Every Tuesday, blogger Matt Vensel breaks down a critical play, sometimes with the help of Ravens players, from that week's game. Today he looks at Joe Flacco's interception that Houston returned for a touchdown.
There weren't many positive highlights from Sunday's 43-13 loss to the Houston Texans. So instead, let's take a look at the play that blew the game wide open for the Texans. On the first play of the second quarter, the game was still within the Ravens' control. They trailed, 9-3, but they had the ball a few yards shy of midfield. Facing a 2nd and 7, they used their "21" personnel, with two running backs, a tight end and a pair of wide receivers.
The Texans responded by sticking with their base 3-4 defense, with an outside linebacker lining up wide on each side of the line as if they planned to rush after Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco at the snap of the ball.
As soon as the play began, though, only the three down linemen, including star left defensive end J.J. Watt, and right outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus rushed after Flacco. Left outside linebacker Brooks Reed faked a blitz, then covered fullback Vonta Leach as he leaked into the flat. Rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele drew the assignment of blocking Watt and did well in not allowing him to get quick pressure on his quarterback.
But as soon as Flacco planted his feet and took aim at receiver Torrey Smith, who was running an out route to the right, Watt leaped and got his fingertips on the ball. It fluttered in the air for a moment, and Smith could only watch as Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph jumped the route and caught the tipped pass.
"We had a typical quarters coverage," he said. "It seemed that I was kind of playing that particular route soft last year. I had a feeling that they were going to run that same route and made a jump on it."
Fifty-two yards later, Joseph was in the end zone and the Ravens, now trailing by 13 points, were on the ropes. A team that struggles on the road had just given the Texans all of the momentum.
"Oh, definitely," Smith said. "Especially last week, you can't have negative plays. And our defense did a great job. In the first quarter we didn't put up any points -- we had a field goal, I think, at first [to make it] 3-0 -- and then they had the pick-six and they did a great job batting the ball down. That just sums it up. Once we get in rhythm, we're tough, and we weren't able to get in a rhythm."
During the week, Flacco had been asked about Watt's ability to bat down passes. The 6-foot-5 defensive end has now batted 10 passes at the line, according to Pro Football Focus. And Mercilus got his hand on another Flacco pass in the second quarter, leading to safety Glover Quin's interception. But after the game, Flacco said he couldn't worry too much about defenders going all Dikembe Mutombo on him.
"They're big guys. They do a good job of it. Sometimes, they stop rushing the quarterback and they try to get their hands up. People asked me about it before the game 'what are you guys going to do?' There's not really much you can do," he said. "You have to get on them, and you have to do all that, but you have to just trust that the ball is going to get where it's going to be when we have guys open. ... They made some plays there -- they had a lot of batted balls. I don't know, we have to take a look at it and see how we can prevent it a little bit better."
Consider it one of many teaching moments the Ravens can learn from after Sunday's 30-point loss.