In a closely contested affair, you always got the feeling that whoever made fewer mistakes out of the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans would win, and so it proved with the Ravens advancing to the AFC Championship game as they held onto victory against a stubborn and resolute Texans side.
While people have been quick to come out and criticize Joe Flacco, the Ravens quarterback did exactly what was needed, against a defense that has caused plenty of teams problems and didn’t turn it over. Throw in several excellent throws and compare it with the performance of T.J. Yates, and you have the biggest reason the Texans are going home and the Ravens are preparing for the Patriots.
Along with Jacoby Jones of course.
Houston should be disappointed with defeat, but if anything, this performances bodes well for their future. Without their quarterback (or his backup) and their best defensive player for large parts of the season, they were still competitive against one of the best teams in the league even with a fifth round rookie quarterback under center. The future is bright and while the AFC South may be a tougher nut to crack in 2011, these young Texans look poised to be a perennial playoff team.
They just came up against a Ravens team that had more poise and talent in key areas. That was good enough for Baltimore this week, but will it be against New England and Tom Brady? You wouldn’t imagine so, but then at the same time you don’t see the Patriots putting in the kind of defensive display the Texans were able to. So while it was a good day for Baltimore there’s plenty of work to be done if they’re going to make a Super Bowl reappearance.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
Rise of the Rookies
One rookie may have had a day to forget but two didn’t. We don’t hear the phrase ‘rookie wall’ quite as much as we use to, and performances like the ones J.J. Watt (+4.5) and Brooks Reed (+4.7) are part of the reason why. The two were excellent here in picking up three sacks each (down with half sacks!) as well as an extra three hurries combined, with some excellent work in run defense. I want to single Reed out especially for some praise, chiefly because for a large part of the year he got away with picking up sacks unblocked to give him stats and thus hype that flattered him. Well this week was an all action display from the rookie outside linebacker, he comprehensively got the better of Ed Dickson in the run game. On the Ravens failed fourth down attempt Tim Dobbins got all the praise but watch how Reed beats Dickson on his inside shoulder before helping to bring down Ray Rice. His performance in this game does give the Texans an interesting decision to make as to what they do with Mario Williams regarding either a franchise tag or long term deal.
Back when Duane Brown (+2.4) was selected by the Houston Texans in the 2008 NFL draft, he was viewed as something of a reach, and something of a project. In year one he looked like a wasted pick with a performance so bad he had the fifth lowest grade of any tackle. A year later he was still sporting a negative grade (-8.5) but ‘jumped’ up to having the 22nd lowest grade of all OTs. Then last year you started to think that the project was starting to come together. A positive grade on the year saw Brown finish 18th overall on a list that includes both left and right tackles. That was the precursor to an excellent 2011 that saw him get the nod for second team All Pro from the PFF staff, and that award obviously didn’t factor in another great display against the Ravens. With the Ravens moving talent about (Terrell Suggs played 68.8% of his snaps on the right side) Brown came up against numerous Ravens but walked away only giving up the solitary pressure while making a number of impressive blocks in the running game. This was most evident when he pulled to the left with 10:37 left in the second quarter and prevented the normally excellent Jarret Johnson from setting the edge, thus springing Arian Foster for a big gain. When you want to get rid of rookies after one dismal year look at the player Brown has become. His development has rewarded the coaching and patience of a Texans organization that continues to impress.
Where did it go wrong?
It feels somewhat cruel to breakdown the failings of a fifth round rookie quarterback playing against one of the best defenses in the NFL, but sometimes you have to call a spade a spade. T.J. Yates (-5.0) wasn’t helped by playing from behind, but he simply made too many bad throws and too many bad decisions. All three of his interceptions were horrible decisions to make throws that were never there, and he could quite easily have walked away with another two passes intercepted but for drops by Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. He did make some nice plays (his ability to escape pressure and move the chains with a throw on the move with 9:04 to go in Q3 as he was about to get drilled especially), but it was never enough to overcome some poor decision making. It was always asking a lot of a rookie and Yates can be proud of getting the Texans this far. But ultimately he just wasn’t and isn’t good enough, right now to take this team any further. A statement that can only frustrate Texan fans who wonder what could have been with Matt Schaub at the helm.
Baltimore – Three Performances of Note
Not done yet
This hasn’t been a vintage year for Ed Reed (+6.7) who struggled to a 14th place finish in our overall safety rankings, but if you think he still can’t turn it on you’re sorely mistaken as Yates found out. Reed, who added a QB pressure on his only blitz and came up with a big stop on third down early on in the run game, was at his unbeatable best. I say unbeatable in a literal sense as on the four balls thrown into his coverage he gave up no receptions while picking off one ball and breaking up another three. The injuries may have impacted his consistency but it has to be a worry for the Patriots that Reed can hit the switch and play lights out like he did here. To think, some people were calling for him to be benched.
A tale of two tackles
Things got so bad for Antonio Smith that he seemed to be taken out of obvious run situations late in the game and that was chiefly down to Bryant McKinnie (+5.2) having his way with him. McKinnie had a decent enough day in pass protection (two hurries surrendered), but saved his best display in the run game as a Raven for when it mattered most. He got the better of Smith on five plays, twice being able to block the normally disruptive Texan defensive end to the ground in a display of physical dominance (such as with 7:21 to go in Q4). His performance wasn’t matched by Michael Oher (-4.3) who had plenty of issues in pass protection (three sacks and three hurries allowed), while losing his battle with Watt in the run game. He made some decent plays (leaving Watt on the floor with 5:10 to go in Q3) but also got beaten, and badly at times. Take 11:45 in the third for instance, where he’s never able to engage Watt who gets off him easily to make a tackle for a loss. Oher flashes talent but has never lived up to his rookie year, and this performance was a great example of that.
Time to recognize?
A two interception day is bound to grab the attention of people, but this isn’t the first time Lardarius Webb (+4.4) has caught the eye this year. After a difficult 2010 where Webb looked to be trying to play himself back to health after his excellent rookie year was cut short, the Raven cornerback is threatening to join the elite CB club with a tremendous 2011. He finished the year with our second highest coverage grade behind Darrelle Revis, and it’s that form he’s taken into the playoffs. Seven times the Texans threw at him and he gave up just the one reception for 19 yards while intercepting two balls and breaking up another. With Webb covering the slot in nickel situations be prepared to see one heck of a battle when he lines up over Wes Welker.
- Johnathan Joseph gave up just one reception on the four balls thrown his way for 9 yards (while playing 32 snaps in coverage).
- The Ravens missed only one tackle the entire game, while the Texans missed just the three.
- Jacoby Jones earned a -3.6 grade for his work on special teams. The lowest grade a returner has picked up this year.
PFF Game Ball
Ray Lewis played exceptionally well and it’s only fair to give him a mention, but there’s no looking past Ed Reed who made the big plays at the big moments.