By Aaron Wilson
7:33 PM EDT, September 25, 2012
Ravens 31, Patriots 30
Strategy: The no-huddle offense returned to prominence after disappearing a week ago in Philadelphia, using it on 44 of 65 snaps and piling up 503 yards of total offense. Cam Cameron loosened the reins as Joe Flacco launched several deep balls. Dean Pees unleashed the blitz, aggressively going after Tom Brady. He employed a two-down lineman, five-linebacker, four-defensive back scheme where 290-pound end Pernell McPhee was in a two-point stance to manufacture a pass rush, a rarely-seen wrinkle. Nickel package was deployed throughout the game.
Personnel: Fullback Vonta Leach was heavily involved as the I-formation was revived, getting 34 plays for 47 percent of the snaps. Ray Rice rarely left the field (78 percent participation). Dennis Pitta played 42 snaps, three more than backup Ed Dickson, with Pitta utilized at wide receiver and in traditional sets. Torrey Smith was a mainstay with 70 snaps. Playing time tilted back to linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (67 plays, eight tackles, 1.5 sacks) ahead of Jameel McClain (17 plays). Against a passing team, playing time reduced for nose tackles Ma'ake Kemoeatu (26 plays), Terrence Cody (11 plays). Despite the return of Paul Kruger (66 plays) from a back injury, rookie Courtney Upshaw (61 plays) remained pivotal while Albert McClellan dipped to 16 plays.
What went right: Flacco and Smith built a rhythm, connecting on six of 10 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns while Jacoby Jones had three catches for 86 yards. Flacco was never sacked as Michael Oher stonewalled Chandler Jones. Matt Birk contained hefty nose guard Vince Wilfork. Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele and Ramon Harewood excelled in run-blocking. Ellerbe displayed a burst, instincts on blitzes. Haloti Ngata was active in pursuit, and rarely blocked. Ed Reed delivered punishing hits. Justin Tucker overcame a freeze attempt, converting the game-winning chip shot.
What went wrong: Cary Williams had 10 solo tackles, not what you want from a corner, as he was regularly picked on. Susceptible to double-moves from Brandon Lloyd, Williams also lost his temper. Ray Lewis looked flat-footed at times. Linebackers aren't getting enough depth in pass coverage. Kruger's tackling needs improvement. Wes Welker thrived after the catch, averaging 17.8 yards for 142 yards on eight receptions. Jimmy Smith looked lost at times and was only marginally better than Williams. Flacco stared down Pitta for the second consecutive week, resulting in an interception as he didn't look off safety Steve Gregory.
Turning point: The defense stiffened in the fourth quarter, forcing punts on the final two drives to lead to the Ravens scoring the final 10 points of the game on short touchdown catch from Smith, 27-yard Tucker field goal.
X-factor: Back-shoulder, sideline throws were problematic for Williams to defend. Both Williams and Jimmy Smith aren't flipping their hips to play the football. The shortcoming could haunt the Ravens down the road.
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