The Ravens may have had some difficulty Sunday versus the Houston Texans getting in the end zone, but with Baltimore getting their third straight win, there is little to be upset about with the AFC North-leaders.
The Ravens (4-1,) not only earned another win to stay atop the division; they earned a quality win over a Houston Texans squad that was seen as an elite team in the AFC despite coming in with a 3-2 record.
The Texans of course were without All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson, DE Mario Williams, and had injuries to their entire backfield Sunday in quarterback Matt Schaub, RB Arian Foster, and fullback James Casey.
With another quality win under their belt and seeing some offensive production out of running back Ray Rice, receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, and four sacks on defense, the Ravens should have a lot of confidence going forward as they take on the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars next Monday night.
After Joe Flacco’s poor performance two weeks ago against the New York Jets in which Flacco recorded 10-of-31 passes for just 136 yards (2 turnovers), it was on Flacco to have a rebound game.
Flacco finished Sunday 2o-of-33 for 305 yards and one interception versus the Texans. Give credit to Flacco for making plays on the run, being hit after letting go the ball, and not being able to fully step into his throws.
The Houston Texans built their team in the draft and in the off-season to off-set a dominant quarterback in their division in Peyton Manning, and it also affected Flacco Sunday.
Third-year man Tim Jamison stripped Flacco once and recorded two sacks of the Ravens quarterback, and rookies JJ Watt and Brooks Reed were breathing down Flacco’s neck all game long.
Flacco’s lone interception came on a tipped pass intended for tight end Ed Dickson that found its way into the hands of Texans CB Jonathan Joseph. Dickson could not have been more wide open, and Flacco sailed the ball.
Rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith-on his highlight of the day, a 51-yard catch in the 3rd quarter that helped Baltimore go up 16-14with 5:06 in the third-had to go back to get Flacco’s pass.
But later on in the quarter, after Houston punted on downs, Flacco’s pass from his own 34 to Anquan Boldin-over the outstretched arms of Joseph-could not have been in a better spot for Boldin to get the ball.
Best assessment? A better game for Flacco.
Ray Rice continues to show that he is the gas that makes the Ravens offensive car go. If anything were to happen to Rice, Ravens fans can make other plans the first couple of weeks of January. He had 161 yards of total offense against the Texans, and a lot of those yards were hard fought through an aggressive Texans defensive line and linebacking corps.
Giving the ball to Rice 23 times on the ground showed that Cam Cameron and the Ravens offensive coaching staff continue to realize that good things happen when you give him the ball, and his added five touches for 60 yards on passes down the field backed that statement up.
The only area of concern would be Rice’s inability to punch it in the goal line on back-to-back occasions at the end of the Ravens first drive that put them up 7-0 over Houston-one of which had a huge hole for him to run through.
Ricky Williams had a four-yard score in the four quarter to ice the game, 26-14. It was his first touchdown as a Raven, and given the team’s ineptness toward the goal line earlier in the contest and his ability to punch it in, he might be called on more in those opportunities.
Glenn Clark said this on “The Nasty Purple Post-Game Show” following the game: this may have been the best/second best game Anquan Boldin has had in a Baltimore uniform. He did have 100-yard games twice against the Steelers and his 3-TD performance against Eric Wright and the Browns in 2010, but given the man going up against him in Jonathan Joseph, Boldin had a phenomenal game.
Boldin not only performed his role as a possession receiver (8 catches), he of course made plays down the field highlighted by his 56-yard grab in the third quarter, setting up the fourth quarter field goal by Billy Cundiff that put Baltimore up 19-14 with 14:44 left to go.
On the other side, Torrey Smith was frustrated after being bottled up by the New York Jets before the bye week. Smith had five catches for 152 yards and three touchdowns against the Rams three weeks ago, and his rookie flame faded against Darrelle Revis.
Flacco found Smith three times Sunday for 84 yards, highlighted by his 51-yarder that Smith made over Kareem Jackson. Smith did a great job coming back for Flacco’s ball to make the catch, and held it after the hit. Flacco barely missed Smith earlier in the game on a bomb in the back of the end zone, and they were toes away from a connection for a score.
No other receiver caught a pass, and tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson combined for four passes for 29 yards.
This unit dominated. This unit also struggled as well. All depends when you were looking.
Early, the Ravens offensive line had issues protecting Flacco from the likes of bull rushers like Antonio Smith, Tim Jamison, JJ Watt, and Brooks Reed. They also had difficulty clearing a lane for Ray Rice and Vonta Leach to punch it in the Texans’ 1-yard line.
Four times. And they were aided by Antonio Smith’s two personal foul penalties mixed into those opportunities.
But as the game went on, the offensive line appeared to wear down the Texans defensive line. You have to play for 60 minutes of football in the NFL, and the O-line did help Ray Rice get over the century mark for yet another game this year.
The Ravens got four sacks Sunday of Matt Schaub, and the defensive line earned two of those sacks (Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee). However, you can credit Clarence Brooks‘ unit with absorbing blocks to allow Ray Lewis and Jarret Johnson to earn the other two sacks of Schaub. Schaub was constantly on the move in the pocket, and the Texans were forced to leave tight ends Joel Dreessen and Owen Daniels in to block Ngata and Terrell Suggs-taking away other options for Schaub.
Ngata still found a way to earn eight tackles Sunday through the double and triple-teams.
Also key in stopping the Texans was containing running back Arian Foster, the NFL’s leading rusher from a year ago. Foster earned 100 yards against the Ravens in their 2010 contest, and it was clear the Ravens saw him as a threat. They did a great job containing the back, only allowing him 49 yards on the ground on 15 carries.
They were disciplined in their over-pursuit of Foster as well, not allowing him the cut-back lane to get his signature extra yards.
Local guy Ben Tate did have some success in relief of Foster (9 carries, 41 yards), but he also had a fumble that ultimately helped the Texans earn one of their two scores.
Terrence Cody did an impressive job stuffing Arian Foster in several short-yardage situations, earning three tackles.
This unit was helped by the play of the guys in front of them.
Able to flow smoothly to the ball without fear of blocks, Ray Lewis led all tacklers with 12. Both he and Jarret Johnson (7 tackles) earned sacks blitzing from the right side of the Texans offensive line, and had clear lanes to the QB.
Brendon Ayanbadejo had four tackles-mostly in obvious passing situations, but he continues to prove that he is the best option the Ravens have at covering the opposing tight end or running back in the flat.
Much like the defensive line, give them credit for stopping Arian Foster and playing well in coverage a few yards off the line of scrimmage.
This unit probably received the greatest news in the world last week when they heard that Texans WR Andre Johnson would miss Sunday’s game with that prolonged hamstring injury.
That left quarterback Matt Schaub without his weapon, and it was obvious that he was “naked” without Johnson in the lineup.
Schaub made his plays in short yardage in front of the receivers-taking few shots down the field. Mostly because he didn’t have the time to throw either with the Ravens pass-rush keeping him on the move.
Corners Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, and safety Bernard Pollard combined for 17 tackles, and made sure that there weren’t any plays made after the catch and that no receiver got past them.
The longest play of the day for Houston came on Jacoby Jones‘ 32 yard touchdown in the third quarter that put the Texans up 14-13, and it appeared like there was a blown coverage on the play.
Safety Ed Reed-who often takes risks in his own right-was left on his own against Jones, and the speedy Jones made a play behind Reed in the back of the end zone.
Fortunately for the Ravens secondary, it was the only mistake on their part.
The key here was Billy Cundiff, who went five-for-five on field goals on a windy Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium. You could almost give him the game ball here.
He continues to prove to the coaching staff that he is not a liability, and that his Pro-Bowl year from 2010 was not a fluke.
He had eight kickoffs-all of which reached the end zone-and seven of them were downed for touchbacks.
New CB Bryan McCann had two kickoff returns for 26 yards, and punter Sam Koch only had to line up twice.
Like my analysis? Disagree? Comment below, or tune in Monday afternoon on “The Reality Check” as Glenn Clark and I discuss Sunday’s win! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!