
While concern over the kicking game was mild at most, it was nice to see Tucker get back on track with a 3-for-3 game against the Texans, hitting from 28, 45 and 43 yards. Even though the two from 40+ came in late, low leverage situations, any concerns fans had about the Ravens kicking game can be shelved…for now.
4. Dirty Birds
After struggling with penalties last year, the Ravens still appear to have some work to do in that regard. The 2013 Ravens have 20 penalties for 181 yards through 3 games, including 10 for 87 yards in yesterday’s affair. Despite their most penalized performance of the season vs. Houston, the Ravens still managed to win the “penalty battle” as the Texans racked up 14 for 113 yards.
3. Cheering for Laundry
On the day that Ed Reed returned to Baltimore as a member of a new team, and Ray Lewis returned to be honored by the Ravens, it was the guys who suited up in their places that stole the show. James Ihedigbo picked up 9 tackles, 2 for a loss along with 2 defended passes and simply seemed to be everywhere while covering Ed Reed’s old spot. Daryl Smith, playing in Ray Lewis’ former domain plucked a Matt Schaub pass away from a waiting Owen Daniels, and at a time where the Ravens offense was struggling to make hay, made some on his own, hustling it 37 yards to pay dirt.
For all of the Ravens off-season pick-ups, Daryl Smith might have been the least heralded. He was grabbed on the same day the Ravens visited the White House and his signing went basically under the radar. If he continues to play like he did on Sunday, he could be the team’s most impactful addition. It’s also pretty encouraging that his big play came defending a tight end, which has been an issue for the Ravens of late.
2. Doss is a Boss
What more can you say about a guy who was shown the door by the team when they pared down to their final 53 men, only to come back with an emphatic impact? Life out of football, brief as it may have been, seems to have brought out the best in Tandon Doss who is making the most out of his second chance with the Ravens. Maybe in the coming weeks Doss can become more a part of the Ravens passing game, and finally show fans those hands we heard so much about from the team about throughout his first 2 seasons. It’s not like the Ravens offense couldn’t use a pair of hands that they can trust between the hash marks.
1. Who Says Joe Flacco Can’t Act?
While Joe Flacco’s increased, post-Super Bowl public profile has led to some pretty clunky performances as a pitchman in various commercials, Flacco’s acting skills were on full display yesterday. After last season’s debacle at the hands of the Texans, JJ Watt and the rest of the Houston pass rush broke the huddle with their ears pinned back more often than not on Sunday. Flacco used that aggression against the Texans inducing 5 encroachment or defensive offsides penalties on the anxious Texans defense.
Elsewhere in the AFC North
The Bengals picked up a big win and remain tied with the Ravens at 2-1 atop the division. For now at least, it’s shaping up to be an interesting battle between these 2 for the division. They’ll meet again in Week 17 this year, maybe with something actually on the line this time.
The Steelers looked really bad to start against the Bears on Sunday night, but showed some real resilience closing the gap from 24-3 to 27-23. It looked like Pittsburgh had really found their resolve in the face of an 0-3 start. In the end though, their comeback attempt was little more than a chance for Ben Roethlisberger to cough up the ball in a late critical situation…it’s kind of their thing.
Leave it to the Browns to all but announce that they’re going into full tank mode by trading RB Trent Richardson and skipping right over Jason Campbell on the depth chart to 3rd stringer Brian Hoyer to replace injured starter Brandon Weeden, and then pick up a win on Sunday. There are even reports that the Browns are shopping receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little. Of course the Browns can’t even tank right. If they had only known that the best way to win was to actually try to lose, they could have saved themselves and their fans years of heartache.