Ravens punter Sam Koch's punts helped pin Texans, set up Josh Wilson's interception

December 14, 2010|By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

Cornerback Josh Wilson's game-ending interception and touchdown return was the coup de grace in the Ravens' overtime victory Monday night, but the player who consistently put the Houston Texans in peril was punter Sam Koch.

It was Koch's soaring 58-yard punt — along with a 3-yard loss by Houston returner Jacoby Jones — that pinned the Texans on their 9-yard line in overtime and set the stage for Wilson's dramatic interception two plays later.

That was merely the exclamation point on what may have been Koch's finest game in five seasons with the Ravens. His punts kept the Texans inside their 20 five times — and inside the 10 four times. He now leads the NFL with 34 punts stopped inside the 20.

The soft-spoken Koch down-played his role in holding off Houston's furious comeback: "Every punt is the same to me, I just have to do my job," he said, but knew he had done more to change field position in the game than any other Ravens player.

As well as Koch kicked in the game — he had three kicks of 50 or more yards and had a net average of 43.1 yards — the last one was the one that stood out.

"I don't know how far it was," coach John Harbaugh said afterward, "but it was a huge punt and it made a difference in the coverage. When you punt the ball that deep and you've got Jacoby Jones back there — the way he runs — to cover the ball the way we did, our special teams were fantastic the whole night."

With the defense gassed after a ragged fourth quarter, Koch said he approached the overtime punt from the Ravens' 30 like any other. He wanted to "just go out there, hit it with confidence, relax, hit it like I do every other field punt. And obviously that one came off my foot very nice."

At the other end, David Reed chased Jones inside the Houston 10, where Haruki Nakamura made the tackle.

Koch made the most of his opportunity in the Reliant Stadium dome, which was closed for the game.

"It's freezing back in Baltimore right now and we're here in a dome in Houston right now," he said. "I mean, that's a kicker's dream to be able to punt and kick — even for [kicker] Billy [Cundiff] — just in a warm climate, no variables. You don't have to worry about the wind or anything. It was definitely nice."

It was not only Koch's best game of the season, but the most complete game by the Ravens' special teams. Cundiff had three touchbacks in five kickoffs, raising his league-leading total to 37 in 63 kicks. Reed's 103-yard kick return to start the second half was a high-water mark in the return game, where the Ravens have ranked at the bottom of the league.

Flacco excels in 'gun

The Ravens kept quarterback Joe Flacco in the shotgun formation for 11 plays in the first half, but only four after intermission. Flacco was exceptional in the gun, completing nine of 13 throws for 102 yards and both touchdown passes to Derrick Mason.

The Ravens also ran once out of the gun, and Flacco was sacked in the formation in overtime. Flacco completed all three of his throws after halftime for 35 yards.

Good and bad

Although the running game regressed Monday, the Ravens improved in two of Harbaugh's target areas on offense, the red zone and third down. The Ravens scored touchdowns on all three red-zone possessions in Houston and converted eight of 15 third downs, the first time they've been over 50 percent since Nov. 11 in Atlanta.

Not so successful was the attempt to revive the run game. Using an unbalanced line with Oniel Cousins at right tackle and Chris Chester at a blocking tight end position, the Ravens rushed for just 63 yards — their third straight game under 100. In the past two games, they have averaged a meager 2.5 yards per rush.

Even with a bigger offensive line and an extra blocker, the Ravens still allowed five sacks against a Houston defense that ranked 31st in sacks per play. The blitz was particularly effective against Flacco. The Ravens have allowed 13 sacks in the past three games and 27 in the last eight.

Defense gashed

Houston quarterback Matt Schaub threw 62 times for 393 yards and would easily have gone over 400 if the Texans had not dropped at least six passes in the first half. Houston produced six plays of 20 yards or more, compared to one for the Ravens.

Through 13 games, the Ravens have allowed 50 plays of 20-plus yards on defense. On offense, they have 39 such plays.

The Ravens' defensive effort was their worst since an overtime victory over Buffalo in Week 8. They allowed season highs in first downs (28) and total offensive plays (86), and Houston's 489 net yards was second to the Bills' 506.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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