Suggs Sizzles, But Ravens Fizzle In Blowout Loss, 43-13
HEALTHIER, WELL-ROUNDED TEXANS FINALLY BEAT BALTIMORE
(Look for Ravens Report's extensive "Leftovers," our usual postgame notebook, Monday morning.)
By Joe Platania
In the football wasteland known as the AFC, the Ravens and Houston Texans had separated themselves from the pack even before they met Sunday at Reliant Stadium.
They were the conference's only winning teams -- with plenty of similarities.
The Ravens and Texans both have top receivers with similar career stats, quarterbacks with passer ratings less than a half-point apart, dual-threat running backs among the league's top 10, kickers with the same number of points that had coincidentally missed one field goal each and tough-tackling inside linebackers out for the year with injuries.
On top of all that, one team was going to go 6-1 for the first time in franchise history. But which one? And how would it do it?
The Ravens tried by adding some "Sizzle" to their roster. Some would say they foolishly did so long before the steak was supposed to be fully cooked.
But even though Terrell Suggs' return to the Ravens' defense barely 5.5 months after Achilles tendon surgery seemed hard to believe, his presence alone couldn't change the fact that the Texans had the home field and a healthier, more complete roster that produced an overwhelming 43-13 win in front of a vociferous sellout crowd.
"They got after us and they beat us," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. "It was as complete a performance as you can have on both sides of the ball.
"It's the NFL, it's one loss. Sometimes, you get thrown out of the bar. ... It's probably a good time to have the bye week."
Suggs contributed four tackles (three solo), a tackle for loss, a pass defensed and two quarterback hits in 31 plays, nearly half of the Texans' 76 offensive snaps.
"It's not the start I wanted," Suggs said. "I wanted [a win]. I said that if [the Achilles] felt good Saturday, I would [play]. We all know important how it is in November and December, and I didn't want to be shaking off the rust then.
"When you step into the shower, you're going to get wet. ... This is the game I really wanted to come back for."
Suggs' play notwithstanding, the Ravens -- fielding a defense that has now turned over six players from last year's conference-finalist squad -- basically lost this game in the wake of a first half during which they allowed Houston to run 48 plays and run up a 258-84 yardage advantage while getting 16 first downs to the Ravens' four.
The Ravens suffered their third loss of 30 or more points in team history, rivaling a 37-0 loss in Pittsburgh in 1997 and a 31-point defeat, also in the Steel City, 10 years later, a 38-7 Monday night loss.
As Houston was setting a franchise scoring record on offense, the Ravens gave up 40 or more points during a game for the eighth time, the first since a 44-20 home loss to the Colts in 2007, a streak of 73 games, the league's third-longest. That means the 43 points were the most allowed during the Harbaugh era.
YARDS HURT; SO DID INJURIES
With 420 yards, the Texans were also the third Ravens opponent this year to gain more than 400, Philadelphia and Dallas having done the same. All seven Ravens foes have gained 322 yards or more against Baltimore.
Not only that, but defensive tackle Haloti Ngata -- already battling a shoulder problem and a knee ligament sprain -- limped off late during the first half grabbing his right calf; he did return to the game during the second half. With nine minutes to go during the game, free safety Ed Reed was also flat on his back with sore ribs after an active six-tackle day, but he also came back.
It was a tough way to go for a Ravens team that is taking a battered defense through a loaded schedule featuring quarterbacks that have combined for 38 Pro Bowl berths, 12 conference championships and eight Super Bowl titles.
Quarterback Matt Schaub (23-for-37, 256 yards, two touchdowns, two sacks, 100.7 rating), who did not play during last year's postseason loss in Baltimore because of an injury, raised the Texans' record to an AFC-best 6-1 and helped his team earn its first-ever win against the Ravens (5-2) in seven tries (including the postseason). Dallas is now the only team to have never beaten Baltimore.
For his part, the Ravens' Joe Flacco (21-for-43, 147 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, four sacks, 45.4 rating) had to deal with relentless pressure from a young, mobile Texans front seven and blanket coverage from a Houston defense. Houston's defense had been among the league's worst two seasons ago, rose to the top last year, but got dented during a blowout home loss to Green Bay last week.
The Ravens didn't convert a third-down play in their first eight tries; their first conversion came on a penalty that put them in Houston's red zone for the first time, but not until nearly five minutes had elapsed during the third quarter. It did help set up a 15-yard bubble-screen touchdown pass to Tandon Doss, his first career score.
But the Ravens did not add to their league-leading total of 34 plays of 20 or more yards.
But the Texans -- the Ravens Report's preseason pick to win the Super Bowl -- showed why they are among the NFL elite by demonstrating their wares in all three phases of the game. It was especially true on defense, where the Texans defensed 11 passes, knocking down many at the line of scrimmage.
"That's what they do," Harbaugh said. "We worked all week in practice at getting their hands down and we weren't able to do that, and it's very disappointing."
At first, the game had a Willis Reed feel to it, with Suggs -- the Ravens' all-time leader in sacks (82.5 before Sunday) and forced fumbles (27) -- returning to the field to boost the defense, the team's morale and maybe his franchise's fortunes. The Ravens had 10 sacks during their first six games and two during their last three, which could be a reason Suggs' return seemed rushed.
"He was in surprisingly good football shape, for that kind of injury," Harbaugh said in regard to Suggs. "And he can only get better. I didn't think he'd play a full game, but it was not our plan to give him a pitch count."
Reed and his New York Knicks teammates were at home with a championship on the line back in 1970. The Ravens faced no such scenario, and didn't come close to getting the same result.
RAVENS "SIZZLE" EARLY
Suggs looked noticeably heavier than his listed playing weight of 260 pounds, but he was in the game right from the start -- apparently lifting his team's morale sky-high at the same time -- and helped Jameel McClain make the first tackle on Texans standout back Arian Foster.
Passing-down linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (team-high 12 tackles, nine solo) showed how much Suggs' presence buoyed the defense by knocking away a third-down pass and forcing a three-and-out on the high-powered Texans' first possession.
The offense didn't have to look rejuvenated, for it has played with alacrity all season.
If only to keep NFL sack leader J.J. Watt off Flacco's back, the no-huddle was in full flower early, even in the enclosed-roof noise at Reliant Stadium. Two Ray Rice runs and a slant to Torrey Smith (41 yards, four catches) easily picked up a first down before Rice got between Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele, scampering to the Texans' 38.
But the Ravens could gain just 5 more yards before an alignment penalty cost them their first timeout just as kicker Justin Tucker -- tied with Houston's Shayne Graham for sixth in the league with 53 points -- was attempting a 51-yard field goal. Tucker still nailed the kick, putting the Ravens on the board first for the fifth time during seven games this year.
Suggs did not take the field for the first two plays of Houston's next possession, but Ellerbe kicked it off smartly by quickly taking down Ben Tate for a 1-yard gain before doing it again after a 4-yard wedge.
Ellerbe -- a Georgia product whose pass-coverage deficiencies have noticeably improved since last year's AFC Championship Game -- then knocked away a pass intended for Foster (98 yards, 19 carries, two touchdowns) to force another punt, one that Jacoby Jones, subbing for the injured Webb and roundly booed during his return to Houston, fair-caught.
The Ravens, who had allowed an NFL-high 24 first downs per game through six weeks, had held Houston without a chain-moving play, even though the defense's average time on the field has been more than 33 minutes per game. Ironically, the no-huddle hasn't been giving the Ravens a chance to rest, but it's a trade-off the team seems willing to make.
But the Texans' defense leads the league in forcing three-and-out series, and its 21st such series stopped the Ravens and forced them to punt.
Just as he recorded two AFC Championship Game sacks with a bad shoulder four years ago, Suggs made more jaws drop when he followed Ngata through a double-team and past second-year right tackle Derek Newton to sack Schaub. He was also part of the pile that took down Foster on a meek third-and-18 run that drew boos from the red-clad Texans partisans.
More boos rained down when ex-Houston fullback Vonta Leach gained 6 yards, but they turned to cheers when Flacco was sacked and fumbled the ball right to center Matt Birk.
Just as the Ravens' defense has been embarrassed during recent weeks, Houston -- which allowed six touchdown passes to Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers Oct. 14 -- had pride to salvage as well. On the next play, a double-edged blitz resulted in a Connor Barwin sack and a Texans safety, the first the Ravens had allowed in five years.
Momentum had shifted to the home team, and in a big way.
TEXANS TAKE OVER; "KO" GOES UNDER
The moody Houston crowd was again frustrated when Schaub -- taking advantage of Jimmy Smith's presence at corner in place of Webb -- overthrew a wide-open Kevin Walter late during the first quarter. But the fans were pleased when ex-Houston safety Bernard Pollard's face-mask penalty helped Houston get to the Ravens' 36.
From there, a short pass to Andre Johnson (86 yards, nine catches) -- under heavy Suggs pressure -- got Houston another set of downs at the 25. Walter (74 yards, four catches, one touchdown) then beat Pollard off the line and Cary Williams to the post -- a possible coverage mixup -- for a touchdown pass that gave the Texans a 9-3 lead.
Seemingly eager to make a play against his former team -- and the fans still angry about his punt-return muff against Baltimore during the postseason last year -- Jones took the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone against the Texans' subpar coverage team and raced to the Ravens' 42-yard line.
But two plays later, things went from bad to worse for the visitors.
On a second-and-7 near midfield, the disruptive Watt tipped Flacco's sideline pass for Smith (his ninth pass defensed of the year) at the line. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph picked it off -- his fourth career pickoff of Flacco -- and ran it back 52 yards for a touchdown and a 13-point Houston lead just as the second quarter began.
Literally adding injury to insult, Houston native and Ravens rookie right tackle Osemele, who was blocking Watt when he made the interception-causing tip during the previous series, soon found himself flat on the turf after a running-play pile rolled up on his right ankle, which was heavily braced as he was carted off the field. Fortunately for him, subsequent X-rays were negative and Osemele actually returned to the game late during the third quarter, although movement was limited.
At that point, a predictable switch took place when Bryant McKinnie came in to play left tackle and Michael Oher went back to the right side. But it was Houston's line -- one that has allowed only six sacks of Schaub all year -- that allowed the former University of Virginia quarterback to complete seven straight passes and give the Texans the field-position edge.
Meanwhile, Flacco was incomplete on 11 of his first 15 throws and his unit -- which had four first-half three-and-out series -- gained 12 yards during a 13-play stretch, was 0-for-7 on third-down plays and held the ball for just nine minutes. Flacco also had four batted-down passes, two of which resulted in pickoffs.
Texans backup tight end Garrett Graham nearly blunted his own team's momentum with a penalty on a punt return, but he then tipped a Schaub pass to himself for a first down at the Ravens' 24.
Foster then got loose on the same zone-stretch play that has bedeviled the Ravens -- nose tackle Terrence Cody was pushed out of the hole way too easily -- before Schaub's sidearm throw beat sub-package corner James Ihedigbo and found its way to tight end and team reception leader Owen Daniels (59 yards, seven catches, one touchdown) for a 2-yard touchdown that survived a replay review and gave the Texans a 23-3 lead.
It was Schaub's 10th straight completion, one that punctuated an unanswered 23-point run that was indicative of the Ravens' offense -- indeed, the entire team -- when it was in full flower. The string reached 12 before -- you guessed it -- Suggs knocked down a flat pass.
But this time, it was Baltimore that was staring at the deficit, its largest of the year, one that grew to 29-3 before halftime on 33- and 29-yard Shayne Graham field goals. The 29-point first half was the most the Ravens had allowed during any game's first two quarters since the aforementioned 2007 home loss against Indianapolis.
Both the Ravens and Texans are on a bye next week. But although both teams will rest up, one team -- even in the turgid AFC -- could be crippled to the point that it might be saying goodbye to its season.
Even with Suggs back, what can the Ravens do about it?
Posted Oct. 21, 2012