Texans vs. Ravens: Takeaways from Baltimore's 30-9 Win over Houston
The Baltimore Ravens finally strung together a complete game, and the result was an easy victory over an AFC favorite. The Houston Texans had control early, but a pick-six and a punt-return touchdown gave the Ravens a comfortable cushion, and the game wasn’t in doubt after that.
Watching the game, there were a number of things that stood out. Firstly, the defense was phenomenal, and they’re looking better with every game that they play. Likewise, the offense is improving, but they still have a long way to go.
Some players caught your attention, either for the plays that they made and sometimes for the ones they didn’t make.
To summarize the most significant talking points of the game, here are some of the most important things to take away from the Week 3 contest.
The Defense Is for Real
Pundits were skeptical about claims that the Baltimore Ravens defense would be better than it was last season after the loss of more than half of the starters, which included players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
That skepticism seemed warranted after a Week 1 annihilation, courtesy of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Since that game, however, the defense hasn’t given up a touchdown and has only allowed 15 points in those two games.
The run defense held the duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate under 100 yards, and the pass rush was, once again, exceptional. The Ravens got consistent pressure on Matt Schaub throughout the game, hurrying him repeatedly and sacking him three times.
In addition, the secondary (especially the safeties) played very well, although they were aided by an ailing Andre Johnson who eventually left the game.
After three games, the defense’s poor play in Week 1 is looking more like an anomaly than a cause for concern. The Baltimore Ravens have a defense that can make plays and carry their struggling offense to victories.
Bend but Don't Break
After giving up seven touchdowns to the Denver Broncos, Baltimore hasn’t let another team into the end zone. The Texans found themselves in the red zone on two occasions in the first quarter, but the Ravens forced them to kick field goals.
In their first two games, the Texans had been perfect in the red zone and converted seven trips into touchdowns. They couldn’t continue that form on Sunday against a stingy Ravens defense.
The Baltimore offense needs all the help that it can get right now, and the defense is providing a huge boost to the team.
Daryl Smith Was the Steal of the Offseason
General manager Ozzie Newsome made a bevy of moves this offseason, especially on the defensive side of the ball. There was a big-name acquisition (Elvis Dumervil), the addition of high draft picks (Matt Elam and Arthur Brown) and the signing of respected veterans (Chris Canty, Marcus Spears, Michael Huff and Daryl Smith).
Smith was not a well-known name, but he left the Jacksonville Jaguars as their all-time leading tackler. He has been a lynchpin for this Ravens defense, playing every snap and making his presence felt on the field.
He accumulated 10 tackles against Houston, had one quarterback hit and added a pick-six which completely changed the momentum of the game and started the Ravens rout.
In an offseason where three of the previous inside linebackers are unavailable (Ray Lewis is retired, Dannell Ellerbe is a Miami Dolphin and Jameel McClain is still recovering from a spinal cord contusion), Daryl Smith has been the most important Ravens defender through the first three games and the biggest signing of the offseason.
The Safeties Are Set
Michael Huff was signed to be a starting safety, but he has been left out with James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam starting the last two games.
Elam is a rookie, and it wouldn’t make any sense for the Ravens to pull him when he’s growing with every snap. The first-round pick played well against the Texans and was very active in run support. He is still learning the intricacies of the position from a coverage standpoint, but his play has been a cause for optimism.
Beside him is Ihedigbo, who was fantastic against Houston. He made nine tackles, a number of which were in open space, and displayed his excellent form. He was also good in coverage, defending two passes.
Michael Huff is getting time in a rotation at the position, but it doesn’t look like he will win back the starting job any time soon.
Problems on the Ground
The Ravens are yet to put forth an effective running performance, and that must be a serious concern for offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.
Most of the blame has to be placed on the offensive line that hasn’t done a good job of opening running lanes for the backs.
Some of it could be a result of circumstance, though.
The Ravens hardly ran the ball in their blowout loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 1. Additionally, the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans both have very talented and physical front sevens that are difficult to run against.
The rushing attack will look to get back on track next week against the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo has given up 155 rushing yards per game in 2013.
There is already cause for concern, but if the ground game doesn’t perform against the Bills, the coaching staff needs to figure out what is going wrong.
The Offense Needs Ray Rice
Bernard Pierce is a good running back, but the Ravens were sorely missing Ray Rice on Sunday. Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reports that Rice is likely to miss next week’s contest, too, so Pierce will get another chance to carry the load against the Buffalo Bills.
Pierce is a fine runner, but Rice brought a lot more to the table than just his running skills. Joe Flacco missed his security blanket against the Texans, and Rice is also excellent in pass protection.
It is crucial that Baltimore doesn’t rush Rice back, and the training staff should err on the side of caution next week since the Ravens can’t afford Rice missing any more time.
The Tight Ends Need to Be More Involved
Tight ends have been making plays around the league this season, as the position is being revolutionized. The Ravens have had front-row seats to witness Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron have big games, but they still haven’t gotten much out of their own tight end duo.
Ed Dickson caught a long pass for a first down against Houston, but it was negated by a personal foul against Bryant McKinnie, and he wasn’t targeted after that. Dallas Clark bounced back from last week with some critical plays on third down, but he dropped another pass on Sunday.
Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com reports that the coaching staff has been trying to get Dickson more involved in the game plan, but it hasn’t paid dividends yet. This is partially due to his prowess as an in-line blocker, but he is a great athlete who can make big plays down the seam.
Joe Flacco needs to make a concerted effort to look for his tight ends and try to get them going next week.
Justin Tucker Bounced Back
Justin Tucker made 91 percent of his field-goal attempts last season, so it was shocking to see him miss two field goals against the Cleveland Browns in Week 2.
The coaching staff expressed no concerns about his misses last week, and more importantly, neither did Tucker, according to BaltimoreRavens.com.
Nevertheless, it was good to see him connect on all three of his field-goal attempts against Houston. His Week 2 game was an anomaly, and it looks like he’s moved on from it.
The Return Game Has Been Fine Without Jacoby Jones
When Jacoby Jones injured his knee in a collision with his own teammate, it meant that Joe Flacco had lost another offensive weapon. The offense can use all the warm bodies it can get, but his presence was even more important on special teams where he was coming off a Pro Bowl year.
In the two games since the injury, the return game has been great, and Tandon Doss has been phenomenal on punt returns.
He made a number of big plays against Cleveland, and he scored an 82-yard touchdown against Houston.
Doss has been a nice surprise after not making the final 53-man roster for the season. He was re-signed after Jones’ injury and has been an integral part of Baltimore’s two wins.