Break It Down: How the Texans obliterated Baltimore's defense
The math all added up to Sunday playing out just like it did for the Ravens.
Baltimore had struggled on defense since about Week 2 (despite a 5-1 record), then lost Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis to injury. Webb's absence stripped the Ravens' defense of their top cover corner. Lewis' absence hit harder.
Lewis has been calling the shots for the Ravens' defense since the Reagan administration. At least it feels that way. Even if you could make the case that Baltimore would be fine replacing a declining Lewis with Dannell Ellerbe in the starting lineup (and by sliding Jameel McClain into Lewis' usual spot, both in position and as a defensive play-caller), there was no way to replace the control Lewis commanded over Baltimore's defense.
Without him in the lineup Sunday at Houston, the Ravens' issues were numerous. And chief among them: A complete lack of communication and cohesion from the linebackers and secondary.
The Texans would have been a tough matchup for a full-strength Ravens team. For one that was feeling its way without two key defensive components, it was unfair.
Here's how things went so wrong in a 43-13 loss:
Actually, let's start at the beginning, because things did not start off that badly for the Ravens Sunday. Baltimore forced punts on Houston's first three possessions. Our first photo from the game shows the coverage Baltimore had on a 3rd-and-5 play early, which resulted in an incompletion.
Not much to complain about there. Example No. 2 comes from Houston's next drive. Terrell Suggs picked up his first sack of the season here, stunting to the inside and coming clean on Matt Schaub, while the Baltimore linebackers dropped well and covered Houston's releasing tight ends.
But even in those opening moments, you could foresee trouble ahead for the Ravens if you looked hard enough. Let's rewind to Schaub's first pass of the game, which came on a 3rd-and-3 from the Houston 27.
Schaub tried to gun one in to Arian Foster (circle in yellow below) just past the sticks, but ...
Following that yellow line into an absolutely defensive player-less chasm is Houston tight end Garrett Graham. Had Schaub held onto the ball a beat longer, he might have spotted Graham running almost totally alone deep.
What happened to the defense here became a recurring theme:
1. On a very consistent basis, Baltimore's linebackers either were beaten in coverage or simply headed the wrong direction. Here, the guilty party is Albert McClellan, who whiffed on a jam of Graham at the line, then released him with no deep help.
2. But why wasn't there any deep help? Well, at the top of the picture, around the 45, you'll notice Baltimore safety Ed Reed crashing down and out on Houston receiver Andre Johnson, who had run a sideline wheel route to try to free up Foster underneath. The only deep safety at the snap, Reed cheated toward Johnson -- whom Schaub never even looked at.
To point two, shaky safety play haunted Baltimore throughout Sunday's game, mainly because of an overbearing focus on Johnson.
Houston's first score was a 25-yard TD pass from Schaub to Kevin Walter. Again, the Ravens employed just Reed deep -- in this case, about 20 yards deep -- with their second safety, Bernard Pollard, lined up over Walter in the slot.
Schaub dropped back and glanced at Johnson, who was running a route up the right sideline. He then avoided a pass rush up the middle and turned back left to find Walter.
By that point, Walter had come off a jam attempt by Pollard and flown past Cary Williams deep. Reed, overcommitting to Schaub's initial look at Johnson, was nowhere to be found.
The shot as Walter's about to catch the TD pass -- that's Reed, circled in red, on the complete other side of the field.
The secondary play did not get much better after that.
Walter burned the Ravens again in the third quarter. This time, the Texans hustled to the line and quickly ran a play, leaving Baltimore scrambling even more. If you'll look closely at the photo below, you can notice the two Baltimore safeties gesturing to each other.
The result of that miscommunication: three Ravens, including both safeties, collapsed on that route over the middle; Courtney Upshaw dropped and had no Texan within 10 yards of him; and Walter beat Smith one-on-one on a stop-and-go route.
Pick pretty much any big gain by Houston in the passing game and you can find a major breakdown by the Baltimore defense.
Like, for instance, this 3rd-and-1 Schaub-to-Daniels conversion in the second quarter. The Texans lined up in an I-formation and fullback James Casey motioned right. Schaub faked a hanoff that direction, then turned back left ... where the Ravens had let Daniels slide off the line totally uncovered.
Later in the first half, on a 3rd-and-10, the Ravens again left Daniels unaccounted for -- Suggs let him go at the line, while the rest of the Ravens defense backpedaled to cover the deep middle.
Notice, too, the lack of a pass rush. When Suggs was not storming forward, the Ravens did next to nothing to disrupt Schaub.
You probably get the idea by this point. One more, just in case. On a 1st-and-20 play, the Texans left Graham into block briefly, then had him fire out to the sideline.
There are three Ravens zoning against a short-middle route, two deep with the receiver on the right and two more playing deep on the left. Nary a one decided to break off and check Graham, who wound up gaining 12.
The Ravens' run defense didn't hold up its end of the bargain, either -- Houston passed for 239 yards and rushed for 181.
While communication may not have been at fault on the ground, the Ravens found themselves in the wrong spots consistently. Getting moved out of position against Houston's run game is death -- Foster and Ben Tate are as good as they come on cutbacks, and the Texans' zone blocking is designed to allow their backs to find a hole and go.
Here, you can see the Texans driving just about every Ravens defender down the line, freeing Foster up to slide to his right into a huge gap.
Then, just seconds later on the same drive, at least four Ravens were taken totally out of the play at the line -- and three others were blocked well.
The Texans deserve a huge portion of the credit for Baltimore's Week 7 collapse. Not only did Houston show why it's one of the league's elite running teams (hint: blocking), but the offense found some clear inconsistencies in the Ravens' defense and exploited them repeatedly.
Baltimore does not have the raw talent anymore to just line up and dominate teams on defense. So to come up with any level of success, every player out there must be on the same page.