Welcome to the Monday Ravens 10-Pack, where reporter Jon Meoli hits on 10 stats, notes, and thoughts after a 25-13 loss to the Houston Texans. Read ahead for notes on where it went wrong offensively, some bright spots in stopping the run, and the total disarray of the Ravens' running game.
1. And so they wait. The Ravens flew to Houston with designs of returning home for a restful but focused holiday week before clinching a playoff spot against the sputtering Cleveland Browns. Instead they must rely on two hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos, to beat a third rival, the Cincinnati Bengals, or on a relatively punchless Kansas City Chiefs team hosting and beating a San Diego Chargers squad with everything to play for. On one hand, it's amazing the Ravens are where they are given the early season circus involving Ray Rice and the futile pass defense. But this fate seems somewhat fitting for a team that whiffed on multiple chances to join the league's top tier of teams -- most notably Sunday's loss to Houston, plus early season losses to Indianapolis and San Diego.
2. To that end, the Ravens' offensive line deserves credit for nearly everything good that happens to the team this season. But when it goes bad for that unit, it really goes bad. Quarterback Joe Flacco has been sacked just 18 times this year. Ten of those have come in three road games -- at Indianapolis (four), at Pittsburgh (four), and at Houston (two). Only four of those sacks have come in the team's seven home games. He was hit 23 times in those games alone. It appears that in a new system that's all about timing, Flacco doesn't have the ability to cope with his rhythm being disrupted that much.
3. When the game was still competitive, the best player not wearing a Texans jersey was Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams. I wrongfully left out of my story about the Ravens' streak of keeping runners under 100 yards, a streak that continued when Texans running back Arian Foster remained on the sidelines with 96 yards. But Williams was in the backfield a ton in the early portion of Sunday's game, and was a big reason why the Ravens' run defense settled down and slowed the run. He made just two total tackles, but as always, Williams' impact was greater than what shows in the box score.
4. Starting safeties Will Hill and Darian Stewart more than doubled their highest Pro Football Focus grades of the year with strong performances in run support Sunday. The former received a 2.8 grade, while Stewart earned a 3.5. The Ravens' support from the secondary on run plays helped limit Foster to minimal yardage for long stretches of the game, and while both are still getting a feel for the defensive system in coverage, it's encouraging to see a pair of players seemingly earn those jobs to keep.
5. What a fall it has been for running back Bernard Pierce. After showing flashes as a rookie, Pierce had an injury-hit and unproductive sophomore campaign and spent the entire offseason as the presumed opening week starter as the team waited for Ray Rice's suspension to end. A Week 1 fumble meant he'd never have a chance to seize that role, and Sunday, he had one carry for a 2-yard loss and was passed over for undrafted rookie Fitzgerald Toussaint. Pierce seems to have a shorter leash than most, and I doubt he's thrilled with his role this season. This just adds to it.
6. Outside of that, it might be time to worry about the Ravens' running game. A week after 1,000-yard rusher Justin Forsett averaged just 3 yards per carry, he ran 10 times for 19 yards before exiting with a turned ankle. Over the last two games, the Ravens have run 42 times for 126 yards, a 2013-esque 3 yards per carry, albeit against difficult defensive lines. With one game looming against a Browns defense that is among the league's worst at stopping the run, that aspect of the Ravens' attack will be crucial if this team stands any chance at playing past next weekend.
7. Rookie inside linebacker C.J. Mosley rightly deserves the praise he receives for stepping into the Ravens' defense from Day 1 and playing at a high level. But after a slow start, his counterpart, Daryl Smith, has been every bit as good. Smith has been one of the most active players on the team the last several weeks, with 11 total tackles Sunday to give him 119 on the year and placing him 10th in the NFL, just seven behind Mosley. Were it not for his unnecessary roughness penalty on the sidelines against quarterback Case Keenum, his Pro Football Focus grade would have been among the team's highest.
8. What a difference a few weeks makes when it comes to the non-Mosley rookies. As the season wears on and it gets to, as John Harbaugh called it, the time between the conference championship and the bowl game, the Ravens' contributions from rookies have decreased drastically. Mosley and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan continue to play starring roles, but safety Terrence Brooks and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro went on injured reserve last week, John Urschel and James Hurst saw their first action in weeks in reserve and the latter looked overwhelmed, and Toussaint was the only rookie to play significantly on offense Sunday. The Ravens could really use that early season depth at some positions, and the rookies aren't giving it to them.
9. Earlier in the season, cornerback Jimmy Smith's shutdown presence on one side of the field made fellow cornerback Lardarius Webb a frequent target for opposing quarterbacks. Smith's absence obviously crushed the Ravens defensively, but Webb has quietly played well since the bye. He has allowed 10 catches on 13 targets for 151 yards and a touchdown in that stretch, according to Pro Football Focus. He gave up three receptions on six targets for 21 yards Sunday. For a player with a big salary cap number next year, and with a paucity of cornerbacks elsewhere, a healthy Webb's play in the month of the season could earn him another year in Baltimore.
10. It's a pretty tough week in the "Three-star Accountability Corner," where I take it like a man when it comes to my predictions for the three stars of the game. Tight end Owen Daniels didn't have the homecoming anyone thought he would, especially himself, and his one catch on six targets for 6 yards doesn't exactly get him a curtain call with the three stars of the game. Hopkins caught five passes for 38 yards and was limited by both an ankle injury and Webb. Watt, of course, was super human, with eight tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss, and four quarterback hits. Plus, the attention he got from the Ravens' offensive line freed up other rushers. So I'd say he earned a podium spot, at the very least. I can't say the same for myself, who made horrible predictions.