Ravens not just winning, but doing so convincingly

Posted Oct. 17, 2011 @ 10:53 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

The Ravens' 29-14 win vs. Houston Sunday was their narrowest victory of the season, proof of how dominant John Harbaugh's club has been at times in 2011.

In five games, the Ravens have outscored opponents by more than a 2-1 margin (148-71). Their 15.4 point  differential per contest is tops in the NFL. Another very positive sign: The Ravens are outgaining opponents by 81.0 yards per game, sixth-best in the NFL.

Against Houston, the Ravens fell behind 14-13 on a Matt Schaub-to-Jacoby Jones TD pass with 8:36 left in the third quarter, but Baltimore seized control thereafter against the Texans, who were missing WR Andre Johnson (hamstring) and pass-rushing star Mario Williams, who had been lost to a season-ending pectoral injury in Week Five.

Nevertheless, that the Ravens were able to put away the Texans late was notable, considering Baltimore's problems closing out Houston a season ago. While the Texans were without Johnson, one of the game's top wideouts, they nonethless have a talented offense.

But it was Baltimore, not Houston, that was able to move the ball with the game on the line, and by game's end, the Ravens had outgained the Texans 402-293.

The PFW Spin

The Ravens' explosivness on offense and defense and their overall quality in all three phases — this is a club that's very good in the kicking game, too, with P Sam Koch and PK Billy Cundiff standouts — has been eye-opening.

With the Ravens trailing Houston in the third quarter, QB Joe Flacco found rookie WR Torrey Smith in succession for two of the game's key plays. The first, a 19-yard completion on 3rd-and-12, kept alive the Ravens' first drive after Houston's go-ahead score. The next play, a 51-yard bomb to Smith, set up the go-ahead field goal.

On the Ravens' next drive, Flacco connected with WR Anquan Boldin for 56 yards, leading to another field goal. On the play, Flacco dropped back and to his right, then heaved the ball to Boldin. Flacco, who took a hit from Texans DE Antonio Smith as he delivered the ball, couldn't have placed the ball any better, as Texans CB Johnathan Joseph had tight coverage but still couldn't make the play.

Flacco's arm strength and accuracy allow Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to call field-stretching plays. The Ravens' pass protection could still be a little better — Flacco has been sacked multiple times in four straight games (nine sacks total) — but Flacco is on pace to be sacked fewer times than he was a season ago.

Flacco also has an emerging deep threat in Smith, who has stepped up his game with Lee Evans (ankle) missing the last three contests. If Smith continues to show he can get open and catch the ball, the Ravens' offense will keep being a tough matchup. Although RB Ray Rice (398 rushing yards, 302 receiving yards) may be the Ravens' player whom opposing teams most want to stop, he has yet to be held to fewer than 96 combined yards in any game. Teams that struggle against strong ground games could also find themselves vulnerable against a Baltimore passing game that can sell the run and then air it out deep to Smith or Boldin.

The Ravens' defense also impressed on Sunday. Baltimore sacked Schaub four times and is now on pace for 48 sacks — 21 more than a season ago. And the Ravens blunted any Houston fourth-quarter comeback hopes. The Texans' last 11 plays netted 21 yards, and they twice turned the ball over on downs.

Simply put, if the Ravens continue to play like this in all three phases, they will be tough to beat in the AFC North.