The Ravens knew all about Texans all-world defensive end J.J. Watt.
The likely Defensive Player of the Year and potential NFL Most Valuable Player has tormented teams across the league this year, and the Ravens knew they had to keep him from wreaking havoc Sunday.
They just couldn't do it.
Watt spent much of the day in the backfield and chasing down quarterback Joe Flacco, and he led a defense that shut down the Ravens in the 25-13 loss at Houston's NRG Stadium.
"We knew what kind of challenge this would be coming in," left tackle Eugene Monroe said. "We were outperformed. That's it."
Watt led a defensive effort that held the Ravens to 74 total yards in the first three quarters, forced three interceptions, hit quarterback Joe Flacco 10 times, and shut down the running game by controlling the line of scrimmage.
"Their defense dominated the game," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the story of the game. They dominated the game really from the beginning to the end. That doesn't mean our guys didn't fight, compete and try like crazy, but we couldn't get anything offensively."
Watt finished the game with eight tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss and four quarterback hits. He was consistently in Flacco's face to force quick throws or to get the quarterback on the run.
"Joe was under duress all day," Harbaugh said. "They just played really well up front. Every one of their guys played well."
The issues extended across the offensive line, as the Texans brought pressure from both sides and up the middle. The pressure kept Flacco from getting into any kind of a rhythm with his receivers.
"As a defensive line unit, they played well together," Flacco said. "They created a lot of havoc and caused a lot of disruption."
Baltimore also took a hit when it lost starting right tackle Rick Wagner and starting left tackle Eugene Monroe to injuries in the second half, forcing a total re-shuffling of the line. By the end of the game, the Ravens had rookie James Hurst at left tackle and John Urschel at right guard, and then moved Marshal Yanda to right tackle.
As much as the pressure up front disrupted Flacco and the passing game, Houston's strong defensive effort started with stopping the run.
The Ravens came into Sunday's game with the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing offense by averaging 132.6 yards per game on the ground. But the running game didn't come close to that production, as running back Justin Forsett was bottled up throughout the contest. He finished with 19 total rushing yards and the Ravens had 33 total yards on the ground.
"We didn't put our best foot forward on offense," Forsett said. "Their defense just did a great job today of stopping the run. We got behind and we just had to do a little more passing early on. Sometimes it's like that. We just have to find ways to execute and win games, and we didn't do that."
Baltimore's rushing offense has been in a funk lately, averaging just 63 rushing yards per game the last two weeks.
"If we want to do something with this offense, we have to run the rock," Monroe said. "And clearly when we don't do that we don't have the kind of success that we're looking for."
The Ravens have to quickly shake off the struggles of Sunday's outing as they still have a chance at the playoffs if they beat the Browns next week. The offensive line will be a question throughout the week with the injuries to Monroe and Wagner – the extent of their injuries was not announced – but the Ravens will need a strong showing up front to end* *the year strong against a division foe.
"I fully expect everyone to regroup and come strong for this last game," Monroe said.