5 Lessons Learned vs. Texans

The Ravens may never get a blowout, but they’re proven winners of high-profile road games.

Posted by Sarah Ellison on Tuesday, December 14th, 2010 at 11:54 am | Categories: 2010 Season, Sarah Ellison, Week 14 at Texans

The Ravens may never get a blowout – at this point, they are who they are. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said it best after the game, “At this point of the season you are what you are and you have to find a way to win.” After 14 weeks of football, the Ravens have just three wins by more than seven points. Yet they own a 9-4 record.  It may be time to get over point-differentials and simply hope the Ravens put away teams like they did the Houston Texans, but failed to do with the Pittsburgh Steelers. With the playoffs around the corner, it would be much more comforting to see Baltimore stomp on opponents’ throats. But for the purple and black, most games have been (and may very well continue to be) decided by one or two plays. That was the case last week with safety Troy Polamalu’s turnover and it was the case yesterday with cornerback Josh Wilson’s.  “This is the thing I’m trying to preach to these guys,” said Ray Lewis. “There’s a journey that you have to be willing to go on.”

Skeptics will downplay its significance, but the Ravens have proven they can win tough, high-profile games on the road. If the Steelers continue to win, that means the Ravens will likely have to play on the road as long as they survive as a Wild Card in the playoffs. Baltimore beat the Jets at New Meadowlands Stadium on Monday Night Football”, they beat the Steelers at Heinz Field and now they’ve defeated the Texans in Houston on Monday night too. They did let the Patriots and Falcons slip away (each decided by less than six points). I’ve never played in an NFL away game – although I’ve felt the effects of the harsh environment as a bystander – but players insist you should never underestimate how hard it is to win on the road. “We closed it out this time and anytime you close out anybody on the road, you better celebrate yourself because no one else will,” said Lewis.

With the return of the jumbo package and unbalanced line, the run game only managed 63 yards. Baltimore was vocal this week about the need for an improved rushing attack. Coaches made a big change to the o-line in an effort to meet that goal, inserting right tackle Oniel Cousins and sliding Marshal Yanda back to his natural position at right guard. They also shifted former starting right guard Chris Chester to tight end. Those moves, packaged with the return of fullback Le’Ron McClain, brought more muscle up front and seemed to be relatively successful, especially in short-yardage situations, in the first half. But in the second half, the Ravens rushed for 17 yards and the offense didn’t score any points. You can’t completely judge the offensive line changes in one game, but more production was expected. After the game, McClain said the jumbo package was a new look for the offense this year and the unit wants to build off it in the final three games of the season.

Special teams may be the weapon that could give the Ravens an advantage as the season winds down. With both the offense and defense battling for every yard, the improved return game and the consistent play of punter Sam Koch and kicker Billy Cundiff can take some pressure off in the field-position battle. In David Reed’s case yesterday, he just took it to the house himself on a 103-yard kickoff return. Punt returner Lardarius Webb came close to breaking one free too. It was Koch’s 58-yard punt that pinned the Texans on their own 9-yard line in overtime and set up the interception return.  Do I even need to even mention Cundiff’s touchbacks? With games only getting tighter as the season wears on, look to the special teams to help give Baltimore an edge.

The Ravens strategy was to play the deep ball and pressure quarterback Matt Schaub with fewer rushers. Entering the game, many wondered how Baltimore would defend against the NFL’s seventh-best offense that featured arguably the league’s best wide receiver in Andre Johnson. The secondary held its own in the first half, but the defense gave up scoring drives of 70, 42, 99 and 95 yards in the second half. With a 28-7 lead, Harbaugh explained he didn’t want to pressure quarterback Matt Schaub too much and leave Houston’s receivers with the chance to make a big play in one-on-one coverage.  The strategy was mostly effective in preventing big plays, but Houston managed to convert huge fourth-downs to extend drives.  That, combined with the Ravens’ own inability to sustain offensive drives, forced the defense to remain on the field and it wore them down. Luckily, the Ravens won the overtime coin toss, which gave the security squad enough time to get some much-needed rest. With time to catch their breath in overtime, the Ravens released enough pressure on Schaub with a four-man rush to force him into a bad decision and Wilson’s pick-six.

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