The Port Arthur News
When Wade Phillips' Houston Texans defense starts to dominate, the trendy descriptive term is "Bulls on Parade."
Take it from Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco, the parade started early Sunday afternoon. And, by the time the clock wound down on a resounding 43-13 victory for the home team, it was more like a stampede than a parade.
Flacco, in fact, must have felt like some poor guy who stumbled and fell during the running of the bulls in Pampalona. Everywhere he turned there was a Connor Barwin (sack for a safety) an Antonio Smith (two sacks) or a new bull, 2012 first round draft pick Whitney Mercilus (first NFL sack), bent on taking his head off.
Oh, yes, and there was the always raging bull, J.J. Watt, swatting another ball in the air to set up yet another interception that became a touchdown.
That one, nine seconds into the second quarter, sort of unleashed all the bulls, and doomed Flacco to perhaps the worst quarter of a promising career that has him on the fringe of joining the NFL QB elite.
On this day, though, and particularly in the second quarter, Flacco must have felt like he was a red flag being waved in front of a bunch of snorting,
snarling, really ticked off bulls. He went back to Baltimore licking the wounds of four sacks, two interceptions, five passes being swatted down by Houston’s front seven, getting flattened at least a dozen times and saddled with a 45.4 quarterback rating.
Those negative full-game numbers were downright glowing compared to a second quarter that saw him serve up both of the picks, including the one Watt tipped to Jonathan Joseph for a 52-yard pick six. In the longest 15 minutes of his Ravens' career, Flacco completed 4-of-13 passes for 27 yards, was intercepted twice and stumbled to the safety of the locker room with an embarrassing 0.6 rating. That's right, 0.6.
Flacco sounded duly impressed by his tormentors.
“They’re big guys. They do a good job of getting pressure. Sometimes, they stop rushing and they try to get their hands up. People asked me about it before the game — ‘what are you going to do?’ —. There’s not really much you can do. I don’t know. They had a lot of batted balls. They’re just a good defense. They play physical and they play fast.”
Thanks to that second quarter mugging, in which the Texans added 20 points to run a string of unanswered points to 29, and a lead of 29-3, the rest of the day was academic. But not academic was the statement Houston made in rebounding from last week's 42-24 thumping by Green Bay.
Head coach Gary Kubiak, Phillips and Texas fans all learned they no longer need to worry that the defense is going to unravel over the loss of stellar middle linebacker Brian Cushing.
"It's big not only for today but for the rest of the season," said Kubiak. "I think when you lose a player like Brian Cushing, then you have a game like
we had last week, it's human nature to say, 'Okay, how are we going to be? We walked out here and didn't feel real good about it last week.
"What we found out today, we can still play great defense and expect to do
that the rest of the year."
Phillips, as you would expect, was elated to see his defense rebound after getting burned for six touchdown passes by Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
“After last week, we wanted to come out and make a statement, and show that we can play the kind of football we play,” said the Texans defensive coordinator. “I thought it was a great game for us. Yeah, we put pressure on the quarterback. They’ve been one of the top offensive teams in the league. And or us to play the way we did was outstanding.”
Making the defense's return to form especially gratifying was the fact that Baltimore's only realistic chance to win was to turn the game into a shootout. The Ravens came in beat up on the defensive side of the ball. Baltimore, however, was healthy offensively, fresh off putting up 31 points on Dallas and was No. 1 in the NFL with 34 plays of 20 or more yards. Thirty of those were passes.
Against Houston's relentless pressure, Baltimore's longest gain was a 17-yard run by Ray Rice, who was limited to 42 rushing yards. Flacco's two longest completions, meanwhile, were 15 yards. Shutting off Baltimore's big plays enabled Houston to limit the Ravens to 12 first downs, 176 total yards and a time of possession deficit of 38:16 to 21:44.
Indeed, the Texans’ defense was so overwhelming it pretty well overshadowed a good but not great game from the offense. QB Matt Schaub (23-of-36, 256 yards, 2 TDs and a 100.7 QB rating), RB Arian Foster (19 rushes for 98 yards and 2 TDs), WR Andre Johnson (10 catches for 86 yards), TE Owen Daniels (10 receptions for 59 yards) all put up nice numbers. But they got opportunity after opportunity because of the defense.
During a stretch of the first and second quarter, Baltimore had five consecutive possessions of three and out or worse. The or worse was Watt’s deflection that resulted in Joseph’s touchdown. During those five possessions, the Ravens gained 21 yards and gave up a safety and a touchdown.
Baltimore getting only 13 points marked the fourth time this season and the 13th time in Phillips’ 23 games as DC that the Texans held an opponent to 13 or less. The defense’s suffocating contribution also helped the Texans’ score the most points in franchise history and post the second most one-sided win in team history.
Even more important, the take-no-prisoners victory, Houston’s first ever in seven tries against Baltimore, enabled the 6-1 Texans to grab a strong inside track toward home field advantage in the playoffs. That’s looking way ahead, but Baltimore is the only AFC team with as few as two losses and now the Texans owner the tiebreaker over the Ravens.
All in all, it’s a good reason to feel downright bullish heading into a bye week.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org