By Aaron Wilson and Matt Vensel
7:12 PM EST, November 20, 2012
Ravens 13, Steelers 10
Strategy: Cam Cameron tried a rock 'em sock 'em approach to keep the Steelers honest and make them respect play-action, but Ray Rice was stonewalled by an aggressive, top-ranked defense. The Ravens didn't try to run in short-yardage situations because stocky nose guard Casey Hampton is practically immovable inside. The Ravens utilized bunch formations and didn't lack for deep shots, albeit errant ones. Ball security was huge with no turnovers committed despite some near interceptions by Joe Flacco. The Offense used the shotgun formation 20 times. Two no-huddle looks generated a scant total of 10 yards. Dean Pees ran more base 3-4 schemes than he did against Oakland. An overload blitz with Terrell Suggs and Jameel McClain occupying blockers freed up safety James Ihedigbo for his punishing sack of Byron Leftwich.
Personnel: Iron men with 100 percent participation: Linemen Michael Oher, Jah Reid, Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, tight end Ed Dickson and Flacco, linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and McClain, cornerback Cary Williams and safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard. Bruising fullback Vonta Leach played 37 snaps, including 21 runs. Suggs was up to 63 snaps. Outside linebackers Courtney Upshaw (37 snaps), Kruger (38 snaps) and Albert McClellan (27 snaps) closely divided workload. Nickel back Chykie Brown was in for 30 snaps. Newcomer Chris Johnson had one forced fumble in seven plays.
What went right: Jacoby Jones' electrifying punt return provided Ravens' lone touchdown. While his speed and vision are rare for a 6-foot-2, 220-pounder, Jones also got great blocks from Sean Considine, Josh Bynes and Ihedigbo. Winning the turnover battle was huge for Baltimore to edge Pittsburgh. Bottled up as a runner, Rice contributed five catches for 53 yards. Cary Williams and Corey Graham dished out receivers rough treatment in bump-and-run outside. Paul Kruger abused rookie tackle Mike Adams, utilizing rip move, speed and hands to great effect. Ellerbe and McClain flowed well in pursuit as they combined for 21 tackles.
What went wrong: Suggs' lack of speed, explosiveness and conditioning were exposed as he couldn't chase down Leftwich during a 31-yard touchdown scramble. Birk couldn't budge Hampton. Reid looked unprepared as Brett Keisel bulled past him to crush Flacco, rendering the quarterback a tad gun-shy. Jonathan Dwyer gained 55 tough yards on a dozen carries. Flacco and Torrey Smith were clearly out of sync: one catch for 7 yards on seven targets.
Turning point: Clinging to a 10-7 lead with the Steelers on the move in the third quarter after Emmanuel Sanders' 37-yard reception, Graham intercepted a deep pass intended for Sanders. The turnover ended a promising drive for Pittsburgh, impacting the final outcome.
X-factor: Although an injury-riddled secondary held up against Leftwich, San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is a much more formidable passer.– Aaron Wilson
Broncos 30, Chargers 23
Strategy: The Chargers continue to lean on the vertical passing attack led by quarterback Philip Rivers. They often spread teams out with three or more wide receivers, sometimes bunching three receivers on one side, and move perennial Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates all over their formations. Defensively, the Chargers use an aggressive 3-4 scheme under coordinator John Pagano, the brother of Indianapolis Colts coach and former Ravens coordinator Chuck Pagano. They spent much of their loss to the Broncos with five or more defensive backs on the field.
Personnel: The Chargers' roster is littered with former Ravens, including outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, fullback Le'Ron McClain, cornerback Chris Carr and oft-injured left tackle Jared Gaither. With the Chargers using so much nickel, Johnson didn't play a lot Sunday. Jackie Battle got the start at running back, but Ryan Mathews and Ronnie Brown ended up splitting the bulk of the carries. Danario Alexander is starting over offseason signees Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal.
What went right: The Chargers scored the first points of the game on an interception returned for a touchdown, and the defense disrupted Peyton Manning and the Broncos passing attack for much of the first half. They forced two turnovers, recovered an onside kick to start the second half and sacked Manning for a safety. It took a while, but Rivers and Alexander started to click late, combining for two second-half touchdown passes to make the score look respectable.
What went wrong: The offensive line is a hot mess. Penetration blew up many running plays and more often than not Rivers didn't have a clean pocket to throw from. Rivers looked rattled, and midway through the third quarter he had completed just nine of his 20 attempts for 60 yards. Their struggles resulted in a slew of three-and-outs as the offense couldn't sustain a scoring drive until late in the third quarter. The Chargers did an adequate job defending against the pass, but they got pushed around by the Broncos offensive line all afternoon. Broncos back Willis McGahee had 55 yards on seven runs before a knee injury knocked him out of the game.
Turning point: The Chargers were hanging around for much of the first half, but a blocked punt near the end of the second quarter gave Manning excellent field position. It took him one play to capitalize as the Chargers bit on a fake screen pass and Manning found Brandon Stokley, another former Raven, open down the right sideline. The touchdown gave the Broncos a 17-7 lead heading into halftime, and the Chargers played catch-up in vain for the rest of the game.
X-factor: Chargers free safety Eric Weddle, a Pro Bowler for the first time a season ago, was all over the field before and after the snap. He played deep in coverage, blitzed off the edge on one play and intercepted a tipped pass and returned it for a touchdown in the first quarter. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will need to identify the speedy, savvy safety before every play. — Matt Vensel
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