The offense sputtered and stalled early, but the defense provided a spark with a second-quarter touchdown, and Lamar Jackson and the Ravens ultimately ran past the host Houston Texans, 33-16, for their second straight win to open the 2020 season.
Jackson and the Ravens’ offense was held to one first-half touchdown, but a defensive touchdown by linebacker L.J. Fort — after a fumble forced by cornerback Marlon Humphrey — propelled the Ravens to a 20-10 halftime lead. Then the Ravens used their pound-and-ground running game to salt away their seventh consecutive road victory dating to last season.
Here are five quick observations of the win, which leaves the Ravens at 2-0 entering their highly anticipated “Monday Night Football” matchup Sept. 28 against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) at M&T Bank Stadium.
1. The Ravens’ secondary is game-changing in so many ways.
Ravens cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters again laid claim to being the best cornerback duo in the league.
With the Ravens’ offense struggling to find its rhythm in the first half, the Texans took over at their own 17-yard line trailing 13-7. On first down, Deshaun Watson completed a pass to receiver Keke Coutee, but Humphrey punched the ball loose, and L.J. Fort scooped it up and raced 22 yards for a touchdown and a 20-7 lead.
“L.J. and Marlon making that play was really the momentum-turner in the game in so many ways,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It kind of got us going.”
On the Texans’ next possession, cornerback Marcus Peters peeled off his assignment, read Watson and made a sensational diving interception at the Ravens 35-yard line to kill a Texans drive.
“That’s the kind of interception that, really, only he can make,” Harbaugh said. “You can’t coach that, what he saw there and how he handled that play.”
Humphrey’s play was reminiscent of his punch-out forced fumble at Pittsburgh last year that set up the game-winning field goal in overtime. After being overlooked for Pro Bowl consideration in his first two seasons, Humphrey is making the “splash plays” now that have established him as one of the top corners in the league. He has an interception and a forced fumble in the first two games this season.
Peters, meanwhile, now has 28 career interceptions, the most in the league since he joined the league in 2015.
The matchup with Patrick Mahomes next week should be tremendous.
2. This is what the Ravens envision from their multidimensional running attack.
Through six quarters, the Ravens running game, which became the most prolific in NFL history last year, struggled to get much traction. In the first half against the Texans, the running backs totaled 16 yards on five carries.
In the second half, though, the Ravens’ formula looked like last season, as the ground game chewed up yardage and clock and put the game away, earning the running back group a game ball from Harbaugh.
The Ravens finished with 230 rushing yards, with the running backs accounting for 160 yards after halftime.
“The running backs were getting extra yards on most every carry,” Harbaugh said.
Gus Edwards led the way with a team-high 73 yards on 10 carries, and Mark Ingram (nine carries, 55 yards) had the highlight run of the day with a fourth-and-1 direct snap that went for a 30-yard touchdown for a 30-13 lead. Rookie J.K. Dobbins punctuated the effort with a 44-yard run late.
Jackson ran probably more than the Ravens would like, carrying 16 times for 54 yards as he often scrambled to make something happen against a pass rush that had the better of the Ravens’ offensive line early.
On the opening drive of the third quarter, the Ravens ran eight times on a 14-play drive that took more than half of the quarter and ended with a field goal for a 23-10 lead. Their ability to shorten the game by sustaining long drives with the lead has been at the heart of the success of this run-oriented offense, and that was the case again.
3. The offensive line needs to protect Jackson better.
The Ravens knew there would be an adjustment after perennial All-Pro Marshal Yanda retired, and they faced one of the game’s elite pass rushers in Houston’s J.J. Watt. But Jackson was under duress much of the first half, and to his credit he still played a largely error-free game, completing 18 of 24 passes for 204 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Rookie Tyre Phillips, who drew the unenviable assignment of succeeding Yanda, and tackle Orlando Brown struggled to contain Watt on the right side. Watt finished with two sacks and three quarterback hits. All-Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley fought through an ankle injury that he appeared to aggravate on one of the Texans’ three first-half sacks.
To his credit, Jackson often was able to elude a sack or extend a play by flushing out of the pocket, but the Ravens certainly don’t want to see 300-pound defensive linemen plowing into, or pushing Ravens linemen into, the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player.
4. The Ravens’ defense ultimately wore down Watson and the Texans.
Watson proved to be his at his elusive best early, somehow escaping the grasp of Jihad Ward and otherwise running out of trouble and extending plays. Watson finished 15-for-21 in the first half and had his Texans right in the game at halftime, down 20-10.
But after not being sacked at all in the first half, Watson was dropped four times in the second half, and the Ravens finished with 13 quarterback hits.
The Ravens, as they will do, showed multiple looks designed by exceptional defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale. One involved safety DeShon Elliott blitzing off the corner, which he did several times, and Elliott recorded his first career sack late in the game. Elliott also was instrumental in a fourth-down stop early in the game as he harassed Watson into an incompletion.
Calais Campbell and Tyus Bowser also were credited with sacks, and Chuck Clark and Marlon Humphrey recorded a half-sack each.
The Ravens held the Texans to 51 yards rushing on 17 carries, and once the score dictated that the Texans would need to throw, the Ravens’ defensive front — supported by that exceptional secondary — was up to the task.
Watson is “a true competitor,” Campbell said. “He went out and completed, play in and play out, made a lot of plays to give his team a chance to win, but we have a lot of guys who are true competitors, too. We just kept coming.”
5. The heartbreak continues for Tavon Young.
After missing the entire 2019 season with a neck injury, slot cornerback Tavon Young returned to training camp looking invigorated and ready to attack the 2020 season. Now two games in, it appears Young has suffered a season-ending injury for the third time in four seasons.
Young tweeted the following after the game Sept. 20:
Young hobbled off the field on the Texans’ first drive, and Harbaugh said after the game that Young likely is lost for the season. Young, who showed great promise as a rookie fourth-round draft pick in 2016, missed the entire 2017 season after suffering a torn ACL during a noncontact OTA workout.
He returned to play 15 games in 2018, earning a three-year contract extension in early 2019. Then he missed the entire 2019 season after suffering a preseason neck injury that required surgery. If this injury is as bad as feared, Young will have missed 30 of 32 games in the past two years, and 47 of 64 in four years.
The Ravens had to adjust to Young’s absence last year, and did so with Marlon Humphrey playing a lot of slot corner and playing it well. Unfortunately, the Ravens have to adjust yet again.
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