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Late For Work 9/23: Ravens Reassert Themselves As Team To Watch


Ravens Reassert Themselves As Team To Watch

Few people thought the Ravens could beat the Texans.

My research showed just 15 of 43 experts predicted a Baltimore win – a measly 35 percent.

But the Ravens did win, and they won in a 30-9 blowout fashion that avenged the 30-point loss from last season.

The Texans are considered one of the AFC's elite, and the Ravens made a huge statement by handing them their first loss of the season.

"The Ravens reasserted themselves as a team to watch in the AFC just two weeks after being embarrassed in Denver," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley.

"The Ravens dominated one of the AFC's better teams for the last 2 1/2 quarters," added The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec.

The Texans have a massive arsenal of weapons, starting with one of the best running back duos in Arian Foster and Ben Tate. The receiving corps is led by Pro Bowler Andre Johnson and rookie sensation DeAndre Hopkins, combined with tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham. Quarterback Matt Schaub is no slouch.

Juxtapose that with the injuries that are piling up on the Ravens' side. They were without several starters, including tight end Dennis Pitta (hip), No. 2 receiver Jacoby Jones (knee), running back Ray Rice (hip) and defensive end Chris Canty (groin). Depth is being challenged too, as linebacker Arthur Brown (chest), defensive tackle Brandon Williams (toe) and receiver Deonte Thompson (foot) were also absent Sunday. Defensive tackle Terrence Cody (knee) and reserve running back Shaun Draughn (ankle) were knocked out of the game.

No wonder few believed the Ravens could pull it off. But even with all those men down against a dangerous Houston team, Baltimore got it done.

The victory came mostly on the back of the defense.

"It's a nice story to say the Baltimore Ravens looked like their old selves on defense on the day Ray Lewis and Ed Reed returned to Baltimore," Hensley wrote.

"The real story is the Ravens defense wants to establish its own identity, and this hard-hitting, quarterback-harrassing group made its boldest statement yet."

Hensley says the real defensive motivation came from wanting to avoid another embarrassing outing like the one against quarterback Peyton Manning. Now in back-to-back home wins over Cleveland and Houston, Baltimore has allowed just five field goals and zero touchdowns.

So what has changed since the Denver debacle?

Hensley notes that since that Week 1 loss, the defense has benched safety Michael Huff and cornerback Corey Graham in favor of two first-round picks in safety Matt Elam and cornerback Jimmy Smith. The unit hasn't given up big plays since then either. While Manning completed nine passes of 23 yards or longer, the Ravens defense hasn't given up a pass of 23 yards in the last 67 pass attempts.

The pass rush has been monstrous, but the most significant change from Week 1 has mostly come in the secondary.

"The bigger factor has been the improved coverage," Hensley wrote. "Smith is getting his hands on passes, and [safety James] Ihedigbo is a difference-maker. He finished with nine tackles, including two for loss, two passes defended (one on fourth down in the fourth quarter) and a hard hit on Schaub.

"Ihedigbo was the best safety on the field on the day many were focused on Reed."

The Ravens have always said they believe this defense can be great, and just three weeks into the season we're starting to see that prediction come true. Not at all bad for a unit that has seven new starters from the Super Bowl-winning defense.

"It's too early to say the Ravens' defense is back. But this defense … is certainly coming together with big plays, a ferocious pass rush and a defiance in the red zone," Hensley wrote.

D. Smith 'Way Better' Than Lewis/Ellerbe

The Ravens got off to a horrible start in the first half, but the turning point came when linebacker Daryl Smith jumped a Schaub pass and returned it for a touchdown. It put the Ravens in front at 10-6, and the Texans never regained control.

The moment came just as Lewis got to the sideline for the Ring of Honor ceremony before halftime.

Smith has been showered with questions about replacing the Ravens 17-year leader. And with the future Hall of Famer watching, Smith answered the questions emphatically.

"Darryl Smith way better this year than Ray Lewis & Ellerbe were last year," tweeted Ross Tucker of NBC Sports.

Smith, who signed a one-year deal reportedly worth $1.13 million in June, may not have the charisma that Lewis had, and he didn't do a dance after his touchdown, but USA Today's Jim Corbett said Smith is proving to be "the right man to replace" Lewis.

Reed Emotional After Ravens Fans Welcome

Prior to the game, Reed said he didn't know how Ravens fans would react to his return to Baltimore, saying "fans can be tricky."

Maybe that's why he was so impacted by the fans' warm welcome. Not only did they shout out "Reeeeeeed!" when the Texans were introduced out of the tunnel, but they waited for him after the game too.

The Sun's Matt Vensel described the scene, "As he approached the tunnel he had sprinted through so many times, hundreds of Ravens fans, who waited several minutes after the blowout victory and filled that corner of the lower bowl, bellowed out ‘Reeeeeeeed!’ Reed raised one arm to show his appreciation before his No. 20 jersey disappeared into the darkness one last time."

As Reed addressed the media after the game, Vensel noted that he "got a little emotional" when asked about the fans who chanted his name and waited for him to come back one last time to say goodbye.

"It was awesome, man," Reed said. "When I first ran out, the whole stadium yelled my name. There's so much love and memories that I have here in this city. It's like family, man. That will always be there. That's something you cherish as a player. Not everybody gets that welcome when they come back."

Reed Had 'Zero' Impact On Game

Perhaps Reed's return was exactly as Ravens fans wanted.

They got to say goodbye, but the safety had a little impact on the final outcome of the game.

"Former Ravens safety Ed Reed had a quiet game, looking gun-shy on tackles as he had zero impact on the outcome as the Texans lost for the first time this season," The Sun's Aaron Wilson wrote.

Reed mostly lined up deep in the middle to prevent Flacco from going deep, and the quarterback did little to test the future Hall of Fame safety. Reed finished with three tackles before his head coach pulled him from the game in order to stick to an assigned snap count to carefully work him back from his offseason hip injury.

For the most part, the Ravens tried not to pay too much attention to Reed once the game began.

"I didn't [notice] him out there until the end of the third," defensive tackle Arthur Jones told Vensel. "I was like, 'Is Ed Reed playing? What's going on?' It was so weird to see him in a different uniform, without the Ravens uniform. I told him that I loved him after the game and that he will always be a brother to me."

Run Game Got Going When It Mattered Most

There's no doubt that questions surround the Ravens run game, but there is one silver lining that can't be overlooked.

With Rice and Draughn out of the game, Bernard Pierce got stronger as the game went on and was able to run out the clock to close the game.

"As inept as the offense looked early, they eventually wore the Texans down when it mattered most," Zrebiec wrote.

When Pierce was asked if he thinks Rice will return next Sunday, he said: "Hopefully. If not, it's going to be another long game."

Good For Doss

I have to admit that I'm happy for Tandon Doss, who was cut just three weeks ago. Yesterday's 82-yard punt return is a major boost to his young NFL career. I can't imagine how emotional it must have been for him after not being employed just a few weeks ago.

"It's just nice just to be able to contribute," Doss said. "It's been a long time since I made plays. It just feels good getting back on the field and being part of a team win. It feels amazing."

Check out the GIF below, which highlights Doss' balance as it looked as if momentum might carry him out of bounds on the return. !

Quick Hits

  • @TwentyER: Tough game today hard fought 1 win 1 loss but leason (sic) learn 16 game season! I love my Bmo family fans all of Maryland especially bo brooks! [Twitter]
  • Ray Lewis: "Some things in Life you can't explain in Words, the Ceremony today left me speechless. Sept.22nd Proverbs 22chapter reads. A Great name is rather Chosen, than all of the Riches of this Earth. Thank you Raven Nation." []
  • James Ihedigbo's stock is on the rise says Hensley. "He was the best safety on the field on the day Ed Reed returned to Baltimore. Ihedigbo had nine tackles, including two for losses, two passes defensed (including one on fourth down) and one quarterback hit. Ihedigbo was supposed to be holding the starting spot until rookie Matt Elam was ready, but he has been one of the pleasant surprises for this defense." [ESPN]
  • Meanwhile, stock on the Ravens’ discipline from the first half is on the decline. Wrote Hensley: "The Ravens were flagged eight times in the first 22 1/2 minutes of the game. The Ravens had too many players on the field on a field-goal attempt, which gave the Texans a first down, and left tackle Bryant McKinnie was called for a facemask penalty twice. But, to the Ravens' credit, they finished with nine." [ESPN]
  • @ESPNStatsInfo: Ravens: now 17-1 in last 18 home games vs non-divisional opponents [Twitter]
  • @PMGleason [Ravens PR]: @Ravens have won 14-consecutive home games in the month of September, a streak dating back to 2006. [Twitter]
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers' season is now on life support after a 40-23 loss to the Chicago Bears. The Steelers are now 0-3 to start the season. []
  • Who needs Trent Richardson when you have Jordan Cameron? The Browns tight end finished six catches for 66 yards and three touchdowns in the Browns 31-27 win over the Vikings. []
  • Meanwhile, the Bengals aren't letting the Ravens get out ahead as they upset the Packers, 34-30. Per the Laces Out crew: "The Bengals scored 14 points in 12 seconds. Then gave up 30 unanswered [points]. But in the final 18 minutes at Paul Brown Stadium, Andy Dalton piloted two drives that ended in touchdowns. It was a wild comeback, but the Bengals (2-1) needed help from the Packers to cap this one." []
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