On Sunday in Baltimore, Houston played one of sloppiest games since, well, last week. Once the news broke that Duane Brown would miss Sunday's game because of an injury, all signs pointed to a poor showing on Ray Lewis Day in Baltimore. In the preview to Sunday's game, I had this to say:
I wish I could borrow one of those watches from Clockstoppers so I could stop time and change this part of the post Sunday morning when I know whether Duane Brown is playing or not. I could imagine a game where Suggs and Dummervil wreak havoc all day like Chipotle on my intestines. Flacco is able to hit Torrey Smith on one or two bombs and the Ravens squawk in victory to celebrate Ray Lewis joining their Ring of Honor.
Sadly, I was sort of right and I was unable to obtain the watch from Zak Gibbs to change my prediction. I assumed Brown was going to play and Houston would be ready to play a great sixty minute game where they would stop the long ball, control the clock, take the lead from the beginning and Matt Schaub would tear up an average secondary. Instead, everything went haywire.
Ryan Harris started (he played well, considering the situation) and the Derek Newton nightmares finally turned into reality in a horrific case of deja vu. He stunk up the field like a long car ride where everyone opted to have Taco Bell Crunch Wrap Supremes and Five Layer Burritos for lunch minutes before the journey began. Penalties, Baltimore scoring non-offensive touchdowns, and four yard passes on 3rd and 7 did Houston in. They've only lost one game, but their play has been poor these first three weeks. They are one or two bad bounces away from 0-3. Consequently, the Texans have just issued a code orange emergency alert for its fan base. These last three weeks have been tantalizingly frustrating to watch. A eam this talented continues to shoot themselves in the leg Plaxico Burress style. They lost on Sunday because of myriad problems, but there were three that stood out to me.
Make It Rain
On Sunday, yellow flags were scattered around the field like tadpoles swimming aimlessly in a shallow pond created by the newfound rain carried to Earth from a tropical storm. The game was excruciatingly painful to watch because of Houston's play and the number of stoppages brought by penalties. There were 118 plays. On 24 of them, a flag was thrown. That means 20.3% of the time a play was run, it was marred by a little yellow flag. I felt like I was on a YouTube music video watching spree where every artist had a Vevo and I was forced to wade through a commercial for every three and a half minutes of action. Some were warranted and some were not, as the referees did their best impersonation of the YMCA referees that called five fouls a game on me in my basketball games growing up.
Eventually the refs' poor performance mushroomed into one of the most bizarre things I have seen in a professional football game. On Baltimore's first drive of the second half, Joe Flacco went deep to Torrey Smith down the sideline. The play was ruled complete, but it was overturned thanks to a Kubiak challenge. Then the refs went back to spot the ball for 3rd and 8; instead of putting it on the 33 where it should have been, they placed it on the 32. Not only that, they kept thinking the play was 3rd and 7 when in reality it was 3rd and 8. Even the middle school referees in NEISD don't make mistakes like that. I hadn't seen something this ludicrous since last week when Randy Bullock went to attempt a game-winning field goal. In that trip to The Twilight Zone, he was iced, then had his kick blocked because of an offside, readied kick again five yards closer and was iced, and finally kicked one that would be counted only to miss. He kicked the ball four times and only one of them mattered. I don't think I'll ever see anything like it again. I will continue to write about this sequence so it doesn't fade from the collective consciousness of the NFL-watching population.
Additionally, there were two other calls in the game that I absolutely hated, and they represent the current problem with officiating in the NFL. The first was Kareem Jackson's defensive pass interference penalty on 2nd and 10 with 5:18 remaining. Baltimore was in the middle of their first drive; it took them into Houston's territory. Flacco let go of one of his patented deep passes and Jackson had Marlon Brown blanketed. Right before the ball reached the two of them, Jackson turned and looked at the ball before knocking it aside. The ref then promptly threw the flag because he had no idea what he was doing. Gumbledorf even stated,"The flag came because he never turned and looked for--". The replay showed Jackson doing the exact opposite, and Dierdorf rebutted with "I've seen players get away with much less." The play gave the Ravens a free 23 yards when it should have been Baltimore getting a 3rd and 7 at Houston's 36. Instead they were moved up the field and scored their first points of the game.
The other play that drove me up the wall, like a deranged hyena stuck in captivity, was the roughing the passer penalty on Whitney Mercilus. This one didn't lead to any points, but the call was still egregious. Just as Flacco was releasing the ball, Mercilus hit Flacco right underneath the chin and drove him to the ground. It was a penalty because Flacco was hit too hard and you can't do that to a quarterback anymore. The play wasn't illegal. The ref simply didn't enjoy the way the hit looked. It just seemed too sinister and violent for him not to throw a flag, and because of it, a penalty occurred.
Pass interference, helmet-to-helmet hits, and roughing the passer are called so many different ways in the NFL that it's now nearly impossible to have any idea what to expect. There's sixteen different referee teams and each one interprets the rules differently. As a result, there is no continuity or consistency in how the games are called. Players have no idea what will or won't be called. They are merely at the mercy of the wind and sea. The problem is that these penalties are at least fifteen yards; in the case of pass interference, they can go up to 99 yards. They have a large impact on the game and can change it in an instant if they're called at crucial times.
I believe the NFL should give the coaches the opportunity to challenge one fifteen yard penalty a game. The rules would be you get one, it has to be on a play where a flag was thrown, you can't challenge plays where there could have been a penalty, and you lose a timeout if it fails. It would add five to ten minutes to each game presumably, but it would make the on-field product better. Refs would be able to get these subjective calls correct even when they are at poor vantage points and players could play with more freedom. It would also lead to more continuity with calls. The league, fans, and players could actually figure out and decide what constitutes a penalty in these cases. Also don't forget how hilarious it would be to watch Marvin Lewis waste his challenge in the first quarter on a five yard pass interference penalty.
End rant, exit stage left. Despite the problems with the referees, Houston did not lose because of them. They played a sloppy, undisciplined game of football. If their performance morphed into a person, they would have been a 19 year old woman in a cop costume on October 31st. Below is a chart of the penalties that were called.
|Rouging the Passer||1-W.Mercilus||--|
|Def Pass INT||2-K.Jackson||--|
|Offensive Holding||3-D.Newton (1 declined)||3|
The chart may be off by one or two since I included penalties that were declined as well. Against the Ravens, Houston had 14 penalties for 113 yards. Baltimore had 10 for 87, but most of the Ravens' penalties came on the offensive side of the ball in the second half. The Texans just handed the Ravens yards by jumping offsides and dug themselves into a larger hole on offense by flinching before the snap, blocking defenders outside of the numbers, or lazily lining up wrong. It was disgusting to watch them play the way they did. They handed out yards like an episode of Oprah's My Favorite Things. You get five yards, you get twenty yards, you get ten yards, we all get yards!
Oh Duane, How the Heart Aches for Thee.
We have seen a Duane Brownless world, and it was lugubrious. It was a world almost as horrendous as the cannibalistic gray colored misery the Man and the Boy go thru in Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The run game wasn't as effective, and Schaub played one of the worst games in his career because of Brown's absence. Matt Schaub's problems yesterday stemmed from a lack of confidence and mental issues. He had Ryan Harris starting at left tackle (who seemed to play well enough at first glance, but I won't know until I see the All-22) and Derek Newton on the right protecting him against Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil on the outside.
When watching the game, it didn't seem like Schaub had to play under David Carr pressure. However, every time he went back to receive a snap on a passing play, and glanced over at Suggs and Dumervil on the outside, it looked like he said this in his head: "Oh crap, not again. Who's that guy to to the left? When did Rick sign that dude? Where's Duane? Duuuaaaaannnnnneeeee! Duuuuuuuannnnnnneeeeee! Oh, that's right. I thought he was joking when he said his toe is mangled. After the game today, I'm going to do whatever it takes to get him healthy again. I haven't sucked on his toes in a while. Maybe that will help? At least the right side isn't so bad. Oh, wait a second. I'll throw the ball for four yards before they get to me! Hahahaha! That will show them. Man, I can't wait to go home and enjoy that new pair of slacks I just purchased from Banana Republic. I'm going to break them in while I watch House Hunters on HGTV after the game."
The numbers state Schaub faced about the same pressure he had all season. Against San Diego, he was sacked twice and hit six times. Against the Titans, he was sacked twice and hit eight times. Things weren't much different against the Ravens; Schaub was sacked three times for a loss of twenty-four yards and was hit seven times. The sacks came on deeper drop-backs and the problems in the passing game were the result of the inability for Houston to get the ball down field. Matt's final line was 25/35 (71.42%), 194 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT (returned for a TD), a long of 18 yards. He averaged 7.76 yards a completion and 5.54 yards an attempt. He and the Texans were worried about the amount of time he could stay upright in the pocket, so he threw short and completed passes to the first guy who got open.
The worst part about this is Houston was able to move the ball well in the first half and picked up yards on first and second down. The problem this week came in the form of third downs. They had an average third down distance of 8.84 yards, but the number is skewed some because of four third downs where they needed more than fifteen yards to move the chains. When removing these outliers, Houston had 8 third downs where they needed only 4.25 yards to achieve a first. In these situations, Houston converted only three out of eight (37.5%) and averaged only 2.62 yards an attempt. We all saw Schaub attempt passes two or three yards short of the first down marker with a man blanketing the receiver; cue the three yard incompletion to Owen Daniels in the red zone. We all saw conservative playcalling where they would run a screen or throw a check down on 3rd and 3. We all moaned in disgust. The passing game has been extremely effective so far this season and Schaub had started off the year playing very well. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. However, I don't see the offense doing anything passing-wise until Brown comes back and Schaub regains confidence in his offensive line.
The run game suffered in big bad Duane Brown's absence as well. This year, Houston has run the ball 16 times for 133 yards at an average of 8.3 yards a carry on the left side (counting LT and LE) of the line. Yes, the numbers are skewed from Ben Tate's 60 yard run against the Titans; even when you remove that, the team is running the ball for 4.86 yards a carry in that direction. On Sunday, Houston ran the ball in that direction three times for 21 yards (7 Y/C). However, the Texans simply did not trust Wade Smith and Harris to create a push. They instead called plays to the right side.
On the right side (RG, RT, RE), Houston ran the ball 13 times for an average of 4.3 yards a carry. They did not run the ball once in the middle of the field where the behemoth Haloti Ngata controls the line of scrimmage. The Texans ran the ball well when they did run it, but they had to abandon it once they fell behind and lacked the confidence to run towards the left side. Add Duane Brown's absence to the penalties and you get a putrid offense that lacked confidence and consistency.
Another week, another incredible performance by the defense. Once again they shut down the opponent's offense. Baltimore ran the ball 31 times for 75 yards, which amounts to 2.4 yards a carry. One of those runs was a 25 yard Bernard Pierce scamper, but if you remove this outlier their numbers drop to 55 yards and 1.83 yards a carry. Pierce, who started for the injured Ray Rice, suffered from an offensive line that was simply outmatched. Baltimore had nineteen runs that went for two yards or less. Nineteen! Pierce couldn't even breathe, let alone try to find a hole to run through. There was even a play where he simply fell right in front of Brian Cushing in demoralizing anguish because of how much the defense terrorized him.
On the passing end, the Ravens weren't much better. Flacco went 16/24 (66.67%) for 171 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. The deep ball was nonexistent except for a ridiculous pass interference penalty and a 48 yard bomb to Torrey Smith, who had Johnathan Joseph covering him. Wacko Flacco Flame only managed 7.125 yards an attempt and went 1/4 for 48 yards when attempting to throw the ball over 15 yards. He did do a great job escaping the pass rush and keeping sacks off the box score. Despite all of the Flacco hate and nonsensical arguments about him being elite (it doesn't mean anything and if the media can get people to argue over an imaginary subjective metric, they can get us to argue about anything), he does do an incredible job playing under pressure and maneuvering around the pocket.
Against the Ravens, Cushing and Watt were at it again. Brian Cushing had 8 tackles and one for a loss. Watt had 9 tackles (3 for a loss) and a sack. The rest of the defense played well, but again nobody could match the production these two had. Watt and Cushing may be the best defensive line/linebacker tandem in the NFL. They are always in the backfield and disrupt the natural flow of the offense for the majority of the game.
Based on these last three paragraphs, what probability would you give Houston of winning the game? I would say Houston would have a 70% chance to win based on what was written above. Instead, they lost 30-9 because of two non-offensive touchdowns thanks to poor tackling in the punt game and a pick-six where Schaub was fixated on Owen Daniels the entire play. The defense held the Ravens to 16 points; 10 of those you can point to penalties giving Baltimore the opportunity to score. Another week, another game, another lockdown job by Wade Phillips' defense.
Houston has been unable to take advantage of the opportunities placed in front of them so far this season. I wrote in depth about it when it occurred against Tennessee, and it happened again on Sunday. The defense gave Houston great field position, kept Baltimore to zero first downs in the first quarter ,and the offense managed to scrounge up two field goals while giving the defense seven points. They had the chance to jump off to a large lead and hang on until the end of the game, but instead they faltered. They kicked field goals instead of scoring touchdowns, committing penalty after penalty like that episode of Kenny versus Spenny where they see who can break the most laws in one day. It doesn't matter if you dominate the other team in the box score. If you don't put real points on the board, the other team will find a way to come back. It's like in playoff baseball when a 3rd baseman drops a pop fly in foul territory and on the next pitch the batter hits one out of the park. YOU HAVE TO CAPITALIZE ON YOUR CHANCES. When you keep the door cracked open, the boogey man is going to creep in.
I have no idea why it keeps happening. You can claim it's Schaub, the play-calling, Brown being hurt, or "momentum." To me, it seems to be more of a cultural problem. This team is too talented to play the way they have been. Something needs to change. Someone needs to step up. If not, Houston will go 8-8 this year.
These lucky one possession wins won't keep happening, and they'll have a disappointing season where they never fulfill their potential. If they do underperform this year, blow it up, trade up in the draft for a QB, tell Kubiak we like you, but you needed to do more. Eight years of good was cool when horrid was the norm. Now they need to bump it up to great or they'll keep losing in the Divisional Round or narrowly miss the playoffs. Later this season, I hope this reads silly as an overreaction to a week three loss and we will all laugh about how D-U-M dumb I was.
Most will and should stay calm and not overreact because hey, it's one loss in Week Three to a Ravens team that might make the playoffs. However, the rest of the season could keep reading like this same narrative if something doesn't change. As of right now, there is a very good chance Houston will be 3-4 entering the bye and forced to chase the Titans and Colts in the standings for the rest of the year, leaving us all to wonder what the hell happened.