The final score of yesterday’s Ravens-Texans game might give those who didn’t actually watch the AFC battle the impression Baltimore coasted to victory.
Those of us who did watch the Ravens’ 29-14 win know that’s not the case.
By no means did the Ravens dominate the pesky Texans yesterday. In fact, were it not for a couple key in-game adjustments - one offensively, one defensively - John Harbaugh’s team might very well have left M&T Bank Stadium on the losing end of things.
The first major tweak came at halftime, after defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano had seen the Texans convert 5-of-10 third downs in the first 30 minutes. Quarterback Matt Schaub had gone 11-of-19 in the first half, and while he wasn’t making plays deep down the field, Schaub was getting the ball out of his hands quickly and beating the Ravens when they brought pressure.
The Ravens faced a similar issue in their Week 2 loss to the Titans, when Matt Hasselbeck beat the Baltimore defense with short, quick passes that moved Tennessee down the field and allowed them to avoid the aggressive blitz packages that Pagano often utilizes.
So what did Pagano do to combat the Texans’ offensive attack? He dialed back the blitzes, opting to send fewer bodies to the quarterback and drop more defenders into coverage. The adjustment paid off, as Houston went just 1-of-6 on third downs in the second half and scored on just one of its six possessions after halftime.
“Chuck is always good at halftime,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “In my opinion, the quality of a good coordinator is his halftime adjustments. Chuck came in and we narrowed it down. They were doing a lot of quicks, so the blitzes we called weren’t getting there. So Chuck did a good job with our second half adjustments and it paid off.”
At the same time that Pagano was changing things on the fly, those on the offensive side of the ball were making adjustments of their own to try and jump-start a running game which struggled to get much traction for the bulk of the game.
Baltimore had minimal success yesterday with its new zone-stretch ground attack - the same running scheme which the Texans utilize - and posted just 45 rushing yards on 18 carries through the first three quarters.
Ray Rice was getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of rhythm, and after he was brought down for a five-yard loss to end the third quarter, he marched off the field looking for running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery. A fired up Rice suggested that the Ravens scrap the zone-stretch scheme and go back to more of an interior running attack.
“(The Texans) see the outside zone every day in practice from their own guys,” Rice said. “I went to my running backs coach, Wilbert Montgomery, and the greatest part of having a running backs coach that played in the NFL is that his eyes are my eyes. I went to Wilbert and said, ‘We have to get the inside zone.’ We went to Cam (Cameron, offensive coordinator), made the adjustment, came back out and we got the ball rolling.”
Things opened up from there, as the Ravens ripped off 68 rushing yards in the fourth quarter, wearing the Texans down, dominating time of possession and securing the win.
“It’s great because these adjustments happen on the fly,” Rice said. “These adjustments didn’t happen at halftime, we were still driving. They scored, they got up on us in the second half and, as soon as the five-yard loss happened, we were lobbying to not go away from the run. Let’s get it going with the tighter trap inside. I would like to thank the coaches for not blinking.”