BALTIMORE — In his post-game comments following the Ravens’ 29-14 win over the Houston Texans, coach John Harbaugh offered a mission statement of what his football team tries to do to the opponent every week.
And it certainly applied on Sunday despite an uneven performance by the offense in the second and third quarters.
“What you want to do is to wear people out early, and then you want to run them over late,” coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s kind of the philosophy that we have.”
The Ravens started fast against the Texans with a 16-play, 97-yard touchdown drive that shaved 8:47 off the clock in the first quarter before Joe Flacco bulled into the end zone from the 1 to give Baltimore a 7-0 lead. It was the first touchdown allowed by Houston in the first quarter all season.
However, despite 310 total yards through the game’s first three quarters, the Ravens entered the final 15 minutes only leading by two as the offense continued to sputter inside the 35, settling for three Billy Cundiff field goals after the touchdown on their opening drive. That changed in the fourth quarter as the Ravens began running over the Texans just as Harbaugh as they like to do in the closing minutes of the game.
A lackluster 22 rushing yards in the first half prompted running back Ray Rice to approach running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron about adjusting to a more inside-focused zone-blocking scheme after struggling to get outside against the Texans defense. The change prompted Rice to run for 62 yards in the fourth quarter to finish with 101 on 23 carries. The Ravens rushed for 91 yards in the second half.
“I wasn’t doubting that they would defend that well,” Rice said, “but getting Vonta [Leach] downhill and getting me downhill kind of had the linebackers going over the top a little bit. We were getting the backdoor cut; it was just poise.”
The change led to the Ravens finally reaching the end zone again when backup Ricky Williams scored from the 4 to put the Ravens ahead 26-14 and eliminate any potential late-game heroics from Houston quarterback Matt Schaub.
The Ravens defense was tough throughout the game, but reiterated the notion of finishing strong by holding Houston to just three first downs and 58 yards while pitching a shutout in the fourth quarter.
“To be considered a great defense, those moments, you’ve got to close out,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “You’ve got to go back on the field; you know the offense is going to keep coming. You’ve got to take your hats off to those guys. They’re going to play for 60 minutes.”
The Ravens — on both sides of the ball — followed Harbaugh’s advice verbatim.
Getting off the field
All week, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and the Ravens defense lamented their inability to get off the field on third down against the Texans last year in a 34-28 overtime victory in Houston where the Ravens squandered a 21-point lead in the second half.
Sunday began with a similar story as the Texans were 5-for-6 on third-down plays in the first 17 minutes of the game, but the Ravens buckled down after that as Houston converted just one of their last 10 third-down opportunities to complete a 6-for-16 effort against the Baltimore defense.
“We just buckled down,” safety Ed Reed said. “We knew what we had to do. It was all about execution. Like I said, those guys have an awesome offense. Even without Andre Johnson, they were making plays. You put Andre in there and they’re awesome.”
Perhaps no third-down stop was bigger than safety Bernard Pollard breaking up a third-and-9 pass intended for running back Arian Foster from the Baltimore 38. The play may or may not have given the Texans a first down, but it would have certainly prompted them to go for it on fourth down with the Ravens leading 19-14 with just over 11 minutes to play.
Instead, Texans coach Gary Kubiak sent out the punt team to give the ball back to the Ravens.
“It’s just about playing the ball,” Pollard said. “You play fast and good things happen. We all did that. It wasn’t pretty at all times. I don’t think you guys saw the mistakes. At the end of the day, if you play fast, it makes up for them”
The Texans followed that near-miss by failing to even pick up a first down on their final three offensive series of the game.
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