Ravens QB Joe Flacco had to step up and lead his team against the Texans; instead, he found himself flattened by the pressure.
Never have the Houston Texans defeated the Baltimore Ravens—that is, before Sunday, when they absolutely decimated Baltimore, 43-13, the Ravens' largest margin of defeat since John Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2008.
There was little good to come from the loss; the sole bright spot was the return of linebacker Terrell Suggs, who, in a limited capacity after returning from his Achilles tendon tear, had four tackles and a sack on 44 of 80 total snaps, more than the 12 to 20 he was expected to play.
Baltimore accomplished little on offense or defense. At halftime, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had completed just seven of his 20 pass attempts for 52 yards and two interceptions, leaving him with a 4.2 quarterback rating and his offense with just 9:04 in time of possession.
It didn't get much better in the second half for Flacco and company. He ended his day going 21-of-43, accounting for 147 of a team-total 176 yards, with one touchdown, two interceptions, four sacks and a 45.4 rating. He was sacked back-to-back twice, making up those four sacks; one of them was for a safety.
A game-opening drive that featured Ravens running back Ray Rice notching first downs fizzled into nothing, as Baltimore was forced to abandon the run after finding themselves down by 13 points at the start of the second quarter. All told, Baltimore ran the ball just 12 times for a total of 55 yards.
The passing game produced little, however. With pressure coming at Flacco from every direction and Flacco unable to run a no-huddle with the Houston crowd drowning out his calls, no Ravens receiver had more than five catches on the day.
Torrey Smith was thrown to 13 times but had just four catches for 41 yards. Tight end Dennis Pitta had five catches and 33 yards on eight targets, and Baltimore's lone touchdown was a single 15-yard pickup by second-year receiver Tandon Doss, coming in the third quarter and still resulting in the Ravens being down by 19 points.
Flacco has shown in the past that he struggles when under constant pressure, and it was on display Sunday with his two picks—one returned for a touchdown by Houston cornerback Johnathan Joseph—and four sacks. He was hit a total of eight times as well and had 11 of his passes either properly defensed or batted down at the line, a signature of Houston's defense this season.
Baltimore's defense saw little improvement from the past two weeks. Again, they struggled to stop the run, and it wasn't helped much by Suggs' return nor by being without linebacker Ray Lewis. They gave up 181 rushing yards to the Texans and just over five yards per carry. Ninety-eight of those yards (and two touchdowns) came on 19 Arian Foster carries. Ben Tate also added 47 yards on 10 rushes, and Justin Forsett had 32 more on six carries.
But it wasn't just the run that confounded Baltimore's defense. Houston's passing game also looked sharp without Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb to assist in stopping it. Quarterback Matt Schaub went 23-of-37 for 256 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. His leading receiver was Andre Johnson, who caught nine passes on 10 targets for 86 yards, and his two passing touchdowns came courtesy of Kevin Walter in the first quarter and Owen Daniels in the second.
At 5-2, the Ravens are still in first place in the AFC North, but if this is how their team is going to look without their star defenders healthy, then it doesn't bode well for their chances to hold onto the lead. Haloti Ngata's MCL sprain and Ed Reed's shoulder (and now rib) problems only make matters worse for a defense that is not accustomed to looking so soft and exposed.
The hope was that Baltimore's offense could carry the team and make up for their defense's shortcomings. We've seen them manage it earlier in the season, but they simply could not do so today. The result was the ugliest loss they've suffered in four years and the poorest performance of Flacco's career.
Thankfully, the Ravens have a bye week up next, giving them a chance to regroup and try to save a season that's very much in trouble.