BALTIMORE — The Ravens boast the NFL’s highest scoring offense led by a quarterback making his case for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award, but a turnaround on the other side of the ball has been crucial to the team’s six-game win streak.
Baltimore’s defense turned in one of its best performances of the season Sunday during a 41-7 win over the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium. In a battle of MVP-caliber quarterbacks, the Ravens forced Houston’s Deshaun Watson into maybe the worst game of his young career.
Watson completed 18-of-29 passes for 169 yards and a season-worst 63.7 passer rating. He threw an interception and lost a fumble while failing to score a touchdown.
“Defensively, to control Deshaun Watson the way they did, and to get the sacks the way we did, and the pressures, and to force the quick throws, was just a team effort,” head coach John Harbaugh said after the win. “It’s hard to rush the way we did. We weren’t just running upfield. We were getting very disciplined rush lanes, and they did a great job of that. That takes a lot of effort. And our coverage takes a lot of effort because we were covered – we were mixing coverages – but we covered the extended plays. Our defensive backs did a great job with that and our linebackers as well. So, I’m proud of our guys.”
The Ravens entered the game with just 16 sacks on the season, the league’s fourth fewest total. They dropped Watson six times and finished the afternoon with seven sacks. Baltimore’s previous high for sacks in a game was three. It had sacked Watson five times by halftime.
“I think we just created some looks that they weren’t used to seeing,” outside linebacker Matthew Judon said. “We hit our pressures, and we hit them fast. [We] kept the blitzers blitzing and the coverage covering. I think the back end did a great job. My first sack, it was definitely not because I just won on my first move. It was definitely a coverage sack, and shouts out to those guys. They’re doing a great job.”
Judon sacked Watson twice, including a strip-sack on the Texans’ first possession of the game. He finished with a team-high seven tackles.
“[I] just had to come out and get a good start. It’s not like I’ve been rushing bad. I just feel like some of the quarterbacks we’ve been facing got the ball out of their hands quicker, and I just stayed in pursuit today like I’ve been doing the whole year,” Judon said. “He all know, man, you can go on a drought, and then you can catch fire in an instant. You know how this league goes. So, we just came out in pursuit, and I really just want to shout out to the new guys. We got two new guys: [Domata] Peko and ‘Jelly’ [Justin Ellis], and they came out there, and they executed the game plan.”
Peko and Ellis played 22 and 21 snaps, respectively, after both defensive linemen had just signed with the Ravens earlier in the week.
Baltimore’s defense has made habit of adding players throughout the season and playing them immediately. Linebackers Josh Bynes and L.J. both signed off the street days before the Ravens faced the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 6, the start of the current win streak. Bynes intercepted a pass that game. He picked off Watson on Sunday for his second of the year.
Third-year outside linebacker Tyus Bowser also had a pair of sacks. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams, inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor and outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson each added one. Ferguson’s sack was the first of his career and the outside linebacker also recovered the fumble forced by Judon.
As Judon credited, the Ravens’ secondary forced Watson to hold the ball for an extended time on several occasions. In recent weeks, cornerback Marlon Humphrey had been assigned to shadow the opposing team’s top wide receiver. On Sunday, he shared the responsibility of matching All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins with Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith.
Hopkins finished with a team-high seven catches for 80 yards, but the Ravens held the star wide receiver to only three receptions after the first quarter.
“The coverage is what made those things happen, because [Watson] had to hold the ball initially, and that gave us a chance to get there,” Harbaugh said. “That’s why it’s such a team operation. Those things work hand in hand. I would say our coverage has been getting steadily better.”
The Texans entered with the NFL’s fourth-ranked offense, averaging 396.7 yards per game. Baltimore held them to 232 yards of total offense. The Ravens shut out a Houston team that averaged 26.4 points per game until 7:10 remained in the fourth quarter.
Jackson and the offense have been potent all season. Unlike Baltimore teams of the past, the question marks resided on the defensive side of the ball.
When the Ravens last lost a game back on Sept. 29, the defense allowed 40 points and had given up more than 500 yards in consecutive weeks for the first time in franchise history.
“From that moment on, we knew we had to refocus,” Williams said. “It’s about us. We needed to stop worrying about everything else and just concentrate on what we do well. And that’s what we’ve done.”
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