Ravens 22, Steelers 20
STRATEGY: Joe Flacco silenced anyone still clamoring for the wildcat offense, which disappeared against the Steelers days after the quarterback called it a high school offense. They went back to their conventional pass-first approach as he upgraded his accuracy on deep throws. A concerted effort was made to increase the involvement of Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. The shotgun formation was used on 52 of 62 plays. They were in hurry-up mode frequently with 44 no-huddle snaps. The running game was largely ineffective, but it wasn’t abandoned as Jim Caldwell attempted to maintain balance. The Ravens blitzed occasionally, but mainly tried to create pressure with a four-man rush against Ben Roethlisberger as he escaped pressure quickly.
PERSONNEL: Torrey Smith played all but four snaps. There were plenty of three-wide receiver packages with him, Marlon Brown (52 snaps) and Jones (45 snaps). Tight end Ed Dickson (41 snaps) nearly doubled Dallas Clark’s 23 snaps. Vonta Leach was limited to eight snaps. The defensive iron men were safeties Matt Elam and James Ihedigbo and middle linebacker Daryl Smith with cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith missing just one and two snaps. Replaced several weeks ago as the starting weak-side linebacker by Jameel McClain, Josh Bynes’ playing time increased to 39 snaps as McClain went down to 19 snaps and rookie Arthur Brown got just eight snaps.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Justin Tucker displayed power and accuracy, connecting on five field goals. Jones’ acceleration and vision made a big difference on returns and deep routes, dashing 73 yards on a kickoff return where he nearly collided with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. Flacco’s accuracy and decisiveness improved, including a 54-yard bomb to Smith to set up a short touchdown pass to him. Haloti Ngata’s left knee has gotten better, evidenced by his swim move on Fernando Velasco to tackle Le’Veon Bell for no gain. Ihedigbo’s aggressive run recognition and instinctive pursuit angles paid dividends. Star receiver Antonio Brown was contained as he finished with five catches for 59 yards.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Michael Oher had one of his worst games since being drafted in the first round, committing three false-start penalties. He’s the most penalized player in the NFL with 43 infractions since 2009. He also struggled to adjust to Jason Worilds’ speed rushes, allowing one sack. The other sack for Worilds happened when he busted through a Ray Rice block. The Ravens’ longest run was just 12 yards by backup Bernard Pierce. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil never sacked Roethlisberger as they created S pressure, but were unable to get him on the ground. Bynes was exposed more than once in pass coverage against Heath Miller. The Ravens' red-zone defense yielded three touchdowns and the red-zone offense went 1 for 4.
TURNING POINT: Clinging to a 22-20 lead late in the fourth quarter following a bruising 1-yard Bell run that caused concussions for him and Jimmy Smith and a subsequent touchdown, the Ravens inserted reserve cornerback Chykie Brown. Although Brown never turned for the football, he stuck close enough to Emmanuel Sanders to disrupt his catch attempt on a failed two-point conversion pass from Roethlisberger that preserved a pivotal victory that boosts the Ravens' playoff outlook.
X-FACTOR: With Flacco sacked twice and hit four times against the Steelers, the Ravens need to shore up their pass blocking efforts with Minnesota Vikings defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robinson coming to town Sunday. They have six sacks apiece.
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