Highlights from FILMSTUDY: Follow the Bouncing Ball--Defensive Notes vs. Texans 10/16/11

Individual Notes:

• The 4-man pass rush had an exceptional day. The results were a function of coverage, some drops, and the Ravens extremely effective handling of the Texans’ screen game. The sacks that occurred developed slowly, but anything north of 5% for a sack rate with 4 pass rushers is excellent.

• Ngata had another big game, but no turnovers. He had a season-high 6 tackles and applied some pass rush pressure including a sack (Q2, 1:28) and a sandwich QH with Johnson (Q4, 11:14). Twice, he diagnosed a screen pass early. He took down Walter on the bubble screen left (Q1, 15:00). Just 3 plays later, Redding supplied pressure (and registered a QH) on Schaub’s designed screen right (Q1, 13:14), but it was Ngata’s diagnosis and position that forced Schaub to ground the ball. Haloti played 59 of the 66 defensive plays that did not result in a penalty.

• Suggs played 64 of 66 snaps. He is often lifted for 2 consecutive plays on a long drive in either the 3rd or 4th quarter. On Sunday, the Texans converted on 2nd down (Q4, 12:53). Suggs then sat out 1st and 2nd down before returning. Suggs was conspicuously absent from the stat sheet except for a PD on a diagnosed screen left (Q3, 1:40). He did, however, beat Duane Brown inside to flush the pocket to set up McPhee’s sack (Q4, 7:27).

• Lewis had his best game as a run defender this season and chose/penetrated his gaps quicker than he has this year. He beat Mike Brisiel inside to stop Foster for no gain (Q1, 14:27) and penetrated by Wade Smith to the inside to stop Foster for a gain of 1 (Q4, 13:33). He finished a fine night by taking down Foster short of a 1st down on 4th and 2 (Q4, 1:25) on the Texans’ last offensive snap. His tackles occurred on gains of 0, 2, -7 (sack), 3, 3, 0, 3, 1, 7, 6 (pass), 1, and 1.

• Johnson again played well and was a bulwark setting the edge. He beat Dreessen inside for his sack (Q3, 3:30) with the Texans TE holding all the way. He was credited with the QH when he and Ngata sandwiched Schaub (Q4, 11:14). He would finish with 7 tackles.

• Whether by design or health, the Ravens have gone only to the nickel on passing downs. On Sunday, they had 0 dime snaps and just a single quarter snap (their first with 7 DBs this season) on the last play of the first half. They also played 2 nickel snaps with 3 safeties that included Nakamura’s first action since week 3. Both of those plays occurred on 2nd and long on the first drive of Q4.

• The Ravens took Owen Daniels out of the game (3 targeted, 2 catches, 13 yards). He’s a matchup problem for most teams, but was a non-factor Sunday.

• The Texans’ passing TD (Q3, 8:46) came on the Ravens signature pocket-time-generating play of 2011. They blocked left as Schaub rolled naked right off play action. Cody and McPhee provided moderate pressure, but Schaub was able to step through his throw and did not get knocked down. Reed was left in coverage of Jones. An underthrow would have resulted in a pick, but it was on target and Jones secured the ball well.

• The Ravens allowed 5 of the first 6 3rd downs to be converted, but thereafter the Texans would convert just 1 of 13 attempts on 3rd/4th down. As Dierdorf would say, 3rd and long is a bad habit to get into against the Baltimore Ravens.

Highlights from RAVENS REPORT CARD: Ravens 29, Texans 14

Quarterback: B

Flacco played better than his first half numbers suggest. Despite the pressure, and the turnovers, he moved around very well in the pocket and stayed locked-in downfield to find open receivers. He made a number of throws with Texans linebackers in his face, including tremendously accurate long throws to Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin. His interception was on a tipped ball, but more concerning was the fact that he missed a wide-open Ed Dickson on the throw.

Running Backs: A-

Ray Rice took advantage of better blocking and then took over the game in the fourth quarter. He was simply better than any defender the Texans had on the field. He went over 100 yards rushing on 23 attempts despite his slow start, and hauled in nearly everything thrown to him -- five tough catches for 60 more yards. He also got a lot of help from his friends, including some tremendous blocks by his fullback Vonta Leach, who sprung Rice down to the three and then stoned DeMeco Ryans on the goal line to allow Ricky Williams to slide in for his first touchdown as a Raven.

Wide Receivers: A-

Anquan Boldin snared eight of the nine balls thrown his way for 132 yards, including three clutch catches on the opening drive. After the Texans adjusted, Torrey Smith got loose in the secondary, making some tough catches along the side, and then outrunning Daniel Manning for a 51 yard strike to immediately answer the Texans second score. Smith also made a tremendous fingertip catch that was just out of the back of the end zone. The rookie averaged 28 yards on three catches.

Tight Ends: C

Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson only caught 4 of the 8 balls thrown to them for a total of 29 yards. They seemed to be out of synch with their quarterback. Both missed a number of chip blocks, which contributed to the pressure in Flacco’s face, and Pitta was flagged for an unconscionable false start penalty.

Tackles: C+

Bryant McKinney struggled sorting out blitz pick-ups with left guard Andre Gurode and his running backs, and it led to a number of hits on his quarterback.

Interior Line: C-

Andre Gurorde is no farther along figuring out the blocking assignments on the left side than his teammate McKinnie is at this stage. And he was flagged for a false start early. However, when firing off the ball he and Matt Birk were playing well together, particularly as the game wore on. Birk destroyed Earl Mitchell in the end zone to allow Rice run the ball up the gut.

On the right side, Marshal Yanda did not achieve his typically dominating performance. He struggled with high pad level against the rookie defensive end JJ Watt throughout the game, and particularly on the goal line. Yanda was also badly beaten one-on-one by Tim Jamison, who blew past him to strip the ball from Flacco and bounce on it for a recovery. A shaky performance by the interior group overall forced a number of field goal attempts by the Ravens rather than finishing drives.

Cornerbacks: B

The usually prolific Schaub was held to a pedestrian 220 yards passing. Part of that was pressure up front, part of it was missing Andre Johnson, but a lot of it was good corner play. Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb played tight man coverage well enough to force most of the throws inside against the safeties.

Safeties: B

Other than Ed Reed getting beat deep by Jones for a TD where Bernard Pollard may have failed to bracket over the top, the safeties played well. They were depleted with Tom Zbikowski sidelined by a concussion and Haruki Nakamura just back after missing time with a knee injury.

Linebackers: B

Jarret Johnson was dominant at times, forcing the cut-back run, dropping into coverage, and applying pressure. He ran through a block by blocking tight end Joel Dreessen and hooked Schaub for a sack. Ray Lewis finished the game with 12 tackles. His play was not all that consistent however. At times he was sealed or he overran plays to allow some of the Texans longer runs. But he was in the right spot a number of other times, including a delayed blitz and sack, or his tackle of Foster a foot short of the sticks to bring out the offense and the victory formation. Dannell Ellerbe was on the field quite a bit to stop the run, but was badly fooled when Foster slipped past him for a wide-open catch.

Defensive Line: B+

The Texans zone blocking scheme was effective in slowing down the Ravens pressure up front, but not effective enough in jump-starting their running game. Foster and Tate combined for just 86 yards on the ground, and the defensive line was able to force the Texans into a number of third and long situations. Terrell Suggs had one of his more quiet games – he did not register a tackle, and was a step too slow getting to Schaub.

Haloti Ngata was more active, with eight tackles on the interior, and managed to blow past the Texans’ very good offensive line on just a four man rush for a sack. Ngata was also credited with a QB hurry and a tackle for a loss.

Special Teams: A

By connecting on five out of five field goals, including his two longest of the year – 43 and 48 yards – Billy Cundiff may have been the player of the day for the Ravens. He accomplished this despite a tricky wind swirling inside M&T Stadium. He also helped in the field position game by sending all but one of his kickoffs through the back of the end zone, including a kick that landed in the stands. Bryan McCann made his Ravens regular season debut by returning the opening kick of the second half out of the end zone to the 23. He averaged 26.5 yards on his two returns.