That was a tough, TOUGH way to start the Texans' 2023 season.
On the road.
At a place where the Texans have never won
Against a Super Bowl caliber squad
Lamar Jackson at QB
Experienced roster - the Ravens played ONE rookie all day (and he may have been the best Raven on the team - Zay Flowers)
Still, the 25-9 finish didn't make a ton of Texans in the locker room happy but there was plenty to feel good about in the future. No one's here for moral victories, but for this team to win games in 2023, dudes have to ball out on the regular and there were a number of them that did so.
I'm going to start with the Texans' bookend defensive ends - Jonathan Greenard and Will Anderson Jr.. If you didn't notice the hubbub from national media on draft night after the Texans traded up to snatch Will Anderson Jr., consider yourself lucky. The noise was overwhelming but after one full training camp and one regular season outing, it's clear, CRYSTAL (bleep)-ING CLEAR that he is a game changing, elite edge player. I've fought those naysayers for months and today was the start of something outstanding for Anderson Jr.
After the Texans couldn't convert on fourth down on a first quarter drive, the Ravens strung together a little drive. However, the Texans defense held strong, forcing the Ravens into a key third and six early in the game. Anderson looped HARD inside Ravens right guard Kevin Zeitler and never quit charging Ravens QB Lamar Jackson. Because LB Denzel Perryman and Christian Harris rushed from the opposite side, there were no bodies available inside to help on Anderson Jr. The rookie from Alabama forced Jackson to back up and throw off his back leg. Steven Nelson picked it off to end that Ravens drive.
In the fourth quarter, the Ravens faced a third and ten. On the snap, Anderson Jr took off like a shot, low, LOW to the ground, under the pads of Ravens hulking RT Morgan Moses. Will got underneath the tackle's pads and forced Ravens QB Lamar Jackson to scooch up in the pocket as Anderson relentlessly chased him. Anderson never gave up after his first attempt to grab Jackson didn't come to fruition. He immediately popped up from his knees and ran down Lamar for a big sack to end that fourth quarter drive for the Ravens. What a play and what a player he's going to be in the future, my goodness.
Anderson Jr finished with a sack, two QB hits and six tackles. He was credited by Next Gen Stats with six pressures. He was the first rookie since Nick Bosa to do such a thing as a DE in his first game as a rookie. That's amazing company. I watched him with my own damn eyes just take over the game at certain points.
He got a ton of help from Jon Greenard on the other side too. The first Ravens drive went nowhere as Lamar Jackson tried to pull a rabbit out of his hat. Now, that's not unusual, honestly, but as he got pressure at his feet, he started to move around the pocket on the left side. Greenard had rushed the high side of RT Morgan Moses, but as Jackson redirected, Greenard whipped back around and snatched the slippery Pro Bowl QB for the first sack of the year. Greenard and Anderson Jr ended up with one sack each. They were a major problem throughout the game for the Ravens experienced tackles.
The effort that both Greenard and Anderson Jr play with is off the charts and that, more than anything, was incredibly evident on Sunday. when it's NOT Lamar Jackson in the backfield, that effort will be rewarded that much more in the future. Trust me on that.
The Texans defense had some really solid moments on Sunday, even with some of the hiccups in the red zone. That unit gave up under 300 yards. Now, they were handed short fields after the Texans offense couldn't convert on fourth and one twice in the game. But, if you had told me on Friday that the Texans were going to hold the Ravens to 265 total yards, I'd have taken it. Now, the Texans did have two DPI penalties that would've probably put the Ravens over the 300-yard mark, but that's a tremendous performance, overall, given no Jimmie Ward for the entire game and Jalen Pitre for the second half.
I left M&T Bank Stadium feeling better than I normally would have for an offense that only scored nine points and didn't score a touchdown. When QB C.J. Stroud had time to throw, he was mostly on the mark and he got himself out of some really prickly situations throughout the game. He's going to be feeling ALL of the hits that he took in the morning for sure. But, we all learned how tough that young G is after that performance. He was gracious and forthright in his presser after the game but it was still obvious that he was burning up a bit about the Texans offense struggling a bit.
The second quarter was a decently fun 15-minute thrill ride. As the defense continued to corral Jackson and company, the offense finally found its rhythm and Texans WR Robert Woods contributed to that more than anyone. He had three consecutive third down receptions for first downs on the 15-play, 67-yard drive that resulted in a Kai'mi Fairbairn field goal, the first points of the season. Just watching the veteran work his craft every single day in training camp and in preseason games, it's obvious why Woods has the trust of his young QB. I could see Baltimore's inside cover people really upset on the third third down conversion catch by Woods. Ravens LB Roquan Smith hit his leg pads so hard I thought he was going to hurt himself after Woods' catch for a first down.
Then, a little later, Stroud started finding his connection to WR Nico Collins. The Texans pass catcher finished with six catches (tied for his career high) for 80 yards receiving (just two short of his career high). That's what he did in his first game with Stroud. Collins really hurt the Ravens in the middle of the formation on slants and digs. When the ball came out quickly, Collins won his routes and made himself available for key catches in the second half, in particular (four catches for 61 yards in the second half). The Woods-Collins-Stroud connection was fun to watch.
Rookie WR Tank Dell finished with three catches for 34 yards, doing work on the sideline mainly in this game. The Ravens discussed after the game that they just weren't going to give up anything deep and cheap. So, they took those deep opportunities away from Dell and all other Texans, but he still worked outside routes on the sideline very well. He made all three catches on the sideline against the Ravens perimeter cover corners. Solid start for Dell as a rookie but as he gets more comfortable, he's going to be a problem.
LB Denzel Perryman was everything I remember him to be at his previous stops and then some. He made a number of solo tackles (six), facing guys up, striking and wrapping them to the ground. Now, that sounds like it's easy, but especially in week one, it's not always that way. He was magnificent in the run defense - reading, deciphering and getting into position to make tackles. He finished with 11 tackles on the day and it felt like it was much more.
Speaking of linebackers, I'm sick of seeing Ravens LB Roquan Smith. I've seen nearly every team in the league the past three or four years and no opposing defensive player has been more impressive than Smith against the Texans. When he was a member of the Bears in 2022, he finished with 16 tackles, two TFL, one pass defensed and one interception. Against the Texans in the opener, Smith finished with another 16 tackles, two TFL, one quarterback hit and one sack. He's the best opposing defensive player I've seen the past three years not named Aaron Donald or Dexter Lawrence.
The five sacks and ten QB hits will have the OL not so happy after this performance, but that's a tough defense to face right out of the chute. That unit has seen so much loss (Quessenberry, Scaife, Green and Scruggs) since the start of camp and then during the game, RT George Fant went down. So, in that building, against that defense, it's always going to be a long day for the OL and it was, unfortunately, on Sunday. But, it'll get better. With a rookie center, rookie QB and rookie OC and reconfigured OL, the whole operation WILL run smoother with experience and that'll help that unit up front no question.
Alright, this plane is about to land, so let's cut it there and get ready for Indianapolis in week two. See ya then, everyone!