Each week, Baltimore Sun reporters Aaron Wilson and Matt Vensel will look back at the Ravens’ previous game and that of their next opponent.
Ravens 23, Browns 16
Strategy: The Ravens’ no-huddle remained in vogue. It was employed on 49 of 77 snaps to generate 438 yards of total offense. The shotgun formation was utilized 41 times, buying time for Joe Flacco before pass rushers invaded the pocket. The Ravens aggressively attacked Browns' soft Cover 2 coverage scheme to exploit the absence of Joe Haden, sending dangerous Torrey Smith deep and working intermediate area with Anquan Boldin. The Ravens used a few double-tight end formations, but they weren't a big part of the game plan. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees mixed pure 3-4 looks with the nickel package, blitzing rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden throughout with mixed results.
Personnel: Boldin played 98 percent of the snaps. In just 10 snaps, rookie running back Bernard Pierce had 48 rushing yards on six carries. Fullback Vonta Leach's playing time was up to 32 snaps with steady I-formation workload. Tight ends Dennis Pitta (57 plays) and Ed Dickson (40 plays) had zero catches with Pitta only targeted twice after being a focal point in first three games. Rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw got 52 snaps, but managed just three tackles. Ma'ake Kemoeatu (28 plays) and Terrence Cody (21 plays) divided playing time at nose guard. Jameel McClain had 36 snaps, five tackles, while Ellerbe had four tackles on two less snaps, including a huge hit to knock Josh Cribbs out of the game. McClain has started every game, but is being pushed by Ellerbe.
What went right: Ray Rice's textbook stiff arm flattened linebacker Craig Robertson. He overwhelmed D'Qwell Jackson in the open field on swing passes. Flacco went after overmatched corner Sheldon Brown, often connecting with Boldin and Smith downfield. Outside linebacker Albert McClellan was physical, setting the edge for eight tackles, two for losses. Haloti Ngata is an unenviable assignment for interior blockers, displaying rare form so far. He dominated athletic Browns center Alex Mack.
What went wrong: Michael Oher committed three penalties and had issues with speed rushers. It wasn't a sterling game for rookie Kelechi Osemele. Ramon Harewood struggled against stunts, and maintaining leverage. The line allowed four sacks, six quarterback hits. Flacco stared down Boldin on an end-zone throw intercepted by Robertson, continuing a trend of failing to look off defenders. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis had a quiet game with four tackles, and was unable to match Trent Richardson's speed on a red-zone touchdown run. In a mostly encouraging game, Paul Kruger committed a late-game penalty for shoving Joe Thomas that could have been costly. Kruger has to maintain his composure. Long snapper Morgan Cox had a rough game with a few errant snaps.
Turning point: Oft-criticized cornerback Cary Williams jumped a sideline pass intended for Travis Benjamin, gambling correctly for a 63-yard interception return after being picked on for the majority of the season. His touchdown boosted the Ravens to a 23-10 advantage late in the third quarter.
X-factor: Ravens' linebackers are effective stuffing the run between the tackles and building a wall, but could be vulnerable on perimeter against Kansas City Chiefs star running back Jamaal Charles. He's one of the fastest players in the league.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun