Five thoughts on the Ravens' 25-13 loss to the Houston Texans Sunday at NRG Stadium:
Worst Time For Offensive Meltdown With Playoffs On Line
The Ravens offense picked the worst possible time to experience a complete meltdown. It is not a stretch to say the season was on the line. A win would keep the Ravens at the forefront of the playoff race. A loss would severely damage their prospects. The Ravens defense hung in there, keeping the team in the game while the offense turned the ball over and went nowhere. Quite simply, a unit ranked among the league's best completely fell apart. Houston's defense came in on something of a roll, having limited the Colts offense to season lows a week earlier, but a performance this dominating came out of nowhere. Could it be that the Texans knew Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak's playbook because he had coached in Houston? Perhaps. The Ravens couldn't do anything. Their running game, ranked fifth in the league, went nowhere. Their line was overwhelmed. Most pointedly, Joe Flacco was nothing short of miserable, off target and prone to mistakes. The Ravens generated just two first downs in the first half, fell behind by 16 points, and Baltimore mistakes short-circuited any shot at a comeback. It's a devastating result for the Ravens, who had control of their playoff destiny before this game, but now need help, lots of it.
Ravens Fail To Make Keenum An Issue
Most of the headlines coming into the game were about the Texans having to pluck Case Keenum off the Rams' practice squad and start him because of injuries to their other quarterbacks. But Keenum survived quite nicely. On the game's first play, he threw a perfect deep ball for a 35-yard gain, sending the signal that he was no patsy. The Texans' Arian Foster ran the ball well enough to ease the pressure on Keenum. The line kept him upright for the most part, although he did take some shots. Mostly, the Texans coaches did a nice job of making the situation a positive, or at least not a negative. They ran some Wildcat plays early and used a trick play to score when Foster threw a touchdown pass in the red zone. Keenum was clearly under orders to get rid of the ball quickly rather than let the Ravens' pass rush overwhelm him. Keenum did look inexperienced a few times, but bottom line, the Ravens failed to make him the issue.
One Of Flacco's Career-Worst Games
Flacco's day was so awful that you almost have to laugh. This was the clunker of all clunkers. Seventeen of his 20 first-half pass attempts resulted in incompletions. His balls sailed high, low, into the ground, away from receivers. He had thrown three interceptions by the middle of the third quarter. Yes, there were other issues that contributed to his struggles. His running game was of no help, a reprise of 2013. His receivers had
trouble gaining separation at times. His line was repeatedly overwhelmed by Houston's aggressive defensive scheme, which included heavy blitzing. Flacco threw while backpedaling plenty of times. But in the end, he's responsible for his performance, and it was one of the worst of his career, coming at the worst possible time. There were plays to be made when the game was still close, receivers open on crossing routes, but Flacco either missed them or threw passes that defenders could bat down.
Run Game Sputtering Down Stretch
The Ravens' running game carried the offense deep into the season, but it is sputtering badly here at the end. It struggled in Miami until late in the game two weeks ago. Jacksonville pretty much shut it down a week ago. Sunday, it could not get on track at all, as the Texans defensive front overwhelmed the Ravens offensive line. I don't know if Justin Forsett's knee injury is an ongoing issue, but he is no longer finding holes or bursting through them, and with backup Lorenzo Taliaferro out for the season, the Ravens have no one else who has produced with any consistency in 2014. Opponents certainly have discovered that if you can stop Baltimore's running game, the entire offense is thrown off kilter. That's what Jacksonville accomplished a week ago, and Houston was even more successful. Again, maybe the Texans knew how to play against a Kubiak offense after playing under him for eight years. They certainly seemed to know what was coming.Best Chance Of Changing Game Was Called Back
Believe it or not, there was a point early in the third quarter when you could feel the momentum shifting and things could have changed. The Ravens had finally scored to pull within nine points, 16-7, after a 45-yard punt return by Jacoby Jones set them up in the red zone. (The red-zone series was about to implode when a huge personal-foul call on the Texans' Jerrell Powell gave the Ravens a new set of downs.) On Houston's ensuing series, Keenum was hit as he passed at his 10-yard-line, and the Ravens recovered what was initially ruled a fumble. A score there could have altered the rest of the game, to say the least. But after a replay challenge, the fumble was ruled an incompletion. I had no issue with the replay call; the Ravens benefitted from a similar one late in their Miami win. They still got the ball back after forcing a punt, with plenty of time to mount a rally. But the offense's nightmare quickly resumed, as Torrey Smith slipped on a timing route and the pass was intercepted. The Texans converted the turnover into points, and the Ravens' best chance to turn the game around was lost.