GAME PLAN: Gary Kubiak constructed a strategy that heavily involved veteran wide receiver Steve Smith as he was targeted 10 times against his former team. The Ravens trust Smith in every situation: short, intermediate and deep. It was a balanced approach with a few more deep shots than usual. The Ravens ran the football 30 times for 127 yards and two touchdowns, with 31 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Although it was primarily Smith's day to be featured, quarterback Joe Flacco distributed the football to eight different targets. Dean Pees had outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil attack the pocket with speed rushes off the edge of the tackles' outside shoulders, mixing in a few well-timed blitzes. The Ravens utilized a steady rotation along the defensive line, including having outside linebacker Pernell McPhee line up at nose tackle for a few snaps to try to take advantage of his superior quickness against interior offensive linemen.
PERSONNEL: With Dennis Pitta out for the season, Owen Daniels has assumed the bulk of the workload at tight end and played 81 percent of the snaps. Crockett Gillmore played a career-high 23 snaps, while third tight end Phillip Supernaw had no offensive snaps. In his first NFL start, undrafted rookie tackle James Hurst played every snap. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk had a significant role with 32 snaps for 51 percent participation. Marlon Brown went up to a season-high 31 snaps, while a struggling Jacoby Jones dipped to just seven snaps on offense — seven less than Kamar Aiken. Justin Forsett took on 39 snaps, 17 more than rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro. The only defensive player to play every snap was rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley, with strong safety Matt Elam and cornerback Asa Jackson missing just one snap apiece. Middle linebacker Daryl Smith and free safety Darian Stewart each played 55 snaps. McPhee played 44 snaps, four more than Dumervil, eight more than Suggs and 10 more than Courtney Upshaw. Rookie safety Terrence Brooks played a career-high 32 snaps. Safety Brynden Trawick had an increased defensive role with 21 snaps. Despite a knee injury, Chris Canty played 29 snaps at defensive end.
WHAT WENT RIGHT ON OFFENSE: Although there were none of the predicted "blood and guts," Smith did leave a few mental scars with the Panthers through his game-high seven receptions for 139 yards and a pair of touchdown catches. Smith is 35 years old, but he still possesses an extra gear to accelerate away from coverage schemes designed to stop him. Flacco's accuracy and timing were sharp, with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. Forsett has a determined, elusive running style that contrasts well with Taliaferro's straightforward approach. After a rough start to the season, Torrey Smith finally found the end zone and also contributed a 29-yard catch. Flacco wasn't sacked for the third consecutive game and was only hurried twice. Sam Koch only had one punt. Rick Wagner is improving his downfield blocking, leading the way for Forsett on his touchdown run. Daniels finished with four receptions for 43 yards. Brown caught all three passes thrown to him for 31 yards. The Ravens converted 10 of 13 third downs, a 77-percent success rate.
WHAT WENT WRONG ON OFFENSE: Jones' confidence is becoming more of an issue as he dropped the only pass thrown to him. That marked the second consecutive game in which he has dropped a catchable pass. He has only three catches for 20 yards this season on 10 targets. He has dropped at least five passes overall.
WHAT WENT RIGHT ON DEFENSE: Dumervil and Suggs helped bottle up quarterback Cam Newton, combining for two sacks. Newton was hit seven times, three apiece by Suggs and Dumervil. Suggs showed he can still dominate a weak left tackle like Byron Bell, which had to be a relief for the Ravens. Although talented rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin caught five passes for 76 yards and a touchdown, his impact was muted somewhat when cornerback Jimmy Smith shadowed him in single coverage. Mosley recorded a game-high 11 tackles, excelling in pursuit to help limit the Panthers to 67 rushing yards on 26 carries. Nose tackle Brandon Williams alertly recovered a fumble. Daryl Smith had eight tackles and forced a fumble, reacting faster against the run than he did against the Cleveland Browns.
WHAT WENT WRONG ON DEFENSE: The Ravens botched a basic Cover 2 scheme on which Jimmy Smith was supposed to cover Benjamin short with help deep from free safety Darian Stewart. But Stewart didn't react quickly enough to prevent a 28-yard touchdown on a throw rifled into the left corner of the end zone by Newton. Stewart and Elam have been a detriment in pass coverage lately, routinely allowing long completions and failing to make impactful plays. Elam was beaten by Jerricho Cotchery early in the game when he was isolated against him. The Ravens need to get Elam back into his comfort zone as a blitzer, run-stopper and short-area pass coverage specialist, which are his strengths.
KEY PLAY: In a case of creating his own luck, Steve Smith hustled over to catch a tipped pass in stride that was intended for Daniels. Smith's 61-yard touchdown gave the Ravens an early lead, but it also helped to grab some momentum and send a message that the five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver was intent on revenge after being cut in March after 13 years in Carolina.
BEST HIT: Canty was penalized for roughing the passer for leading with the crown of his helmet on a quarterback hit on Newton in the third quarter.
GAME BALLS: 1. Steve Smith (25 catches for 429 yards and three touchdowns, on pace to finish season with 100 catches for 1,716 yards and 12 touchdowns); 2. Flacco (137.4 quarterback rating); 3. Forsett (4.7 average per run, on pace to gain 1,020 yards for the season); 4. Mosley (11 tackles, one for a loss, two pass deflections).
INTANGIBLES: Smith maintained his composure during an emotional day against his old team. His new teammates and coaches were determined to win and have a big game, making that a point throughout the week.
LOOKING AHEAD: Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is capable of beating teams with his strong arm or his feet. He already has passed for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns and is on pace to finish the season with 5,220 yards and 52 touchdowns. The Colts have an excellent receiving tandem in Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton.