How many people thought the Ravens’ defense would dominate the Houston Texans, nearly shutting them out?
The Texans (6-4) are among best teams in the AFC, led by one of the NFL’s MVP candidates in Deshaun Watson.
But the Ravens didn’t just defeat Watson on Sunday. They punished him and overwhelmed Houston during a 41-7 beatdown that enhances Baltimore’s case as a Super Bowl contender.
Even Ravens safety Earl Thomas III was surprised by what transpired, as the Texans didn’t score until midway through the fourth quarter.
“I hope nobody on the team gets offended,” Thomas said. “I didn’t think we were going to do them like that.
“Relentless effort, we attacked, we stayed aggressive. We have a great defense, but D-Wat is a great player as well. It was a great outing for everybody on defense. Today was a little surprising to me.”
Last season, Baltimore had the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense and relied on it to win the AFC North. This season, the bigger story has been the offense led by Lamar Jackson, an MVP candidate at age 22 who enjoyed another spectacular game against the Texans, completing 17 of 24 passes for 222 yards and four touchdowns.
Imagine if the Ravens’ defense becomes special, like it was against the Texans.
“The offense has been playing well all season and we’re finally clicking on all levels,” defensive end Chris Wormley said. “Today felt pretty good being the side of the ball that kind of got us going. … There’s no weak links.”
The Ravens offense came out a little sluggish and the game was scoreless after the first quarter. The door was open for Houston to take a lead, but Baltimore’s defense didn’t allow it.
Outside linebacker Matthew Judon was the captain of the Ravens’ wrecking crew with two sacks and four quarterback hits, leading a ferocious pass rush that had a season-high seven sacks and dogged Watson from start to finish.
After the departures of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith during the offseason, Judon has embraced his role as the primary pass rusher and is having the best season of his career during a contract year. Judon is playing himself into a huge offseason payday, but for now his play is paying off for the Ravens.
“He was incredible,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “The energy he brought to the table, the speed to power rush, he was pretty explosive. I thought it was one of best games. I can’t wait to see the tape. It might have been his best game.”
The Ravens gave Watson an idea of the miserable day awaiting him on the opening drive when Judon sacked Watson and forced a fumble that was recovered by outside linebacker Jaylen Ferguson.
Watson is a master at buying time in the pocket, escaping trouble, and creating something out of nothing. However, the Ravens were having none of that.
Along with Judon leading the charge, Tyus Bowser had two sacks and Jaylon Ferguson also had one sack The third-round pick is blossoming into another Ravens rookie making an immediate contribution, after setting the NCAA all-time record for career sacks (45) at Louisiana Tech, a mark previously held by Suggs.
“This isn’t college, I know I’ve got to get come out every week and be extremely focused,” Ferguson said. “Getting more reps, I’m starting to see NFL offenses better and what they do. Practice is like the dress rehearsal and Sunday is the big show. We put on a big show today.”
Defensively, the Ravens are playing with obvious swagger. Cornerback Marcus Peters, who wasn’t even with the Ravens when the season started, did a splendid job when matched up against Texans All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (seven catches, 80 yards).
Peters, who spent plenty of time jawing at Hopkins, is clearly enjoying himself since the midseason trade that brought him to the Ravens from the Los Angeles Rams. With Peters joining a secondary that also includes top cover corners like Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr, joined by Thomas and Chuck Clark at safety, they can make opposing quarterbacks hesitate to throw.
Watson (18 for 29, 169 yards, two turnovers) didn’t look as comfortable as he normally does, and he was clearly outplayed by Jackson. The Ravens’ defense is doing its part to help Jackson win the MVP award by shutting down other quarterbacks that are in the running. The Ravens now have victories over Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks), Tom Brady (New England Patriots) and Watson – three quarterbacks who are in the MVP conversation.
“I think Lamar definitely separated himself again against another Hall of Fame type quarterback,” Thomas said. “We’ve been about putting Lamar in the best situation possible. We definitely want him to win the MVP award. That was a little motivation for us to play the best football we could possibility play.”
Thomas also gave props to Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale for another outstanding game plan. With defensive tackle Michael Pierce (ankle) inactive today, two tackles signed this week made their Ravens debut and played well – Domato Peko (two tackles) who started, and defensive tackle Justin Ellis (one tackle). Inside linebacker Josh Bynes, who was signed earlier this year, had an interception.
Everyone the Ravens insert into their lineup recently seems to make an immediate impact.
“We have so many moving pieces coming in and out the game, new guys coming in making plays,” Thomas said. “Wink has broken the code on how to put guys in position to have success.”