Mon, 26 Oct 2020

John Eisenberg

Five thoughts on the Ravens' 33-16 victory over the Houston Texans Sunday at NRG Stadium:

I'm sure Texans Head Coach Bill O'Brien will take some heat for going for it on fourth down at his own 34 late in the first quarter of a game just getting going. When the gamble failed, the Ravens quickly turned the opportunity into a touchdown and controlled the rest of the game to improve to 2-0 in 2020. Why did O'Brien gamble? He had a case of Raven-itis. That is, he knew his team would need to score a lot of points to beat Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, so he elected to try to retain possession, set a tone and keep Jackson on the bench. It wasn't a great idea against the Ravens' aggressive defense, and for that matter, neither was the Cleveland Browns' failed fake punt attempt from deep in their own territory in Week 1. What's going on? The Ravens are putting so much pressure on their opponents with their high-scoring offense, just the idea of it, that those opponents are hurting themselves with low-percentage risks. As if the Ravens, winners of 14 straight regular season games, don't already have enough going for them.

You won't find a game that better exemplifies what it means to have cornerbacks as superb as the Ravens' All-Pros, Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. Humphrey delivered the game's most decisive play, a punch-out that caused the Texans' Keke Coutee to fumble a reception when the Ravens were up by six points in the second quarter. L.J. Fort scooped up the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown that put the Ravens safely in command. "Really the momentum turner in the game," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh called the play. A few minutes later, Peters dove headlong to make probably the prettiest interception you'll see all season. But equally important to the outcome was what you didn't see because of Humphrey and Peters. The Texans' top wide receiver, Will Fuller, didn't catch a pass and was never targeted. Their other receivers did total 16 receptions for 181 yards, but that was to be expected with the Texans playing catch-up all day. The Ravens' entire defense had a strong game - stopping the run, flying to the ball, hitting hard, making plays - but the All-Pro cornerbacks are the heart of that defense.

Of the 30 plays the Ravens ran in the first half, only five were handoffs to running backs, which totaled 16 yards. Baltimore was ahead but I was wondering whether it was wise to get so far away from the team's record-setting rushing attack of a year ago, which was so effective. Then it came roaring back in the second half, which was, in essence, a throwback to 2019. In the final two quarters, the Ravens pounded the ball on the ground on long drives and squashed the Texans' fast-diminishing hopes. Gus Edwards, Mark Ingram II and J.K. Dobbins finished with 176 rushing yards on 21 carries, and the whole ground game (including Jackson) totaled 230 yards. Ingram made the play everyone will be talking about, a 30-yard touchdown run out of the Wildcat on a fourth down, with Jackson split wide at receiver. (Take a bow, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman. I mean, bravo.) But Edwards was the team's most effective back, powering his way to an average gain of 7.3 yards on 10 carries. You could almost hear him saying, "Remember me, please!" Indeed, Ingram is the starter and Dobbins is the new guy, but Edwards runs too hard and too well not to receive a solid share of the touches.

I'm sure the Ravens' locker room was stunned by the news that cornerback Tavon Young will miss the rest of the season because of the knee injury that sent him to the sidelines early Sunday. Talk about tough luck. A fifth-year player, Young had spent the past year recovering from a neck injury that caused him to miss the entire season, and he also missed the entire 2017 season due to another knee injury. What's extra tough about this injury is Young had come back especially strong from last year's setback; one of the league's top slot corners, he was an essential part of the secondary. The only positive aspect of the situation is the Ravens have enough depth to fill in for him. Anthony Averett came off the bench and recorded four unassisted tackles Sunday, and Jimmy Smith, still quite able at 32, had three tackles. The Ravens will move on and be fine, but Young is pretty much a shoo-in for their unluckiest player of 2020.

Short takes -- The Texans were determined not to let tight end Mark Andrews beat them, and he didn't, catching just one pass for 29 yards. But for the second straight week, Jackson completed a lot more passes to his wide receivers (12 catches for 128 yards) than his tight ends (two catches for 40 yards) as he continues to stretch the field more in 2020 ... Jackson completed 18 passes to nine receivers, illustrating the Ravens' playmaking depth ... The pass rush pretty much overwhelmed Houston's Deshaun Watson as the game progressed. Watson absorbed 13 quarterback hits, which is a lot ... With a sack, three unassisted tackles and two quarterback hits, Tyus Bowser was a difference-maker in his return to the city where he played college football ... The Ravens' regular-season winning streak includes seven straight on the road.

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