Ravens 55, Raiders 20
Strategy: Dean Pees' unpredictable, innovative schemes were highlighted by lining up rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw at defensive tackle. And Pees' two-defensive-lineman, three-linebacker, six-defensive-back "dollar" package contributed to three sacks, one interception and eight pass deflections. With a virtually nonexistent pass rush and Haloti Ngata sidelined, Pees got more speed onto the field by taking out beefy nose guards Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Terrence Cody, and inserting DeAngelo Tyson and Bryan Hall. Play-action fakes to Ray Rice provided necessary breathing room for the passing game. The shotgun formation was used 19 times. And three of the Ravens' 24 no-huddle plays resulted in touchdowns. Nine receivers were targeted.
Personnel: Ironmen with 100 percent participation: cornerback Cary Williams, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, offensive tackle Kelechi Osemele and center Matt Birk. With Jimmy Smith out, cornerback Corey Graham played 74 of 75 snaps. Nickel back Chykie Brown got 48 snaps. Upshaw's workload increased to 56 snaps, and stamina wasn't an issue. Banged-up safety Ed Reed was down to 46 plays, while backup James Ihedigbo was up to 35. Tyson and Hall combined for 59 plays, with Kemoeatu and Cody dipping to a total of 40 plays. Relieving Bobbie Williams after 14 plays, left guard Jah Reid played a career-high 50 snaps. Dennis Pitta made the most of his 40 snaps: five catches, 67 yards and one touchdown.
What went right: A composed, accurate Joe Flacco continued his trend of home success, delivering three touchdown passes. The line protected Flacco, who was never sacked. The speed of Torrey Smith (Maryland), Jacoby Jones and Ed Dickson created mismatches. Paul Kruger was disruptive with a career-high two sacks to go with an interception. Jones' acceleration and vision are rare for such an imposing returner. The fake field-goal try was textbook, albeit unnecessary to the outcome, as holder Sam Koch burst through a gaping hole when Oakland overloaded the other side with eight men. Strong safety Bernard Pollard had his top game since suffering a bruised rib, delivering punishing tackles, including a sack of Carson Palmer. Jameel McClain had his most active performance.
What went wrong: Reed's shoulder stinger is clearly affecting his tackling. In obvious pain, he couldn't stop Darrius Heyward-Bey (McDonogh, Maryland) on a long touchdown catch. Graham was burned far too easily by Denarius Moore, and Reed was too late reacting to bail him out. Michael Huff muscled Anquan Boldin out of position, containing him to four catches for 38 yards.
Turning point: The offense issued a fast rebuttal to a score by Heyward-Bey with Rice's touchdown run at the end of the first half, followed by Smith's 47-yard touchdown on the first drive of the second half for a 34-10 advantage.
X-factor: After manhandling a soft Raiders front seven, the Ravens' line will be tested by the Steelers' outside linebacker tandem of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Their extensive repertoire of pass-rushing moves is formidable.
Steelers 16, Chiefs 13, OT
Strategy: The Steelers' offense has been tweaked under new coordinator Todd Haley, who prefers shorter drops from his quarterback and quicker throws to the team's shifty and speedy wide receivers. The Steelers are getting back to running the ball, too. Defensively, the Steelers still use coordinator Dick LeBeau's 3-4 zone blitz scheme, sending defenders from all angles and mixing up coverages behind the rushes, which usually send just four or five players.
Personnel: The Steelers, already banged up entering the game, suffered more injuries Monday night. Starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hurt his shoulder and was replaced by Byron Leftwich. Freelancing strong safety Troy Polamalu did not play, and fellow safety Ryan Clark suffered a concussion. Wide receiver Antonio Brown missed the game with an ankle injury, but the Steelers still have Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders. The Steelers also still have bookend pass rushers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, though they haven't been as effective this season.
What went right: The Steelers, who rank first in the NFL in pass defense, shut down the Chiefs' passing attack, though most teams do that to quarterback Matt Cassel. They held wide-outs Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin to five catches for 66 yards. Luck was on Pittsburgh's side as the Chiefs shot themselves in the foot with six penalties for 76 yards and a critical turnover in overtime.
What went wrong: The Steelers slowed big-bodied back Peyton Hillis, but speedy Jamaal Charles ran for 100 yards and a touchdown, often finding lanes on the right side of his offensive line. Roethlisberger had completed just nine of his 18 passes for 84 yards when he got knocked out of the game. Leftwich was also inefficient, completing half of his pass attempts and misfiring on a couple of deep balls. The Steelers averaged just 3.3 yards per carry but still stuck with the run. Defensive end Brett Keisel had two sacks, but no one else managed to bring down Cassel.
Turning point: After Cassel led the Chiefs on a game-tying drive at the end of regulation, the Chiefs got the ball to start overtime. But he threw a bad pick to inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, one of the league's most underrated defenders. Timmons returned it to the Kansas City 5-yard line, and Shaun Suisham kicked the winning field goal on the next play.
X-factor: There is no question that it is Roethlisberger. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that his star quarterback is questionable for Sunday's showdown because of a sprained right shoulder. And even though Monday night wasn't his sharpest game, Roethlisberger, who is having one of his finest seasons in the league, has victimized the Ravens in the past using his ability to extend plays. Leftwich has a big arm and starting experience, but he is as immobile as quarterbacks come, and his deliberate throwing release will leave him vulnerable if the Ravens can muster a pass rush.
—Matt VenselCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun