Ravens 25, Browns 15
Strategy: Embracing their old smash-mouth roots, the Ravens eschewed no-huddle and shotgun schemes in favor of physical I-formation plays with bruising fullback Vonta Leach running interference for Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice. There were just five no-huddle plays, including Rice's eight-yard touchdown run, and 13 shotgun plays, including quarterback Joe Flacco's game-winning touchdown pass, out of 62 plays. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron broke character and was stubborn with the run even when Rice was corralled by extra defenders. Misdirection runs off fake reverses were effective. Dean Pees tried to load up on Browns rookie star runner Trent Richardson with run blitzes, and strong safety Bernard Pollard operated in the box with mixed results. There were more Cover 2 looks than usual, not what Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden anticipated as he was intercepted twice.
Personnel: In a dramatic change, Leach's playing time was expanded to 43 plays, and Rice's workload increased to a season-high 25 carries. Tight ends Ed Dickson (42 snaps) and Dennis Pitta (33 snaps) closely divided up playing time. Pro Bowl offensive guard Marshal Yanda only missed five snaps due t a right knee injury. The iron men on defense, playing all 70 snaps: linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain, free safety Ed Reed and Pollard. Ailing defensive tackle Haloti Ngata's playing time was rationed to 53 snaps. In his second game back, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs went up to 54 snaps, However, his effectiveness and stamina didn't increase. Nose tackles Ma'ake Kemoeatu (27 snaps) and Terrence Cody (19 snaps) are being substituted for liberally. Nickel back Corey Graham became a more pivotal figure with 30 snaps.
What went right: Leach and the offensive line had their moments, bulldozing defenders as Rice piled up 98 yards. Flacco called some sharp run audibles as well as a two-point conversion pass to Anquan Boldin, according to Cameron. It was Flacco's first road game with no turnovers this season. Stymied most of the game by Joe Haden despite being targeted nine times, Torrey Smith's crisp spin move for a touchdown put the Browns away. The offensive line rebounded in pass protection, allowing one sack and two quarterback hits. Ellerbe was active in pursuit for nine tackles and the Ravens' only sack. A vulnerable defense stiffened in the red zone, stingily holding the Browns to five Phil Dawson field goals. Reed showed he still has the knowledge and closing speed to bait a young passer into an interception. Cornerback Cary Williams picked off his fourth pass of the season with an acrobatic diving catch.
What went wrong: The Ravens failed to react to the Browns' defensive adjustments until it was almost too late Flacco lost his early rhythm, and only targeted six different receivers. Suggs created no pass rush against Joe Thomas as he was stalemated throughout, resorting to flopping over to rookie tackle Mitch Schwartz's side with no effect. Ngata was held without a tackle for the first time this season as he's clearly dealing with pain and stiffness in his sprained right medial collateral ligament. Arthur Jones was driven off the ball as if he was on roller skates as he started in place of an injured Pernell McPhee. Kemoeatu and Cody got stuck to blocks and failed to disengage and chase down Richardson. At times, cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Williams were susceptible to intermediate throws downfield to wide receivers Greg Little and Josh Gordon.
Turning point: Browns safety T.J. Ward's roughing the passer infraction, Boldin's clutch 21-yard reception and consecutive Rice runs for first downs all contributed heavily to the Ravens' game-deciding drive.
X-factor: Now the Ravens have an opportunity to reinforce their reclaimed running identity against the porous Oakland Raiders. The Raiders' defense was shredded for 251 rushing yards and four touchdowns by shifty Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie Doug Martin. This could shape up well for Rice. — Aaron Wilson
Buccaneers 42, Raiders 32
Strategy: Offensively, the Raiders like to spread out defenses and take shots down the field with quarterback Carson Palmer, whether he starts out in the shotgun or takes a deep drop after the snap. They mix in short throws and dump-offs, hoping to set up more deep throws. On defense, their base look is a 4-3 and they have a lot of speed in their secondary. We are midway through the season and it looks like Oakland's defense is still trying to establish an 1identity.
Personnel: The Raiders have a lot of speed on offense, and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who attended college at Maryland, is one of the fastest wideouts in the NFL. Darren McFadden is fast, too, but both the running back and his backup Mike Goodson got injured during the game, leaving versatile fullback Marcel Reece as their primary back. Despite not having any high draft picks on the offensive line, that group is adequate. Defensively, they have a lot of young players, too, and speedy free safety Tyvon Branch is one of the league's best at his position.
What went right: They kept the Buccaneers and running back Doug Martin under wraps in the first half and took a 10-7 lead into halftime. And after falling behind in the fourth quarter, they rallied from 18 points down to make the game interesting again. Palmer threw for 414 yards and four touchdowns and six of his receivers had at least four catches and 50 receiving yards. The defense was able to get pressure when they did blitz, but Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman did well in stepping around the rush and getting the ball out of his hands. The Raiders, who usually have one of the NFL's best special teams units, blocked a field goal in the first half.
What went wrong: After holding Martin, who is often compared to Ray Rice, to 31 yards in the first half, the rookie exploded for 220 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the second half. He had three touchdown runs of at least 45 yards, and on each, he ran between the tackles before bouncing it to the perimeter. The Raiders were very undisciplined when it came to maintaining their gap responsibilities. Freeman had success attacking the Raiders downfield. The offensive line had trouble protecting Palmer at times when he took deep drops to set up his deep throws.
Turning point: After rallying from a 28-10 deficit to pull within three points, the Raiders got the ball back at their 38-yard line with just under three minutes left to play. But Palmer was intercepted by safety Ahmad Black after looking in on rookie wide receiver Rod Streater. The Buccaneers soon extended their lead to 10 points with Martin's fourth touchdown of the day.
X-factor: Palmer, who victimized the Ravens for years as the quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals, appears to be settled in out in Oakland. He is no longer a top-flight quarterback, but he is capable of hurting the Ravens defense with strong throws down the field if they aren't able to generate a pass rush. He took advantage of soft Buccaneers coverage in the fourth quarters to pad his stats and lead his team back, but still, 414 yards and four TD passes is very impressive. — Matt VenselCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun