Ravens 30, Texans 9
Strategy: Jim Caldwell tried establishing the Ravens' ground game without much success, attempting 31 carries for 75 yards and one touchdown with Ray Rice sidelined with a hip injury. They were picky about passes, opting mostly for high-percentage throws with few deep shots. Torrey Smith and Dallas Clark were targeted on 16 of 24 passes. There were 35 no-huddle plays, and the shotgun was used 22 times. A relatively conservative offensive game plan complemented an opportunistic defense and special teams. Dean Pees largely relied on a disruptive front seven to contain the Texans' patented zone-stretch running tandem of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. The secondary was instructed to stay deep and keep Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins in front of them, an effective tactic.
Personnel: The defensive ironmen with 100 percent participation were defensive backs Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam. Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata showed no signs of losing stamina, playing 82 percent of the snaps. Dividing up playing time at strong-side linebacker, Elvis Dumervil was in for 46 snaps, six more than Courtney Upshaw. The Ravens worked demoted safety Michael Huff into nickel and dime packages for 19 snaps. Fullback Vonta Leach was nearly in the game for half the snaps, a bigger workload than forecast in the offseason, when optimism was much higher about the passing game. Ed Dickson played 35 snaps, seven more than Clark, but his one catch and target were nullified by a penalty on Bryant McKinnie. Marlon Brown was targeted only three times, catching two passes for 6 yards. Tandon Doss and Brandon Stokley played 17 snaps apiece.
What went right: Daryl Smith flashed anticipation, undercutting a pass from Matt Schaub and returning the interception for a touchdown; he also made a game-high 10 tackles. Ngata executed a crisp swim move past center Chris Myers for a sack, and Suggs spun around stationary tackle Derek Newton for another. Elam was aggressive but under control. He didn't bite on play-action passes and did well against Owen Daniels, who was targeted nine times. Webb limited Andre Johnson to five catches for 36 yards. Ihedigbo was a force in run support and had arguably his top game since joining the team last year. Marcus Spears did a respectable job in place of injured Chris Canty. Joe Flacco's touch and timing are improving. Doss turned on the afterburners for an 82-yard punt-return touchdown, displaying elusiveness in the open field.
What went wrong: Except for a 25-yard run and a short touchdown run, Bernard Pierce was bottled up as he misread early rushing lanes, broke few tackles and had small holes to run through. The offensive line had trouble blocking J.J. Watt, who racked up nine tackles, three for losses and a sack, but prevented any game-changing plays. McKinnie was flagged twice for face-mask penalties, using poor technique with his hands. There wasn't enough usage of secondary targets as Flacco primarily threw to his first or second reads. With Rice out, the backs combined for just four receptions for 18 yards. The Ravens were penalized for 12 men on the field on special teams.
Turning point: Reading Schaub's eyes, Smith broke decisively on a second-quarter pass intended for Owen Daniels to intercept it in stride and bolt into the end zone. The touchdown gave the Ravens a 10-6 lead they never relinquished.
X-factor: An injury-riddled Bills defense was extremely vulnerable to fly patterns in a loss to the New York Jets, allowing long touchdowns to Stephen Hill and Santonio Holmes. This matchup could be tailor-made for a few bombs from Flacco to Torrey Smith.
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