Looking back at the Ravens' 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills
By AARON WILSON
Oct 01, 2013 | 8:20 PM
Each week, Baltimore Sun reporters Aaron Wilson and Matt Vensel look back at the Ravens' previous game and that of their next opponent.
Bills 23, Ravens 20
Strategy: A largely ineffective pass-first game plan was scuttled by a career-high five interceptions from Joe Flacco. The primary idea was to exploit an injury-riddled secondary, but cornerback Aaron Williams and middle linebacker Kiko Alonso rose to the occasion and alertly picked off two passes apiece. The focus was throwing outside, including a dozen targets for Torrey Smith (Maryland), nine each for Tandon Doss and Dallas Clark, and eight throws to Marlon Brown. On 63 plays, Jim Caldwell used the shotgun 46 times with nine no-huddles. Dean Pees built schemes intended to contain dual-threat rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, but didn't load up enough on gap integrity to stop running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. The defense was gouged for 203 yards on 55 carries.
Personnel: Smith proved he's in outstanding shape, playing every snap while running multiple fly patterns. Clark went up to 49 snaps as struggling Ed Dickson dipped to 23 snaps. Rushing for 17 yards, Ray Rice returned from a hip injury for 43 snaps and was mostly limited to blitz protection. With the run scrapped, fullback Vonta Leach got 11 snaps (17 percent), down from nearly 50 percent playing time. The defensive ironmen with 100 percent participation: safeties James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam and middle linebacker Daryl Smith with corner Jimmy Smith playing all but one snap. Courtney Upshaw played 54 snaps at strong-side linebacker, 17 more than Elvis Dumervil. Haloti Ngata played 68 snaps but appeared to wear down.
What went right: Torrey Smith displayed an extra gear, accelerating for a 74-yard catch with five receptions; he finished with a career-best 166 yards receiving and a touchdown. Deonte Thompson caught four passes for 50 yards as his speed allowed him to separate quickly before suffering a concussion on an illegal hit. Jimmy Smith shut down an established receiver, holding Stevie Johnson to one catch for minus-1yard on six targets. Suggs had a stellar game, discarding blockers to rack up 17 tackles, one sack and three quarterback hits. Chris Canty forced two fumbles and had a sack, and Corey Graham had nine tackles, three for losses, one interception and a forced fumble.
What went wrong: Flacco tried to force passes into tight spots, often staring down his first read. Dickson can't be trusted to consistently catch the football, and his sixth dropped pass of the season caused an interception on. Michael Oher was steamrolled by Marcell Dareus for a sack. Gino Gradkowski got shoved backward repeatedly, creating zero push inside. Rice and Bernard Pierce didn't break tackles and weren't elusive. Ngata got stuck to blocks. Josh Bynes didn't chase well in run pursuit. Bills fullback Frank "The Tank" Summers won too many lead-blocking situations. Elam whiffed completely on an open-field tackle on Jackson's touchdown run. John Harbaugh was correct: Frequent penalties are inexcusable and hurting the team.
Turning point: Graham thought he'd get assistance over the top on Robert Woods' 42-yard touchdown catch, but Ihedigbo was preoccupied with an underneath crossing route. The miscommunication grabbed momentum and points for the Bills in the second quarter, making the Ravens respect Manuel's arm strength and rendering them off-balance on run-pass reads.
X-factor: The Ravens have three interceptions in the past two games, an opportunistic streak that could prove timely against Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill; he's coming off a four-turnover game with three interceptions and a lost fumble in a loss to the New Orleans Saints.