Greg Gumbel, who called the Texans-Ravens game for CBS said at one point late in the game after the referee tossed his flag, "And another flag." His attempt at sarcasm was well meaning, but the joke was on the Texans Sunday as they fell 30-9 in Baltimore. The two teams combined for 24 penalties (accepted, there were others that were declined) for 200 yards. To call it ugly would be putting it mildly.
The Texans had more penalties and fewer big plays, looking sluggish and un-inspired on offense. A pick six by quarterback Matt Schaub (his second in as many weeks) and a punt return by Ravens return man Tandon Doss (who?) accounted for all the points they needed to win easily.
Defensively, the Texans were very good if undisciplined. They gave up only one touchdown and essentially one field goal -- the other was gifted to the Ravens after the Texans couldn't complete a fourth and three on their own side of the 50 -- and bottled up the run and the pass. Unfortunately, they racked up way too many penalties.
It was an ugly day for the Texans in a city where they have never won a game.
What went right: The Run Defense
The Texans held Baltimore to 75 yards rushing and only 2.4 yards per carry. Sure, they were missing all-pro Ray Rice, but even if Rice were out there, it is hard to imagine he would exploit a defense that was blowing plays up in the backfield and generally being a pain in the ass for Baltimore's offensive line. They would get a perfect grade if not for all the offsides penalties, which were ridiculous.
Runner Up: I'm not sure if it is the strangest or saddest fact of the first three games of the season that punter Shane Lechler is the team's MVP, but he was dead on again Sunday, pinning the Ravens back when the offense was unable to score. He may be the team's best offensive weapon. Seriously.
What went wrong Part 1: The Big Plays
The Texans defense only gave up on touchdown and one legit field goal to the Ravens (one came after turning the ball over on downs in the middle of the field). If not for a pick six and a punt return for a touchdown, the score could have been 10-9. You cannot give up 14 points to defense and special teams and expect to win. Ultimately, it was an ugly game with two big plays that turned the game, neither by Houston.
What went wrong Part 2: The Penalties
The Texans set a record with 14 penalties for 113 yards. It could be argued that one long pass interference call was blown, but many of the rest were absolutely legit including multiple offsides and encroachment penalties on the defense. It demonstrates a lack of discipline and, frankly, reflects extremely badly on Kubiak and his coaching staff.
Runner Up: Props to Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle for being the first one I've seen use the term "Konserviak" to describe the oddly safe plays called again and again by Coach Kubes. And what's up with the gimmicky crap on fourth down?
What must improve: The Running Game
I can't believe I'm having to write this again, but 94 yards on 4.1 carries is mediocre for a team with two very good running backs. It didn't help that they got down early and had to play catchup, basically abandoning the run, but when they did choose to run, they did so poorly and have done so all three games thus far. If this part of their game doesn't improve, they are in for a rough season.
Runner up: Matt Schaub. I don't like to be overly critical of the guy who I honestly don't see as the kind of massive weakness so many fans do, but Schaub MUST improve, particularly early in games, or nevermind a title, they'll be lucky to make the playoffs. In a league where elite quarterbacks can carry their teams, Schaub has been below mediocre.
What should stay the same: Young Wide Receivers
When Andre Johnson went down with a leg injury -- the second week he's left the game early -- the young guys stepped up and that included by Keyshawn Martin and DeVier Posey, who made big plays along with rookie DeAndre Hopkins, who continues to impress. For the first time in, well, ever, the Texans are nearly as good when Johnson is not on the field.
Runner up: The penetration from the defensive front seven was outstanding, particularly against the run. They bottled up Baltimore's running game from the start. What did we learn from the game?
The Texans, so far, are awful at the giveaway/takeaway game. The best teams in the league tend to create more turnovers than they give up. The Texans are not among them through three games. Of the four turnovers the Texans have been involved in (3 from them and 1 for them) three, oddly, were of the pick six variety, but only one was by a Texan. This is a serious issue that must be addressed.
What do we never want to see/hear again?
Dan Dierdorf calling a Ravens game. I honestly wondered out loud during the game if he was working for the Ravens. Granted, the Texans were awful, but even last year when Baltimore was being blown out in Houston, he acted as if they were winning. Today was worse and God help my ears when he described the "velvety hands" of one of the Ravens tight ends. Shudder.
Key Moment of the Game
End up with a fourth and short. Run 30 seconds off the clock. Call a timeout. Come out of the timeout and run a trick play pass two yards behind the line of scrimmage. That is exactly how NOT to win a game and it is the very thing the Texans did in the fourth quarter. Down 27-9 with under 9 minutes left in the game, Houston desperately needed a score. With a fourth down and only facing a few yards, they coughed up this garbage sequence to seal their fate. Let's face it, they weren't mounting a comeback anyway, but this had been the most promising series of the game and they gagged with poor clock management, a bizarre call and piss poor execution.
Game Balls: Shane Lechler
For the second week in a row, the Texans punter was the MVP. Maybe (MAYBE) he out-kicked the coverage on the Ravens punt return for a TD, but no one should ever kill a guy for booting the hell out of the ball. He averaged better than 50 yards on punts with three of them landing inside the 20 (one at the 1 yard line).
The Front Seven
I hate to give any group accolades when they had so many dumb pre-snap or nearly pre-snap penalties (especially against Joe Flacco, whose cadence and ability for drawing teams offsides will never been confused with Peyton Manning), but they were dominant against the run, racked up a pair of sacks and were in Flacco's face most of the day.
Goat of the Week: The Offensive Line
It's bad enough that the run game is non-existent, but when you are so bad, the coach won't even call plays designed to loosen up the defense because he's afraid his quarterback will get killed, you've gone from liability to all-out embarrassment. Duane Brown's absence is not nearly enough to justify this stinker of a performance. This is a serious issue for this team.
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Random thought of the week:
Congrats to Randy Bullock who got of the schneid hitting all three of his field goal attempts including one from 47 yards. He accounted for all the Texans points today, a dubious distinction in a loss. Hopefully, he got the yips out of his system.
Next Up: Home for Seattle
Out of the frying pan...Seattle is not nearly as good on the road, but their defense is one of the best in the league, particularly their massive, physical defensive backs who look and play more like linebackers. This could be a low-scoring game, especially with both defenses so good and both offenses decidedly mediocre. Seattle should clearly be the favorite, but if the Texans wanted to turn their season around, this would be the week to do it.