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What The Texans Can Learn From Baltimore's Playoff Run

Despite crushing the Ravens in the regular season, the Texans were stuck watching from home as Baltimore claimed another Lombardi trophy. What can we learn from this?

Ray Lewis has very shiny arms.
Ray Lewis has very shiny arms.
Patrick Smith

After witnessing Wacco Flacco Flame bathing in confetti, Jacoby Jones dancing, and Matt Birk riding off into the horizon with Ray Lewis by ending their careers with a diamond ring, nausea struck as my face turned yellow-green.

This was the same team Houston eviscerated 43-13 in Week 7. This was the same team with a diminished Ray Lewis patrolling the middle of the box.

This same team that Houston demolished turned into a big play, giant-killing juggernaut in January. In every postseason game that Baltimore won, the Ravens seemed to have controlled certain statistical categories. Houston's inconsistencies in these same categories are exactly what killed them down the stretch and led to their demise and loss of the top seed in the AFC. Since I know all of you are dying for some football related material, here are some numbers you can puzzle over.


Opp. TD to FG Ratio Opp. TD to FG Ratio Avg. FG Length Opp. Avg. FG Length
HOU MIN 0:2 2:3 42 45.3
IND 1:3 4:0 44.25 N/A
CIN 1:4 1:2 30.25 40.5
NE 3:2 5:2 41 37.5
Total 5:11 12:7

63 Points 93 Points

BAL IND 3:1 0:3 23 41.25
DEN 5:1 5:0 47 52
NE 4:0 1:2 N/A 28
SF 4:2 2:3 28.5 32.33
Total 16:4 8:8

108 points 72 Points

Those are the touchdown-to-field-goal ratios for the Texans and Ravens for their last four weeks of the season. Everyone knows that touchdowns = great and field goals = pretty good, depending on the situation. This idea is something Baltimore took to heart every game and something Houston needs to work on. Baltimore scored eight more touchdowns than their opponents and kicked four less field goals while scoring four more total times.

I also wanted to look at the average field goal length for both teams because of how infuriated I felt watching Shayne Graham kick field goals in the red zone. Houston's average field goal length is better than Baltimore's; that was surprising to me. I guess I overlooked the few short field goals they took by the insane number of touchdowns they put up.

However, compared to Houston, Baltimore scored eleven more touchdowns and kicked seven less field goals during the same game span. The lack of ability to score touchdowns and inability to prevent New England from scoring touchdowns killed Houston in the Divisional Round. It's a peculiar situation for Houston to be so awful at scoring touchdowns with two top-notch possession receivers in Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels, a great offensive line, and a top-three running back. The problem is based upon on a combination of getting in holes on third down due to poor playcalling and Matt Schaub missing throws that he should have made.

3rd Down

3rd Down % Avg 3rd Down Avg 3rd Down Play Opp 3rd Down % Opp Avg 3rd Down Opp Avg 3rd Down Play
HOU MIN 9.09%(1/11) 8.9 -0.0909 50%(9/18) 6.83 9.44
INDY 45.45(5/11) 7.18 5.18 60%(9/15) 6.4 8.93
CIN 47%(8/17) 4.88 6 0%(0/9) 8.55 -0.11
NE 26.67%(4/15) 6.33 5.2 46.15%(6/13) 7.53 5.61
Total 33.3% (18/54)

43.6% (24/55)

BAL IND 44%(4/9) 7.88 12.66 45%(9/20) 6.15 5.35
DEN 41.17% (7/17) 4.76 8.64 43.75%(7/16) 5.37 3.81
NE 41.66% (5/12) 5.5 4.58 46.67%(7/15) 4.6 4
SF 56.25%(9/16) 4.68 9.93 22.22%(2/9) 7.66 2.55
Total 46.29% (25/54)

41.66 (25/60)

Third down was another aspect of the game that turned as sour as a black cherry Warhead. The Minnesota game was a travesty; Houston actually went for negative yards on third down. Their longest play on third down was a 14-yard pass to Daniels, the next after that was a two-yard pass. The only game where Houston controlled third down was against the Bengals. They did not allow a single third down conversion, except for a couple of defensive penalties that resulted in first downs. Unsurprisingly, that was the only one they managed to win in their last four games.

The Ravens won the third down battle in every one of their playoff games. They gained more average yards on third down than the average needed for a first in every game except at New England. In that same game, the Patriots were the only team to come close to eclipsing their third down margin, yet ultimately fell short by 0.6 of a yard. The Ravens only had a better third down percentage in one game. However, they blew out the margin needed for a conversion out of the water. On third down, it was gold or frostbite for them. They either threw a 30-yard blast to Anquan Boldin or Torrey Smith or Joe Flacco threw an incomplete pass that would fall meekly to the ground.

Compared to Houston, Baltimore was able to extend drives seven more times than the Texans, which usually leads to more points. The Ravens were also able to put themselves in third down situations that gave them a better chance to succeed. Their average third down only exceeded six yards against the Colts. Conversely, Houston dipped below six only against the Bengals and hovered around that number against the Patriots.

Big Plays

# of plays +20 Yards Opp. # of plays +20 Yards Big Play on Drive TD% Big Play Scoring % Opp Big Play on Drive TD % Opp Big Play Scoring %
HOU MIN 0 8 (3 Pass, 5 Run) N/A N/A 50% (4/8) 75% (6/8)
INDY 5 (4 Pass, 1 Run) 4 (2 Pass, 1 Run, 1 Return) 20% (1/5) 60% (3/5) 100% (4/4) 100% (4/4)
CIN 2 (2 Pass) 4 (1 Run, 1 Pass ,1 KR, 1 INT) 50% (1/2) 50% (1/2) 25% (1/4) 75% (3/4)
NE 9 (5 Pass, 2 Run, 2 KR) 7 (5 Pass, 2 Run) 55.5% (5/9) 66.7% (6/9) 71% (5/7) 100% (7/7)

BAL IND 10 (7 pass, 2 return, 1 rush) 5(4 pass, 1 run) 50% (5/10) 60% (6/10) 0% (0/5) 80% (4/5)
DEN 7 (4 pass, 1 INT, 2 Rush) 4(2 RET, 2 Pass) 71.14% (5/7) 71.14% (5/7) 100% (4/4) 100% (4/4)
NE 4 (4 Pass) 2(2 Pass) 75% (3/4) 75% (3/4) 33.3% (1/3) 33.3% (1/3)
SF 6 (5 Pass, 1 Return) 10(7 Pass, 2 Run, 1 RET) 66.6% (4/6) 83.3% (5/6) 40% (4/10) 60% (6/10)

The last ingredient to the Ravens' Felix Felicis potion was their ability to make the big play. They had 28 big plays in four weeks and scored points off those 19 times. Their big plays stemmed from Ray Rice runs, Torrey Smith streaks, and Jacoby Jones kickoff returns. On defense, they only gave up 21 big plays, and only once did an opposing team have more big plays than the Ravens. In the Super Bowl, the 49ers had 10 big plays, but the Ravens only allowed them to score touchdowns on 40% of those big plays. They were able to hold teams to field goals or no points most of the time on drives where a play of 20-plus yards occurred. The only team to have a better big play TD% was Denver, and two of theirs came from Trindon Holliday kickoff returns. Baltimore scored touchdowns 62.9% of the time when they gained a substantial chunk of yardage in one play. The deep throws Joe Flacco made swayed every postseason game in favor of the Ravens.

Houston only had 16 big plays during the same stretch. The Texans' offense is built on running the ball and counter-punching with playaction passes, but they did not even take those chances at the end of the year. I am by no means expecting Schaub to play like Flacco, having seven passes go for 20 yards or more, but I would like to see the Texans take some chances to keep the opposing defense from stacking the box and playing bump-and-run coverage at the line of scrimmage. Most of their numbers in this category came from 22 yard passes to Andre Johnson; an occasional throw to Kevin Walter or Daniels would surpass the 20 yard mark. Houston's offense became stagnant as the year went on and as a result, they lost the big play ability necessary to win in the playoffs.

To sum it up, to succeed in the playoffs a team needs to have one's way on third down, score touchdowns, and make big plays. In all three of these facets, Houston was inept. They got ripped on third down, couldn't make the big plays necessary to win, and kicked way too many field goals. Baltimore bulldozed opponents in these categories and now we live a world where Joe Flacco is not only a Super Bowl winner but the highest paid player in the NFL.

After scouring through the data, I learned two things. One - I never want to be an accountant after doing all these calculations by pen and paper and having to scour back through to make sure the data added up. Two - Houston really needs a new wide receiver to stretch the field or Matt Schaub needs to get the mojo going again on his deep throws. Whatever the case, let's hope Rick Smith adds some spices to the bland offense this offseason.