A team must pass several tests if they are to consider themselves legitimate contenders to the AFC crown. Today the Ravens beat a good team that was desperate not to lose two in a row. Yes, the Texans were a battered club going into today but was impressed with their tenacity and improved defense even though they were without their best weapons on both sides of the ball.
As of right now the Baltimore Ravens look as good as anyone to be the American Football Conference representative in the championship round.
Now for some more thoughts on today’s game:
- Weapon X – A.K.A. Billy Cundiff looked more like machine than man today. Cundiff cleaned up the Ravens red zone issues with 5 Field Goals. (43, 48, 25, 33, 40). The conditions were not necessarily ideal with some swirling October winds in play. His kickoffs were fun to watch. Not only were they almost all touchbacks (7) but a few even flew into the stands.
- Anquan Boldin. With all the headlines that former Ravens Derrick Mason was making off the field some reporters took aim at the man who replaced Mason as Baltimore’s top target. Boldin’s production hasn’t been much to get excited over in 2011. He hasn’t had a touchdown since Week One nor a hundred hard reception day since November 2010. There have been multiple reasons given as to why Boldin hasn’t taken off as Flacco’s top target (Ed Dickson led the team with 32 targets to Boldin’s 30 coming into today). He’s double teammed, he’s an intermediate receiver, he doesn’t have the same chemistry with Flacco yet, he always draws the opposition’s top corner and of course Cam has to draw up a few plays for-HIM. There is a bit of truth in all these answers but the bottom line is that he hasn’t worked out the way fans had hoped when Baltimore parted with two draft picks and bunch of money to secure him. Today he had a monster game, snagging 8 catches for 132 yards (16.5 avg) and hauling in a beautifully thrown 56-yarder that set up another Cundiff Field Goal. You could hear the fans booing Derrick Mason each time he made a catch today which is a shame. He had a productive career here but instead of focusing on his past production the venom was solely for his mouth which got him headlines late in his Baltimore career and eventually run out of New York. Boldin has done nothing but play hard since he got here and weather he ends up with a single catch or three touchdowns he seems to only be focused on victories. I hope that Boldin continues to get the chances we saw today and maybe consistent success will follow.
- Let me get my Joe Flacco analysis out of the way. Impressive opening, awful Second Quarter punctuated by two turnovers, a strong second half with some laser like throws on that final touchdown drive. He’s gotten some heat for his low completion percentage over the first quarter of the season. But it’s really much ado about nothing. He’s had his top top targets over his career taken from him and has had to get in sync with rookies while Lee Evans heals. It’ll will take some time. If you are worried about Joe be encouraged that he completed Sixty percent against Houston (20 of 33), hit two long bombs, had 11 receptions from his wideouts and made the throws he needed to when the game was close.
- Ray Rice. I keep saying it each week. The Ravens offense is best when balanced but it is even better when it finds ways to get Rice the ball. He touched the ball 28 times today. (25-30 per game is ideal) He rewarded Baltimore with 162 total yards – 101 on the ground. I would rather have not seen Ricky Williams vulture his touchdown but then again Rice is on my Fantasy team.
- Cam Cameron. You want offensive identity sportswriters? It’s Ray Rice then a balanced attack. Today we saw what the Ravens offense should be from here on out. They had over 400 Total Yards of Offense and red zone issues aside scored 29 points on their own. Stop and think about it. No defensive scores. In fact the Texans didn’t turn it over at all. Imagine if just one of Cundiff’s Five would have been a Six instead of Three. Some people would like to see the some imagination inside the Red Zone but I prefer to keep it simple. If you pound it once or twice why not play-action to Ed Dickson or Pitta or Boldin? Teams load up against the run on us inside the Five. There are plenty of easy pass options that don’t include a fade to the corner.
- More Cam love on this next point. The last touchdown drive was beautifully called. The old Cam would have run it off-tackle two or three times and then punted. Instead the play-action was the perfect move. It gave Flacco space away from the rush and gave him a direct line to his targets. A few First downs later and the Ravens drove the final nail in Houston instead of making the defense hold on for the victory. If Baltimore can keep this mentality I see continued improvement for this unit.
- When is Ben Grubbs coming back? His scratch this week has me concerned. He practiced Wednesday but was out Thursday. That means poor response to physical activity. You have to wonder when surgery might be discussed as an option for Grubbs’ ailing toe. Andre Gurode has been a decent fill-in and he has had to learn a new position but you can also see why Dallas let him walk. Not just Gurode but the entire offensive line had trouble handling the Texans’ blitz packages. What was with all the free unchecked rushers on Flacco?
- The Ravens defense was still very solid today even though it felt as if they allowed too many conversions in the First Half. Let’s also credit a very good Houston O-Line too. They pressured Matt Schaub enough with four sacks and five hits and didn’t allow many big plays. They also limited Arian Foster to 49 yards on the ground. Still they made plays when necessary and shut out the Texans the last twenty minutes of the contest.
- The Ravens need to find a permanent answer for Punt and Kick return duties. David Reed’s injury hasn’t helped and I don’t like Lardarius Webb back there with a thin cornerback situation. Laquan Williams looked WAY too shaky against New York. Bryan McCann looked solid on kicks today but I cringe every time I see Ed Reed ready to return a punt. Until David is ready, McCann will have to fill the void.
- I’m upset that I can’t blast the CBS tag team of Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf more for their broadcast. They weren’t as terrible as I thought they’d be. They commented several times on the crowd volume and how tough it is to play in Baltimore. They also had nice tribute package on the passing of Pat Modell. But the worst error, and correct me if I’m wrong because I didn’t hear it, was the lack of any mention of Ray Lewis’ historic sack. Lewis became the first player in NFL history with 40 sacks and 30 INTs with his sack on Schaub.
- (EXTRA POINT) Continued kudos to the coaching staff. I’ve been critical of the lack of half-time adjustments in the past. Not so today, as both Chuck Pagano and Cam Cameron made changes and the Ravens reaped the benefits.