By Aaron Wilson, The Baltimore Sun
7:46 PM EDT, September 17, 2013
Ravens 14, Browns 6
Strategy: Jim Caldwell is a strong proponent of the no-huddle, calling it on 33 of 71 offensive snaps as the shotgun formation was used 25 times. They were much more patient with the running game, grinding out yards and controlling the clock in a tight contest. With tight ends failing to produce, they were targeted only three times as this evolves into a wide-receiver first scheme emphasizing Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown outside and Brandon Stokley moving the chains out of the slot. The Ravens now seem to understand and accept what they're working with offensively. Dean Pees called an aggressive blitz package, frequently sending middle linebacker Daryl Smith on fire blitzes to complement the edge pass rushing of outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, generating five sacks and a dozen quarterback hits on Brandon Weeden. There was more zone coverage mixed in with man-to-man techniques.
Personnel: The offense clicked occasionally by creating mismatches with Smith and Brown against smaller corners. Smith has become indispensable and was on the field for every snap. There's a smash-mouth element running behind guard Marshal Yanda as fullback Vonta Leach ran interference for the backs with his snaps increasing to 50 percent. Tight ends Ed Dickson (46 snaps), Dallas Clark (27 snaps) and Billy Bajema (15 snaps) are primarily used to block. Rookie free safety Matt Elam played every defensive snap in his first start. Strong safety James Ihedigbo and Daryl Smith were the only other defensive ironmen. In a heavy rotation, nose tackle Haloti Ngata played the most upfront with 39 snaps. Cornerback Jimmy Smith (95 percent) has overtaken Corey Graham (56 percent) Courtney Upshaw (42 snaps) played just three more snaps than Dumervil at strong-side linebacker.
What went right: Bernard Pierce was an asset, plowing straight ahead to break tackles with second effort to get into the end zone. Torrey Smith made a difference on crossing routes with his speed. Brown's size is tough to counteract on slants. Flacco's timing and accuracy was improved. Michael Oher stonewalled Paul Kruger in pass blocking. Terrell Suggs consistently beat Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, running through and around him. Dumervil and Arthur Jones bull-rushed overmatched right tackle Mitch Schwartz. Jimmy Smith was more alert in coverage, turning his body for three pass deflections. Tackling was solid, containing stocky runner Trent Richardson. Tandon Doss displayed quickness on returns in place of injured Jacoby Jones.
What went wrong: Justin Tucker misfired on a pair of field goals wide right, misjudging cross winds. Dickson dropped his fifth pass in two games. Brown and Smith botched potential first-half touchdowns on accurate throws from Joe Flacco. Ray Rice lost a fumble before leaving the game with a strained left hip flexor. Bryant McKinnie was overwhelmed on a speed rush by rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo and McKinnie didn't get enough push run blocking. Elam slipped and wasn't close to tight end Jordan Cameron in his zone, allowing a 53-yard completion as Lardarius Webb hustled to prevent a touchdown.
Turning point: The no-huddle tempo and nine physical runs allowed the Ravens to march 80 yards on a dozen plays in the third quarter to take the lead as Pierce plunged in for a five-yard game-winning touchdown. Flacco completed all three of his throws on the decisive drive for 44 yards.
X-factor: The Ravens can ill afford coverage breakdowns against the Texans' multi-faceted passing attack headlined by experienced quarterback Matt Schaub, potent wide receiver tandem Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins and athletic tight end Owen Daniels.
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