In the Ravens’ three wins leading up to yesterday’s 29-14 victory over the Houston Texans, they had managed a cumulative turnover margin of +9, forcing 13 while giving up the rock only four times themselves. While impressive, this kind of of takeaway ratio is unfortunately not sustainable; the ball isn’t always just going to bounce into your team’s arms.
Yesterday was a prime example of the law of averages correcting itself against the Ravens. The two teams combined to put the ball on the M&T Bank Stadium turf a total of three times – and each time it bounced right to someone in a white Houston jersey.
Fortunately, the Ravens showed that here in 2011, they are a good enough team to win even when the breaks aren’t going their way. On top of that, they did so by more than two touchdowns over a quality opponent despite being -2 on the day.
It wasn’t necessary as easy as the 29-14 score might lead one to believe, of course.
The Ravens found themselves in a dogfight yesterday, trailing Houston 14-13 with just under nine minutes to play in the third quarter after Matt Schaub found Jacoby Jones for a 32-yard touchdown strike. I’ve been a proponent of starting Bernard Pollard in the strong safety spot over Tom Zbikowski, but on that play we saw the glaring weakness in Pollard’s game – pass coverage – on full display. Pollard abandoned his deep half responsibility, jumping the tight end’s crossing route, which left Ed Reed all alone against Jones. While I obviously don’t know the exact play call there, as Greg Gumbel stated on the CBS broadcast, you have to imagine that’s not how defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano drew it up – with four Ravens covering the tight end while Reed was left 1-on-1 against the Texans’ fastest player.
What you have to love is the way the Ravens responded following that touchdown, outscoring Houston 16-0 over the final 24 minutes. They did it in explosive fashion, as Joe Flacco connected with Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin for passes of 51 and 56 yards, respectively, on consecutive drives at the end of the third period. What you don’t have to love, however, is that both of those big plays led to just field goals, as the Ravens’ red zone woes continued. They managed just two touchdowns on four tries Sunday, and that is a number that is going to have to improve moving forward.
It was a workmanlike day for Flacco, who finished 20/33 for 305 yards and an interception, despite being under tremendous pressure from the Houston front seven all afternoon (and well into the evening). Though he was sacked only twice, it seemed like every time Joe dropped back he was getting hammered by not just one, but several Texans defenders. As always, Joe bounced right back up, but the protection is another issue that the Ravens need to address in the coming weeks. The good news is that the next two opponents, Jacksonville and Arizona, are tied for 19th in the league with 11 sacks each. We don’t need another gimpy Joe down the stretch like we had in 2009, and with five games left against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Cleveland (not to mention San Francisco) – all teams that can get after the passer – the offensive line is going to need to get their collective act together here as the leaves start to fall.
The Ravens did do something yesterday that we’ve been clamoring to see here for what feels like years – make adjustments on the fly. Word is that, after Ray Rice was stuffed for a five-yard loss on 1st-and-goal from the Houston 10 to end the third quarter, he and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery went to Cam Cameron and implored him to run the ball inside more, and stop trying to get outside on the Houston linebackers. Cam listened, and the result was Rice gaining 62 of his 101 rushing yards in the fourth quarter.
On the other side, Pagano was seeing his defense get torched on third downs at the onset, as Houston converted on five of their first six attempts. Chuck dialed back the blitzes that Schaub was exploiting, and Houston finished the day just 6/16 (37%) on third down attempts (still better than the Ravens’ woeful 3/11, I have to point out).
Finally, I’d be remiss to not mention Billy Cundiff. The steady kicker was 5/5 on field goals, including a season long 48-yarder. Seven of his eight kickoffs went for touchbacks, with most going through the end zone (one all the way to the seats). Cundiff might never make Ravens fans forget local hero Matt Stover, but he has certainly made everybody forget old Steve Hauschka, right?
It wasn’t always pretty, but that 29-14 result sure looks good on the schedule. With Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (WTF?) keeping pace at 4-2, the Ravens did what they had to to hold serve at home against a team they could very well see again in January.