Defensively, to control Deshaun Watson the way they did, and to get the sacks the way we did, and the pressures," said Harbaugh. "Was just a team effort."
Ravens outside linebacker Matthew Judon knew the defense was going through a “drought” in regards to its sack total.
The unit entered Sunday’s game with 16 sacks, fourth fewest in the NFL. During the team’s bye week in October, defensive line coach Joe Cullen promised a breakout performance for the pass rush, comparing the slump with that of a baseball hitter.
“He hits a line drive off the wall, and he’s not going back to the dugout all upset," Cullen said. "The home runs will come, just like the sacks will come.”
The floodgates finally opened and the defense delivered its home runs in Sunday’s 41-7 blowout win over the Houston Texans, recording a season-high seven sacks.
“You can go on a drought, and then you can catch fire in an instant,” Judon said after the game.
In the week leading up to Sunday’s game, players and defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale spoke about the need to contain Watson, one of the most elusive quarterbacks in the NFL. The defense had faced its share of mobile quarterbacks this season — Arizona’s Kyler Murray, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, Seattle’s Russell Wilson — but Watson posed unique challenges in containment.
Led by Judon (seven tackles, two sacks), who coach John Harbaugh said might have played his best game of the season so far, the Ravens defense made Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson uncomfortable and sacked him six times.
Texans coach Bill O’Brien pulled Watson with four minutes left in the game and inserted backup A.J. McCarron, who was sacked by outside linebacker Tyus Bowser (two sacks) for the defense’s seventh takedown.
“To control Deshaun Watson the way we did, and to get the sacks the way we did, and the pressures, and to force the quick throws, was just a team effort," Harbaugh said. "And it’s hard to rush the way we did. We weren’t just running upfield. We were getting very disciplined rush lanes, and they did a great job of that.”
Watson completed 18 of 29 passes for 169 yards, his third-lowest passing total of the season. His 63.7 passer rating is his worst in a season that has garnered him consideration for Most Valuable Player through 10 weeks.
As Judon made sure to point out during his postgame news conference, the success of the pass rush was also a byproduct of a secondary that had airtight coverage. Watson had success finding star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins early in the game. The Ravens diverted from having cornerback Marlon Humphrey shadow Houston’s No. 1 option in the passing game, as Humphrey has customarily done this season.
Hopkins took advantage of the soft cushions Ravens cornerbacks gave him and picked up three first downs on the Texans’ first two possessions. As the game went on, animated cornerback Marcus Peters found himself matched up with Hopkins and was constantly in his space — and his ear. Hopkins finished the game with seven receptions on 12 targets for 80 yards.
“I think we just created some looks that they weren’t used to seeing,” Judon said. “And we hit our pressures, and we hit them fast. [We] kept the blitzers blitzing and the coverage covering. I think the back end did a great job.
“My first sack, it was definitely not because I just won on my first move. It was a definitely a coverage sack and shouts out to those guys. They’re doing a great job.”
Pressuring the quarterback has been the one flaw in a Ravens defense that leads the NFL with five touchdowns. The unit had scored in its previous three games entering Sunday’s matchup, overshadowing its inability to bring down opposing quarterbacks.
While that touchdown streak ended, the defense added another wrinkle to a still-improving unit, finding another way to shut down one of the league’s best quarterbacks.
“We just focused and locked in, and we knew what we had in the room,” Judon said of the defense’s improvement. “It’s not like we were going to war inside our defensive rooms. We knew what we had. We know what we have, and since then, we brought in four or five new defensive players.
“We’re going to continue to come out here and try to stop opposing offenses. [It] doesn’t matter if they’re 8-0, 0-8, the leader of the AFC, the leader of the NFC. We’re going to try to stop opposing offenses, and that’s our job.”