With the Ravens in their bye week, Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson takes an in-depth look at their 43-13 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Strategy: The Ravens' approach was wildly ineffectual, struggling mightily against the AFC South-leading Texans. The no-huddle was abandoned by Cam Cameron because it rarely works in noisy road venues; it was used once for a run by Ray Rice that lost 2 yards. The running game was scrapped hastily after Rice gained 27 yards on his first three carries. The shotgun formation was used on 37 of 59 plays but didn't prevent the Texans from harassing Joe Flacco or deflecting his passes twice for interceptions. A gifted, aggressive Houston front seven wasn't greeted with either maximum-protection schemes or a commitment to the running game. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees tried to crowd the line of scrimmage, but the front seven got knocked off the football, didn't contain and missed arm tackles. It was every man for himself in the secondary with little evidence of double-team coverage schemes with so many dangerous targets to account for. There was little execution of the game plan on either side of the football.
Personnel: A dynamic all-purpose threat, Rice got only 53 plays and 14 touches: nine runs for 42 yards and five catches for 12 yards. All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach was limited to 14 snaps, including six runs. He appeared to intimidate linebacker Tim Dobbins, delivering a helmet and forearm to his chest before the running plays halted. Tight ends Dennis Pitta (43 snaps) and Ed Dickson (31 snaps) divided up the workload. Bryant McKinnie substituted for a season-high 21 plays at left tackle. Torrey Smith was targeted 13 times but caught only four passes for 41 yards as he and Flacco were clearly out of sync. Linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain and strong safety Bernard Pollard were iron men, playing all 80 defensive snaps apiece. Amazingly, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs played 44 snaps in his first game back from a partially torn right Achilles tendon. Albert McClellan dipped to 24 plays. In his first game as the nickel back, Corey Graham was in for 21 plays.
What went right: Considering the seriousness and timing of Suggs' injury in late April, and that he's well over his listed playing weight of 260 pounds, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year's contribution was remarkable. He displayed a burst on an inside stunt with a rip move to sack quarterback Matt Schaub. He nearly had another sack, decking Schaub as he rolled outside. Suggs even dropped back in pass coverage a few times, set the edge physically and had no setback with his Achilles. Kicker Justin Tucker displayed range and accuracy, making field goals from 51 and 54 yards. Pitta caught five of eight passes thrown his way. Flacco and Rice avoided injuries against a physical defense, and rookie tackle Kelechi Osemele was fortunate that he only sprained his right ankle after initially thinking it was broken. Jacoby Jones delivered a 47-yard kickoff return, concentrating through the boos against his former team. Punter Sam Koch averaged 50.6 yards. Ellerbe had a game-high dozen tackles. Young defensive linemen Bryan Hall and DeAngelo Tyson combined for 46 plays and four tackles in their NFL debuts.
What went wrong: Flacco never got into a rhythm and had a 4.2 passer rating at halftime after completing just seven of his first 20 throws for 52 yards and two interceptions. It was the anatomy of pass-blocking failure when Flacco was blindsided by Connor Barwin for a safety. Left tackle Michael Oher blocked Bradie James and left Barwin untouched as Rice shifted right to pick up a blitzing Danieal Manning. Flacco never sensed the all-out rush coming and got crushed. Later, Osemele whiffed when he tried to knock down blue-chip defensive lineman J.J. Watt's hands when the NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate retreated a bit from the line of scrimmage. The ensuing tipped pass was intercepted by Johnathan Joseph and returned 52 yards for a touchdown. Guard Bobbie Williams' lack of quickness was exposed when Antonio Smith sacked Flacco on consecutive plays, using swim moves to get penetration. Flacco was sacked four times and hit eight times overall. Arian Foster gained 98 of the Texans' 181 rushing yards as defensive linemen Terrence Cody, Arthur Jones, Pernell McPhee and Haloti Ngata failed to build a wall. The ugliest display was when Foster ran into Ngata's arms, then reversed field to dash away from linebacker Paul Kruger for a first down. Cornerback Jimmy Smith is extremely vulnerable to double moves, particularly stop-and-go patterns. Ngata's sprained right medial collateral ligament gave him a lot of discomfort; he was held to one tackle.
Turning point: In a 39-second span, the Texans boosted their advantage to 16-3 as Kevin Walter got behind Cary Williams for a 25-yard touchdown catch followed two plays later by Joseph's touchdown on his fourth interception in his past five games against the Ravens.
X-factor: Lacking a true shutdown cornerback now that Lardarius Webb is out for the season, the Ravens need a supreme pass rush from Suggs to give Smith and Williams a fighting chance against elite receivers.