Last week, the Ravens narrowly escaped a disaster at home, defeating the Cowboys 31-29 to improve to 5-1 on the year. The Cowboys established the run game early, taking a 7-3 lead on Felix Jones' 22-yard run late in the first quarter. After Dan Bailey hit from 42 yards out, Ray Rice tied the game with a run from a yard out. In the final minute of the first half, the Ravens jumped out to a 17-10 lead when Flacco found a leaping Torrey Smith in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown. The Ravens rush defense was helpless, unable to stop even the Cowboys' third-string back. On their next drive, the Cowboys ran themselves deep into Ravens territory, but were unable to finish. Following another field goal from Bailey, Jacoby Jones looked to deliver a crushing blow to the Cowboys' chances at gaining momentum. Jones burst out from eight yards back in the end zone, following his lead blockers and sprinting 108 yards to the end zone to give the Ravens a 24-13 lead. This run tied the NFL record for longest kickoff return. But the Cowboys quickly showed that they were not ready to give in. Tony Romo orchestrated a 14-play, 80-yard drive, ending with a touchdown pass to Dez Bryant to narrow the Ravens lead to four. Over the course of the drive, the Cowboys continued to expose the flaws in the Ravens rush defense. After another field goal from Bailey, Ray Rice made the score 31-23, giving Tony Romo just under five minutes to attempt a game-tying drive. And that he did. With 36 seconds remaining in regulation, Romo found Bryant once again, and cut the Ravens lead to two, with a two-point conversion able to tie the game. Romo looked for Bryant on the same route as the previous play, but Bryant dropped the well-thrown pass, leaving the Cowboys to pin their hopes of a win on a low-percentage onside kick attempt. There the Cowboys exposed another weakness, as the Ravens "hands-team" was unable to use their hands to hold on to the ball, and the Cowboys took over at their own 46 with 32 seconds on the clock, a field goal able to win the game. A pass-interference call against the Ravens put the 'Boys in range for a last-second field goal attempt from 51 yards out. Dan Bailey's attempt hooked just left, and the Ravens got a much-needed win.
Player of the Game: Ravens RB Ray Rice-63 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns
If you were wondering just how weak this Ravens defense has become, all you had to do was watch this game. They gave up 227 rushing yards to the 30th-ranked rushing offense in the league. The Texans, in the meantime, catapulted themselves to 20th in the league, going from 67 yards per game to 99 yards per game, all in a matter of three hours. All against the once-feared Ravens defense. And to make things worse, the Ravens lost two of their mainstays on defense over the course of the afternoon. In the first quarter, top CB Lardarius Webb fell to his knees, untouched. Webb was helped off the field, and an MRI revealed a torn ACL, ending his season. Then, in the final minutes of the game, Ray Lewis suffered a triceps injury. An MRI revealed he has torn his triceps, likely ending his season.
Now here is where the attitude comes in that the season is over. When Lewis missed four games last season, his replacements impressed by providing support for their fallen leader. Young linebackers like Dannell Ellerbe, Jameel McClain, and Albert McClellan will no doubt have more weight on their shoulders. And don't get me wrong, there is absolutely no replacing a player like Ray Lewis, on and off the field. Expect Ed Reed to carry a lot of the leadership burden as well. The rest of this season will showcase the future of the Ravens defense, for better or worse. For the most part, they will be lead by the aforementioned linebackers, as well as young lineman such as Terrence Cody and Pernell McPhee. In the secondary, corners like Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams will show their true colors with the loss of Webb. If you want a glimpse into what the crystal ball shows for this Ravens defense, pay close attention to the next few weeks.
But for now, we, as well as the Ravens, must set our sights on the next opponent. On Sunday, the 5-1 Ravens will head into Houston to face the 5-1 Texans. After winning their first five games, the Texans suffered their first loss of the season last week, falling to the Packers 42-24 at home. This game will showcase the only teams in the AFC with winning records. The implications of this game are enormous. The winner takes over sole
possession of first place in the AFC, and controls their own destiny
for the rest of the season, despite it still being early. This game
could decide a tie-breaker in terms of position for the playoffs.
Thinking in the short-term, this win could put the Ravens in tremendous
position heading into their bye week. You can't discount the effect it
would have for this team to come out of the bye week with a 6-1 record.
Following the near-debacle against the Cowboys, the Ravens will face perhaps the best running back in the league in Arian Foster, who has rushed for 561 yards and 7 touchdowns already this season. After facing one of the worst running games in the league last week, the Ravens defense will have to quickly prepare for a Texans rushing attack that ranks 6th in the entire NFL. For this reason, expect the Texans to use the ground all afternoon as they look to take advantage of a beat-down Ravens rush defense. If their plan works, the Ravens are in for a long day. The Texans passing game is far less explosive than their running game, but their use of the running game could open up successful play-action options later in the game. QB Matt Schaub has thrown three interceptions in his last three games, but will look to make use of a Ravens secondary which is undergoing a transition period with the loss of Webb. On defense, the Texans have established themselves as elite, ranking in the top ten in all four major defensive categories. They will be shorthanded, though, given the loss of one of their top players, LB Brian Cushing. In the first game without Cushing, the Texans D was thrashed by Aaron Rodgers, giving up 42 points and 427 total yards. The Ravens will likely look to imitate the Packers as best as possible to put points on the board. The one man on the Texans defense to look out for is DE J.J. Watt, who is making an early case for Defensive Player of the Year. Watt has picked up 32 tackles, 9.5 sacks, and 8 pass deflections. If Flacco can stay out of Watt's way, his day will be much clearer.
Prediction: Many people don't give the Ravens a shot in this game. They think that the Ravens defense just doesn't have enough firepower to stop Arian Foster. They may have a point. In order for the Ravens to win this game, they will have to at least limit Foster's productivity on the ground, as well as his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. If they do that, they win; but it's much easier said than done. I haven't picked against the Ravens in a long time, and what the hell, why stop now? I'll take the Ravens, 27-23.
Key Matchups for Ravens at Texans
Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Texans WR Andre Johnson Edge: Johnson
Analysis: Johnson has a height advantage, as well as a pure skill advantage. He could be used to full effect in the play-action late in the game, so Williams could have a big task ahead of him.
Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe vs. Texans RB Arian Foster Edge: Foster
Analysis: Foster has the edge against just about every defender in the league. Let's just hope the Ravens can at the very least prevent him from breaking out.
Ravens WR Anquan Boldin vs. Texans CB Kareem Jackson Edge: Boldin
Analysis: Boldin and Jackson train at the same facility, and with the same trainer, during the off-season in Florida, and often go up against each other during workouts. Should be interesting to see it when it matters.
Ravens G Marshal Yanda vs. Texans DE J.J. Watt Edge: Watt
Analysis: Watt is putting up outrageous numbers, and will hope to be in Flacco's face all afternoon. If he does that on a consistent basis, the Ravens pass game could be in trouble.
NT Ma'ake Kemoeatu-Knee-QST
T Bryant McKinnie-Thigh-QST
DT Haloti Ngata-Knee-QST
CB Jimmy Smith-Abs-QST
NT David Hunter-Toe-OUT
CB Johnathan Joseph-Groin-QST
SS Quentin Demps-Thumb/Forearm-QST
That's it for this week version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and Go Ravens!