Baltimore Ravens: 10 Observations in Win Over the Houston Texans

Todd McGregorCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2010

Baltimore Ravens: 10 Observations in Win Over the Houston Texans

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    WR Derrick Mason notching first TD of eveningBob Levey/Getty Images

    Without a doubt, Monday night’s game between the Baltimore Ravens (9-4) and Houston Texans (5-8) became an instant classic as soon as the lights went out at Reliant Stadium.

    The Ravens' 34-28 overtime win, which came off a pick-six when CB Josh Wilson intercepted Texans QB Matt Schaub, is already being dissected 10 thousand ways by every critic in the industry.

    Instead of nitpicking every aspect of the game, we will look at five areas in which the Ravens excelled during the Monday night showdown, and five areas that were obvious eyesores which require immediate improvement—10 simple observations that might change your opinion of the Baltimore Ravens (for better or worse).

    Let’s start with the painfully bad observations and end with some positive upside.

    Todd McGregor is a Baltimore Ravens Featured Columnist here on BleacherReport.com

    Follow Todd's work on Twitter!  Twitter.com/ravens023

1. Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron Must Take Charge of His Offense

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    (Source: Getty Images)

    Perhaps the most worrisome observation most fans make when watching the Ravens play is the noticeable loss of identity on the part of the offense.

    Part of the “identity crisis” going on in Baltimore can be attributed to the struggles the team has had in the running game in 2010, and the new commitment offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has made to stick with a physical “run first” philosophy.

    In 2009, RB Ray Rice finished second in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage, only a few yards shy of Tennessee’s RB Chris Johnson.

    However, Baltimore’s front office made it clear before the start of the 2010 season that the team had to surround third-year QB Joe Flacco with higher caliber wide receivers.  This led to the acquisition of Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte’ Stallworth.

    For one reason or another, teams like Cincinnati and Miami, who also added high-profile receivers to their rosters in the offseason, have struggled mightily to establish any sort of consistency on offense.

    Cameron and Co. did right by Baltimore in surrounding Flacco with better receivers.  However, it usually takes time for new quarterback-receiver relationships to develop, which is why WR Derrick Mason is still Flacco’s favorite target on the field.

    What Cameron must do is stick to what works best.  As we witnessed in Houston on Monday, now is not the time to revert to a style of offense you haven’t been running all season.

    The Ravens also featured a “new look” offensive line during Monday night’s game against the Texans.  Right tackle Oniel Cousins replaced Marshal Yanda, who moved over to right guard—his normal position.

    With TE Todd Heap still sidelined with a hamstring injury, right guard Chris Chester will likely serve in a blocking role similar to what Heap provided when healthy.

    All of these changes might be for the better, but any time you move players out of their usual roles, a readjustment period always ensues.  With the Ravens fighting to maintain their current standing in the playoff race, now is not the time to tinker with different packages on the offensive line.

    Besides, more attention should be directed towards left tackle Michael Oher, who seems to miss key assignments during crucial moments of football games—most recently in Houston, where he allowed two sacks on Flacco because of mental lapses.

    After watching Monday night’s performance on the part of Cameron and the Ravens offense, returning to what Baltimore used to be offensively is simply not a smart idea. 

    Cameron must roll with the changes Baltimore made during the offseason, and learn to coach with a certain level of aggression we have yet to see this season.

2. Baltimore's Defense Lacks Any Sort of Pass Rush

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    Larry French/Getty Images

    When Rex Ryan departed for New York, so did most of his exotic blitz packages.  Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has done a decent job working with what he has, but the absence of consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks has cost Baltimore dearly, especially last Monday against Houston.

    The inability of the offense to sustain long drives against a poor Texans defense played a role in Baltimore’s sluggish performance on defense, rendering a once great pass rushing unit useless.

    In Baltimore’s 34-28 win over the Texans, head coach John Harbaugh elected to keep more defenders in coverage in order to prevent the big playmaking ability of Houston WR Andre Johnson.

    Harbaugh’s plan failed once again, as Schaub was able to drop back 62 times, throwing for over 300 yards in the second half alone.

    The matchup in the trenches heavily favored the Ravens, as the Texans owned the lightest weight offensive line in the NFL, but that didn’t matter in the end because Baltimore only committed three pass rushers for the majority of the game.

    The hard truth is Baltimore’s secondary isn’t built to remain in man coverage for extended periods of time.  With a group of average defensive backs making up the secondary, the Ravens must find ways to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, or the road to the Super Bowl could be an unpleasant experience once again in 2010.

3. Joe Flacco Remains Under Constant Pressure

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The problem Baltimore has protecting their biggest asset stems from some of the inconsistencies in the offensive line we pointed out earlier.

    Sure, the injury to Heap has hurt, but some of the onus falls on the coaching staff to recognize what the opposing defense is doing, and make the proper adjustments at the line.

    When you have defenders running freely at Flacco, as we saw on Monday night, you run the risk of several bad things happening.

    Flacco was sacked five times in the Ravens' win over the Texans, and was pressured countless times.

    Protecting Flacco has been a problem for Baltimore all season, and with the recent changes to the offensive line, it could be weeks before the bleeding is stopped—and even that’s a stretch.

    It’s no secret that Flacco lacks the ability to read coverages at this point in his young career, so it’s up to both players and coaching staff to protect the future of the Ravens offense.

    You can have the best receivers playing for your team, but that doesn't matter if you have a quarterback who can’t deliver the football because he’s getting knocked down on every other play.

4. Anquan Boldin Is Not a Factor in Baltimore's Offense

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    Ravens WR Anquan BoldinKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Maybe part of this has to do with the recent spat between Joe Flacco and Derrick Mason several weeks ago, when Mason demanded a larger role in the Ravens offense.

    Mason got his wish, especially on Monday night, when he torched Houston for 78 yards and two touchdowns.

    Boldin, however, is increasingly becoming an afterthought in the Baltimore offense as the end of the regular season nears.

    Boldin will always receive more attention from opposing defenses, but it’s Flacco who looks Mason’s way, instead of Boldin’s.

    The Ravens acquired Boldin in the offseason solely for the reason of having a receiver who can win big games on playmaking ability alone.

    Even though Boldin leads all Baltimore receivers in most statistical categories, the rapport between Flacco and Boldin has yet to reach the next level, and some can argue it has regressed in recent weeks.

    Against a dreadful Texans pass defense, Boldin only managed 41 yards on three receptions—a disappointing stat for Ravens fans.

    If Baltimore wants a shot at the Super Bowl, Boldin needs to serve in an expanded role as he did earlier in the season.  The pressure will fall on Cam Cameron once again to work Boldin back into the offense.

5. Ray Rice Still Seeking a Breakout Performance

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    Ravens RB Ray RiceGeoff Burke/Getty Images

    Everyone in Baltimore is eagerly awaiting RB Ray Rice’s breakout performance of the 2010 season.  Many thought it would come against the Carolina Panthers nearly a month ago, but it never eventuated.

    Maybe the problem isn’t with Rice so much as it is with Cam Cameron not fully committing to the run.  The problem could also lie with an offensive line that’s having a less than stellar year.

    Rice has managed to stay productive in Baltimore’s offense, racking up over 100 all-purpose yards in all but five games this year.

    Rice has only rushed for more than 100 yards once this season—a 133-yard effort against the Denver Broncos back in Week 5.

    With all the talk of a more physical rushing attack going into Week 14 against Houston, the numbers at the end of the game and the overall dedication to the run was more than disappointing.

    Granted, we did see more of a three-headed attack from Rice, McGahee and McClain.  In the end, however, Rice still missed on his chance to have a big game against the Texans.

    The absence of a steady, effective rushing attack is one of the main reasons why the Ravens defense has struggled so much this year.

    It will be interesting to see how devoted Cameron is to establishing Rice in the run game from here on out.

    Now on to some more positive observations in the Ravens' win over the Texans.

6. Baltimore's Special Teams Play Is Outstanding

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    Ravens punter Sam KochLarry French/Getty Images

    Who would’ve thought that Baltimore’s Monday night win over Houston would come down to field position in the end?  Not many, especially if you were among the select few who turned the game off at halftime.

    Kicker Billy Cundiff once again used his strong leg to generate several touchbacks on kickoffs, and is the only kicker who has recorded a touchback in every game during the 2010 season.

    Punter Sam Koch was even more impressive in contributing to the Ravens win on Monday.  Five of Koch’s seven punts were downed inside the 20, giving the high-powered Texans offense long fields to work with.

    Baltimore’s special teams play has been the only consistent part of the team this year, and is good enough to win games on their own merit if the Ravens run into problems on offense or defense.

    On another note, WR David Reed’s 103-yard kick return for a touchdown will most likely solidify him has the Ravens permanent return man.  Everyone in Baltimore knows Reed will eventually become a special teams standout, and Monday was just one example of what Reed is capable of.

7. Joe Flacco Continues to Make Big Strides

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    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    The Houston Texans surely didn’t present the biggest challenge for Flacco this season, but the third-year quarterback remained solid, given the amount of pressure he was under for the majority of the game.

    Flacco eclipsed the 3,000-yard mark for the third time in as many years as he’s been a pro, and surpassed Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger for the quickest passer to 30 wins.

    In addition to these amazing stats, Flacco has only thrown three interceptions since Week 3 of the NFL season.

    If Flacco can maintain his style of mistake-free football, the Ravens will enjoy a long trip into the postseason and possibly the Super Bowl.

8. Derrick Mason Might Be the Best Route-Runner in the NFL

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    This point touches on what we said earlier about WR Derrick Mason.  The 14-year veteran is certainly one of the NFL’s most underrated receivers.  Way beyond that, Mason could easily be regarded as one of the best route-runners in the entire league.

    Mason always presents a difficult challenge to opposing defenses with his sharp athletic skills, not to mention he is Flacco’s favorite target—and for a good reason.

    On Monday night, we saw Mason once again at his best, catching two touchdowns and nearly breaking 80 yards receiving.

    Going forward, Mason will be an integral part of the Baltimore offense, and will continue to provide Flacco with some assurance in the passing game.

9. Terrell Suggs Is Baltimore's Best Weapon on Defense

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Many people might be surprised not to hear safety Ed Reed’s name mentioned in this segment.  Reed has done some great things since returning from the PUP list during the middle of the season, but Terrell Suggs has grabbed the spotlight as of late.

    Every year, it always seems Suggs heats up during the winter months, and this year has been no exception.

    Suggs notched yet another sack against Houston on Monday night, and has 5.5 sacks in the past five games.

    Suggs is a disruptive player on the field.  He’s always a threat to come rushing from either side of the line, creating sacks or forcing fumbles in the process.

    Suggs’ ability to change games with one play makes him an asset to a Ravens team that becomes accustomed to winning close games.

10. CB Josh Wilson Is the Real Deal

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    Ravens CB Josh Wilson celebrating game-winning TD (# 37)Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Finally, every player has great moments and poor moments during a career in the NFL.  Ravens CB Josh Wilson is an example of such a player.

    Wilson has had his share of triumphant moments in the NFL, but none comes bigger than his game-winning pick-six Monday night in Houston that possibly saved the Ravens' season.

    This was Wilson’s fourth pick-six in his NFL career, and first since taking over for injured Ravens CB Fabian Washington earlier in the year.

    Wilson might have secured himself a permanent spot on the Ravens roster after the performance he turned in against the Texans on Monday.

    Not only did Wilson manage the pick-six, but he also defended several deep passes intended for the physical Houston WR Andre Johnson.

    Coaches always look for defining moments in a player’s career.  Wilson held several of those moments Monday night, and should be rewarded as a result for his amazing work.

    Todd McGregor is a Baltimore Ravens Featured Columnist here on BleacherReport.com

    Follow Todd's work on Twitter!  Twitter.com/ravens023