Five thoughts on the Ravens' 43-13 loss to the Houston Texans Sunday at Reliant Stadium:
Ravens' Reality Alarming Despite 5-2 RecordWorking the locker room after the game, I heard a lot of players say they were disappointed about taking such a beating but that the team's big picture provided solace. In other words, taking a 5-2 record and possession of first place in the AFC North into the bye made the loss easier to swallow. That's fine and certainly true, but I would argue that it's wrong to take any semblance of a see-no-evil view about this team. The reality is a lot more alarming than their record suggests. They're fortunate not to be entering the bye on a three-game losing streak. Kansas City handed them a win two weeks ago, and Dallas completely outplayed them last week, but botched just enough key plays to lose it. The Ravens are getting beaten every which way on defense, and their offense can't perform on the road or stay on the field, as evidenced by Sunday's 4-for-15 stat on third downs. My two cents, I'd credit that 5-2 record as being worth little more than a nickel going forward. This season is still young enough that it could go either way for the Ravens, and they have a ton of improving to do to keep it from going the wrong way.
Run-Pass Balance Out Of Whack
As has often happened in recent years when the Ravens lose, especially on the road, the run-pass balance was out of whack. Ray Rice had just nine carries, almost half of which came in the first quarter. He averaged 4.7 yards on those nine carries, so he was effective, but it didn't matter … he was basically a forgotten man after the first quarter. I'm sure the coaches will explain that the score got out of hand early, forcing the Ravens to pass more, and that's true. But there were still opportunities to establish the run when the game was up for grabs. Leading 3-0 in the first quarter, the Ravens started a possession at their 25 and went pass, pass, pass, punt. Trailing 16-3 in the second quarter, they passed on seven straight plays, failed to pick up a first down, and found themselves down 26-3. The Ravens tend to have problems when they forget about Rice, and this game was another example.
Terrell Suggs Deserves Major Props
We interrupt this volley of criticism to give major props to Terrell Suggs, whose return was the lone bright spot. Just about everyone thought the team was pushing it, risking getting him hurt again, by putting him out there after just one week of practice. But he started, took a majority of the snaps and played well before tiring late, totaling four tackles, a sack and two quarterback hits. He deserves credit for rehabbing his Achilles injury so hard that he was able to return less than six months after undergoing surgery. It's huge for the team, a badly-needed boost for his embattled unit. Suggs offered a glimpse of his approach after Sunday's game when asked what he would do during the upcoming bye week. "Everyone else is getting some time off, but I'm not. My work only continues," he said. In other words, he will spend the week continuing to rehab his injury and get in shape. It's crucial that he does. If there was anything positive to come out of this game, it's that Suggs showed he could be a force again once he is in shape.
O-Line Deserves Blame
Joe Flacco had one of his worst days. You saw it. You know. He was frequently inaccurate, even on basic throws such as a 6-yard slant route. He couldn't keep the offense on the field, failing to convert on eight straight third downs through the first half and into the third quarter. But his biggest problem by far was the Texans' defensive front continually batting down or deflecting his passes, and I'm blaming the offensive line there rather than the quarterback. Yes, perhaps Flacco's recognition was spotty at times, but it's a lineman's job to occupy his defender enough that the defender can't focus on the quarterback and use his hands so freely. The Ravens' linemen couldn't get that done even though they knew the Texans would use that gambit. "We worked on it all week, trying to get their hands down, and we were unable to do it. I was a little disappointed," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. The Texans' swarming young defensive linemen were the biggest difference-makers in this game.
Ravens Didn't Get Steamrolled Because Lewis Was Out
The Ravens took pride in going 4-0 when Ray Lewis was out last season. Well, now they're 0-1 this season after watching the Texans set their franchise's all-time, single-game scoring record and roll up 420 yards of offense during 38 minutes of possession. But no one should make the mistake of suggesting the Ravens were steamrolled on defense strictly because Lewis was out. I'm sure some will say that, but Lewis was on the field last week and the Ravens gave up 481 yards to the Cowboys over 40 minutes of possession. Lewis was on the field the week before when the Ravens allowed 214 yards rushing to Kansas City. The Ravens were getting steamrolled with him, mostly because the players in front of him weren't holding their ground, so while he was missed Sunday in many respects, his absence didn't really have much of an impact. Sad but true.