ReFo: Texans @ Ravens, Week 3
In a rematch from the 2011-12 playoffs the Houston Texans headed to Baltimore looking to take down the Ravens and establish a 3-0 record to maintain their lead in the AFC South. Instead two mad minutes just before half-time swung the game decisively in the Ravens favor. The Ravens gained another victory as they continue to recover from their opening night defeat in Denver.
For both teams this was not a game to remember for the offenses with both teams struggling. The Ravens decisive scores came through their defense and special teams just before the break with Daryl Smith making an impact play in his second home game while recently re-acquired Tandon Doss served notice of his intention to grasp more firmly to his roster spot with a scintillating punt return. These two scores masked another subpar offensive performance as Joe Flacco and his offense struggle to hit their straps in 2013.
For the Texans this is a defeat that for many will raise and reinforce questions as to whether this is a team capable of taking that next step. While the game was in its early mundane stages the Texans looked reasonably comfortable but in spite of their upgrades in the receiving corps they never looked capable of coming back from that and Bernard Pierce’s one yard touchdown was just a final nail in the coffin of a comeback that never got started in the second half.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
Running out of superlatives for Watt
Last season we saw three defensive players produce seasons for the ages in a single season. While Geno Atkins struggles to reproduce that kind of form and Von Miller is serving his suspension to start the season J.J. Watt (+7.4) continues to produce the sort of performances we saw week in, week out last season as if it is some sort of baseline performance for a 3-4 defensive end, when it is anything but. Through three games Watt is already at a +19.3 overall grade, only marginally behind the +23.8 he sat on at the same stage last season. What makes this performance all the more astonishing is who he did it against, doing what very few defensive players can do and making an All-Pro guard like Marshal Yanda (-1.7 overall) look ordinary. Watt did a lot, more than any other player, of his good work against Michael Oher more so than Yanda but his work against the Ravens ground game (+7.0) was astonishing and the seven stops he recorded this week is a mark he only topped once last season, when he recorded 10 against the Colts in Week 15. His base stats may be down on last season, but don’t for a second think he isn’t playing just as well as he did all of last season.
Quick pressure off the edge
Two years ago the Texans had one of the league’s better tackle pairings with Duane Brown and Eric Winston. Entering their second season without Winston and with Brown sidelined due to injury the Texans started Ryan Harris and Derek Newton against the Ravens and were found wanting in the pass protection stakes on both sides of the line. Newton (-6.2 pass protection) allowed a season high five pressures (1 Sk, 4 Hu) while conceding two holding penalties, one of which failed to halt a sack by Terrell Suggs. On the other side Harris (-3.1 overall) got his first start since Week 14 last season (at right tackle against the Patriots) and was found wanting against Suggs in particular and on one occasion by Pernell McPhee getting inside of him off the edge. While Matt Schaub was only pressured on 13-of-38 dropbacks, it was the speed with which that pressure was often given up off the edge and that stat doesn’t include other pressures that were nullified by penalty. Brown showed return to form in Week 2 against the Titans and they will need him back, healthy and in form in what, right now at least, appears to be a more competitive AFC South in 2013.
Unable to overcome the big error
Quarterbacks overcoming their doubters to win the Super Bowl has been a theme in recent seasons and many placed Matt Schaub in the category of players who needed to or were in position to do that this season. At best you could say that this performance from Schaub just heaps further doubt that he can perform Flacco-esque playoff run later in the season. There was some very good throws to intermediate targets in this game for Schaub (5-of-7, 108 yards) but the pick six just before half time was a killer from which he never recovered and never looked capable of matching with a big play of his own. With his primary target limited to 42 snaps, and clearly not at full health when he was on the field, Schaub couldn’t forge the sort of dynamic passing game with his other receivers to engineer the comeback the Texans needed. He saw no pressure on 25-of-38 dropbacks and only mustered 5.3 yards per attempt. He saw no blitz on 29-of-38 dropbacks and could only muster 4.8 yards per attempt including the pick six to Daryl Smith. You start to wonder whether and when the Texans will throw a little more caution to the wind with Schaub and the passing game. Against an offense that was as ponderous as the Texans in what could have been a statement game, the Texans should have been more of a threat to make a comeback in this game.
Baltimore – Three Performances of Note
Big players, big plays
When you win a game like that in the manner the Ravens did, you get to talk about and talk up veteran nous and big players making big plays at big times. The stark reality of the offensive performance is there for all to see, but there is truth to be found in some big performances on defense. Off the edge both Terrell Suggs (+1.7 pass rush) and Elvis Dumervil (+3.0 pass rush) had multi-pressure days with Dumervil continuing to thrive in his sub package role with the Ravens. For the third straight week Dumervil registered fewer than 50 snaps with around half of those coming as a pass rusher and he responded with four more pressures, all hurries this week making the most of his matchup with Newton to get around his outside shoulder with speed. On the inside Haloti Ngata (+1.3 pass rush) wasn’t a persistent presence in the Houston backfield, but did pop up with two eye catching plays including a rapid sack just after the two minute warning which helped set up Tandon Doss’ punt return score. And that came after Daryl Smith’s (+1.6 coverage) pick six, breaking on a short throw and making the most of it to put the Ravens ahead. The Ravens’ defense is recovering nicely from their Week 1 let down and a group of timely plays against a potential playoff opponent is another step in the right direction.
Struggles up front continue
The Ravens have struggled individually and as a unit up front early this season, a trend which only continued against the Texans. While it’s true that facing Watt is like having a grenade set off in your backfield the rest of the offensive line was far from collateral damage from Watt’s impact. On the right side Yanda and Michael Oher (-4.7) had their hands full with Watt but through the middle Gino Gradkowski (-2.9) continued his poor start to the season letting up three pressures (poor for a center) for the third straight week and on the left edge Bryant McKinnie (-4.7) had his hands full with pass rushers and, two times on one drive, an opponent’s face cage. Baltimore’s offense as a whole is struggling for rhythm early in the season, some improvements up front might give the stable base to allow for progress at the skill positions, or at least give a better reference point to build a judgment from.
Signs of life in fits and starts
As a whole this was another uninspiring offensive display from the Ravens with any offensive momentum built on big plays rather than consistently clinical execution. Their first field goal drive saw more than 33% of the plays come from two plays of 21 yards apiece (one of them a defensive pass interference by Kareem Jackson). After the defense and special teams did their work prior to half-time the offense might have sparked into life after a 48 yard gain on the sort of deep ball from Flacco to Torrey Smith that this offense is supposed to be built around, that play led to Pierce’s 1 yard touchdown run. Their subsequent field goal drives included Bernard Pierce getting the offensive off their own goal-line with a 25 yard gain to end the third quarter before they ground out the game in the final five minutes. Timely plays aplenty, we’re yet to see the Ravens put a full game together on offense however.
– By play-time percentage Dumervil has seen his role increase each week from 56.8% in Week 1 to 63.6% in Week 2 to 70.1% with his 47 snaps yesterday.
– Watt’s +7.0 run defense grade from this game is highest single game run defense grade of his career.
– James Ihedigbo registered six defensive stops against the Texans, only one less than he registered in 294 snaps in last year’s regular season.
PFF Game Ball
It was in a loss and a comfortable one at that but J.J. Watt was an absolute class apart in this game.