Ravens need to get an attitude, be more physical

When was the last time you saw a team afraid to play the Ravens?

The Ravens' former style of play is what hurts them.

The present Ravens don't play a dominant, physical style, but opponents remember. In the past two weeks, they have had a similar theme.

They wanted to out-hit the Ravens. They wanted to be more physical and intimidating, and grind the Ravens down.

After a 25-13 win Sunday, the Houston Texans walked off the turf at NRG Stadium with a swagger. The Ravens used to be able to walk out of stadiums like that.

"It's something we talked about all week," Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said. "They're a very good football team. They're a physical football team. They're a tough football team, but we're no slouch ourselves. We're not going to let somebody come into our house and just try to walk all over us."

They didn't.

"I mean we got our [butt] kicked," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said in summing up the day.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he wanted to only bring back the things from Houston which would help his team in preparation for the season finale against the Cleveland Browns Sunday.

Here's a suggestion: Get an attitude and be more physical.

In the last two years, a lot of losses were the results of the Ravens getting knocked around. Denver banged them around in the season opener last season and New England crushed them later in the year.

When Cincinnati plays the Ravens, the Bengals play more like the old Ravens than the new Ravens. Pittsburgh got after the Ravens earlier this season in their rematch, and Houston basically clubbed the Ravens into submission Sunday.

By the end of the game, most of the Ravens offensive line had tapped out.

"We came right out and smacked them in the mouth," Houston nose tackle Ryan Pickett said. "They weren't ready for that. It kind of surprised them."

It shouldn't have. This is a franchise whose early legacy has been built on great defense and out-hitting other teams. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Rob Burnett, Tony Siragusa, Sam Adams and Michael McCrary were all tough guys.

So when the Ravens put on the uniform on game day, they either better be ready to uphold the tradition or get knocked out.

"You know, they pride themselves in being a physical team," Pickett said. "We just took the challenge and said we're going to be more physical than them up front. We did that."

There wasn't a more physical player on the field than Watt. He dominated and took turns beating every single Ravens offensive lineman as he worked along the line of scrimmage.

But the Ravens don't have anyone close to Watt. Few teams do, but the Ravens don't have a single player who can dominate a game against a good team. Outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs can take over against a Jacksonville or Tampa Bay, but the good teams aren't scared by either of them.

The Ravens have no thumpers at inside linebacker or at safety. Besides Watt, Houston has two good cornerbacks in Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, who can press receivers at the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, the Ravens have corners who really don't belong in the league.

There's that issue about being physical again.

On offense, the Ravens have a good running game, but they don't have that bruiser running back who can wear down an opponent. Most of the offensive linemen are technicians, not maulers who can knock a player off the ball, which is why the Raven struggle in short-yardage situations.

Houston didn't have a great quarterback Sunday, but the Texans worked their game plan to perfection. They threw enough long balls so the Ravens couldn't pack the line of scrimmage, but at the same time they stayed with the running game and wore the Ravens down.

That's all part of being physical.

That's what the Ravens haven't been the last two games. They have trouble scoring in the first quarter, which shows a lack of urgency.

For a team trying to seal a playoff spot, the Ravens didn't show the same intensity level of San Diego, which rallied from a 21-point deficit to defeat the San Francisco 49ers Saturday night.

The Ravens effort Sunday was disappointing for a team close to making the playoffs. It's as if the Ravens played their best game nearly two weeks ago against Miami.

That game was expected to create some momentum, but that hasn't happened yet. There are quite a few things missing from this team, but one has stuck out in the last two games.

The Ravens have to get back to showing a sense of urgency and being physical. They need to show intensity early and get off to a fast start.

Defense and tough play have been the trademark of this franchise for nearly 15 years. If the Ravens have forgotten, their opponents will remind them on game day.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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