Ravens Make Statement
Confession: I thought the Ravens were in a pretty perilous spot Sunday. Their defense was one game removed from its Denver debacle. Their offense hasn't found its footing. Their opponent put a 30-point whipping on them last season. They had the home field in their favor, but overall, I thought this was a matchup that could end up making a statement about the Ravens having a lot of work to do to get where they want to go in 2013. Instead, they made another kind of statement, letting it be known that things might not be so different in Baltimore after all, even with all the changes. They won with an oh-so-familiar blend of stout defense, big plays and sheer physicality. They defended their home turf, a hallmark of the team under Head Coach John Harbaugh. They brought another winning team to its knees long before the final whistle, leaving no doubt that, Denver notwithstanding, they're more than up for contending for a playoff spot. It ended up being a day when some big questions were answered.
Lewis, Reed Torch-Passing Going Well
On a day when Ray Lewis went into the Ring of Honor and Ed Reed played for the other team, there was no doubt about the Ravens having passed the torch on defense. It's officially a new era on that side of the ball, and three games into the 2013 season, that torch-passing is going well. After keeping Houston out of the end zone, the Ravens haven't allowed a touchdown in eight quarters. True, the Texans helped with a blushingly conservative game plan; quarterback Matt Schaub barely threw the ball more than 10 yards downfield until it was too late and the Ravens were already ahead. Did Houston misplace its film of the Ravens' loss in Denver? The Ravens were vulnerable that night to routes of 15 or 20 yards over the middle, and Houston had the personnel to exploit that again, but barely tried. Still, the Ravens' defense deserves more credit than Houston's offense does blame. Houston ran the ball decently, but not well enough to control the game, and otherwise, the Ravens hit Schaub hard and played consistently tight coverage on his dangerous targets. I'm sure Ray enjoyed the show, Ed less so. But they've seen it before.
Turnovers Crucial As Offense Figures Itself Out
It was another sputtering day for the offense, especially early, but the unit had a lot to overcome. First of all, Houston's defense is tough and agile, not an easy mark. Then there was the reality that playmakers Ray Rice, Jacoby Jones and Dennis Pitta were out with injuries, Anquan Boldin plays elsewhere and Matt Birk is retired. That's an awful lot of subtraction from the offense that won the Super Bowl. With all that going on, it's obviously going to take time, more time than this, for the unit to find its footing. The running game is a mess. Joe Flacco has consistent chemistry with Torrey Smith, but that's about it. Even Harbaugh laughed about the situation after the game. When asked if the offense had simplified things to deal with all this newness, he said he wasn't sure what's in the playbook. Getting Rice and Jones back should help, as will playing seven of their next nine games against teams that didn't make the playoffs in 2012. What's crucial going forward is that the Ravens don't turn the ball over while they continue to try to figure it all out, and that Flacco continues to battle the tough circumstances and make some big throws every week.
Bright Spot On Offensive Line
The Ravens' offensive line is going to take some heat because they were flagged for a batch of penalties in the first half and their run blocking opened few holes. Understood. Those were and are issues that need to be addressed, especially the run blocking. But before you pile on, please note that Flacco was hit just twice on 26 dropbacks, while Schaub was hit seven times. The steady punishment the Ravens heaped on Houston's quarterback was crucial. I don't think it's a stretch to say the Texans as a whole seemed to recoil.
Playmaking The Difference
You hear the cliché all the time: "We just have to make more plays," or "we made more plays than they did." I'm not usually a fan of that explanation for anything. Making a play is the end result, not the explanation; it's the byproduct of being faster, smarter, more talented or better prepared. Those tangible qualities are what make a play happen, not simply willing it to happen. But having said all that, Sunday's game pretty much boiled down to the two out-of-nowhere plays the Ravens made in the second quarter, Smith's pick-six and Tandon Doss' 82-yard punt return for a touchdown. Neither has previously exhibited a playmaking habit. Smith has played a decade in the league and scored just one touchdown. Doss, in his third year with the Ravens, also had reached the end zone just once. But they made plays Sunday, Smith by jumping an obvious pass route and snatching the ball, Doss by showing good judgment, acceleration and balance. In a rugged game that was otherwise fairly even, their playmaking was indeed the difference.