GAME PLAN: Gary Kubiak tried to manufacture a steady ball-control approach through a series of short passes in his version of the West Coast offense to counteract the Pittsburgh Steelers' aggressiveness, but a lack of pass protection, botched throws and miscommunications doomed his plan. The running game was largely abandoned despite a vulnerable front seven that was playing without Troy Polamalu and linebacker Ryan Shazier due to injuries. Dean Pees sent his outside linebackers after Ben Roethlisberger, pinching them off the edge. Except for three consecutive sacks in the first half, the Ravens were unable to consistently get to Roethlisberger as he calmly delivered six touchdown passes with zero interceptions. It was a masterful performance, The Ravens' secondary also had no answers for Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown. Despite shuffling the defensive lineup and opening the game in their nickel package — five defensive backs — the Ravens were incapable of slowing down a red-hot quarterback who's generated a dozen touchdown passes and no interceptions in his past two games to establish an NFL record.
PERSONNEL: The Ravens got Owen Daniels back 10 days after he had arthroscopic knee surgery, and Daniels played 53 of 71 offensive snaps. Crockett Gillmore filled in behind him, playing 27 snaps. Steve Smith and Torrey Smith played 63 and 59 snaps, respectively, and were targeted a total of 15 times. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk played just 25 snaps, roughly half his usual workload. Marlon Brown went up to 34 snaps on offense. Active because starter Justin Forsett had a sprained ankle, Bernard Pierce got just one carry for two yards in his lone snap one week after he was a healthy scratch. On defense, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, safety Darian Stewart and cornerback Lardarius Webb played every snap. Middle linebacker Daryl Smith played all but two snaps. Safety Will Hill started for the first time this season, playing 60 snaps. Matt Elam shifted to nickel back from strong safety and played 27 snaps. Dominique Franks, who was cut Tuesday, played 60 snaps as he got the start with Jimmy Smith injured. Chykie Brown, who was also cut Tuesday, played 13 snaps. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil played 53 and 42 snaps. In his first game back from wrist surgery, Chris Canty played 30 snaps.
WHAT WENT RIGHT ON OFFENSE: Despite being under serious duress, quarterback Joe Flacco managed to complete 30 of 45 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns for a 91.3 passer rating. Forsett rushed for 38 yards on nine carries and caught five passes for 67 yards out of the backfield. Daniels caught six passes for 53 yards on nine targets. Torrey Smith caught a 35-yard touchdown pass to provide an early lead, and finished with four catches for 63 yards. Jacoby Jones, who's had a frustrating year with four catches for 50 yards and two muffed punts, scored his first touchdown of the season on a 108-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter.
WHAT WENT WRONG ON OFFENSE: The offensive line had a substandard game blocking for Flacco, who was sacked four times and hit 10 times. Signed to a five-year, $37.5 million contract in March, left tackle Eugene Monroe was dominated by 36-year-old pass rusher James Harrison. Harrison utilized his power, leverage and quickness to run through and around Monroe for seven tackles, two sacks and four quarterback hits. Center Jeremy Zuttah got steamrolled inside by Steve McLendon, who was flagged for illegally driving Flacco into the ground. Zuttah allowed one sack and several quarterback pressures. Torrey Smith didn't track down a deep pass from Flacco, costing them a potential touchdown. Steve Smith's five receptions weren't impactful as he averaged 7.2 yards per reception. Flacco said he "lost his mind" when he threw the football to outside linebacker Jason Worilds for an interception in the second quarter. That led to a Roethlisberger touchdown pass to rookie receiver Martavis Bryant, one of two scores off Ravens turnovers.
WHAT WENT RIGHT ON DEFENSE: Daryl Smith and Mosley combined for 18 tackles as the Steelers rushed for only 55 yards on 25 carries, an average of 2.2 yards per run. Star Steelers runner Le'Veon Bell gained only 20 yards on 10 carries and power back LeGarrette Blount rushed for just 23 yards on 10 carries. Canty had a half-sack in his first game back. Dumervil had a sack. Elam had a half-sack and three quarterback hits on safety blitzes. Haloti Ngata had a sack. DeAngelo Tyson had a fumble recovery.
WHAT WENT WRONG ON DEFENSE: The secondary was so bad that two cornerbacks were fired two days later. Webb held onto his job, but got scorched by Markus Wheaton on 47-yard touchdown down the right sideline. Webb gave up seven catches on 12 targets for 105 yards and a touchdown. Chykie Brown got fooled so badly by Antonio Brown on a 54-yard touchdown he looked dizzy. Hill got stiff-armed to the ground by Brown on the touchdown, with Webb diving in vain at his feet. Franks surrendered five catches for 50 yards and a touchdown. Mosley couldn't keep up with Bell in the open field in pass coverage. Smith was overmatched against tight end Matt Spaeth on a 33-yard touchdown pass that capped the Steelers' scoring. Stewart maintained his pattern of arriving too late to help out the cornerbacks over the top. Suggs will likely draw a hefty fine for his tackle on Blount that's been widely criticized as a cheap shot. Pernell McPhee was stonewalled by blockers.
KEY PLAY: Leading 7-0 in the first quarter, rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro lost a fumble when Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats poked the football out of his grasp. The turnover was costly as it took away the momentum the Ravens were building and led to the Steelers' first touchdown and erased the Ravens' lead. The Ravens never led again.
BEST HIT: Dumervil slammed Roethlisberger to the ground on a speed rush where he burst past offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert. Upshaw, on an illegal late hit that drew a penalty, shook up Roethlisberger with a blow to his jaw that will undoubtedly draw a fine.
GAME BALLS: 1 Daniels (six catches in first game back from arthroscopic knee surgery); 2. Jones (108-yard kickoff return for his first touchdown in a frustrating season); 3. Flacco (305 passing yards, two touchdowns) 4. Forsett (105 all-purpose yards).
INTANGIBLES: In a pivotal game they sorely needed to win, the Ravens lost their composure and committed five personal fouls. Although the Ravens had intensity, they lacked discipline and focus on defense. Their offense didn't even come close to matching the physicality of the Steelers' defense.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Tennessee Titans (2-6) have a familiar face at right offensive tackle in Michael Oher, who's one of the lowest-graded blockers in the NFL since leaving the Ravens and signing a four-year, $20 million contract. He's allowed four sacks and 19 quarterback hurries. Strong-armed rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger, a former Cam Cameron pupil at LSU, is still learning on the job. The Titans' best downfield weapon is tight end Delanie Walker.