By AARON WILSON, Matt Vensel and The Baltimore Sun
Dec 18, 2012 | 8:01 PM
Each week, Baltimore Sun reporters Aaron Wilson and Matt Vensel look back at the Ravens' previous game and that of their next opponent
Broncos 34, Ravens 17
Strategy: It was an underwhelming debut for new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. His attempt to revive the no-huddle offense, utilizing it on 36 of 62 snaps, was foiled by quarterback Joe Flacco's costly turnovers and a running game overwhelmed by an athletic Broncos front seven. The Ravens used the shotgun formation 40 times, perhaps at the expense of power I-formation football. Tight end Dennis Pitta was a priority in the game plan. Ray Rice got just 15 touches, and Anquan Boldin didn't catch a pass in six targets. Dean Pees liberally used nickel and dime packages to try to counteract Peyton Manning, but the veteran quarterback was masterful in checking to run plays featuring Knowshon Moreno. An injury-riddled defense was forced into vanilla looks against a versatile offense.
Personnel: Without injured starters Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain and Bernard Pollard, Josh Bynes, Brendon Ayanbadejo and James Ihedigbo took their respective places with mixed results. Bynes battled for a game-high 13 tackles, but the former practice squad player was forced into a bigger role than he's ready for. In relief of starting wide receiver Torrey Smith (concussion), Jacoby Jones, David Reed and Tandon Doss all contributed a few catches. The iron men with 100 percent participation: Flacco, Pitta, Michael Oher, Jah Reid, Matt Birk, Bobbie Williams, Kelechi Osemele, Ihedigbo, Ed Reed and Bynes. Corey Graham missed only one snap. Paul Kruger (84 percent) and Haloti Ngata (82 percent) rarely left the field. Nose guard Terrence Cody started ahead of Ma'ake Kemoeatu.
What went right: Pitta displayed explosiveness and tackle-breaking ability with seven receptions for 125 yards, two touchdowns. Rookie backup Bernard Pierce ran hard before suffering a concussion. Jones rebounded with a 50-yard kickoff return. Graham was aggressive in run support with seven tackles, one for a loss. Sam Koch averaged 50.4 yards with a long of 57 yards. When the punter has one of the top performances, it tells an ugly story.
What went wrong: Flacco telegraphed and sailed his throw to Boldin that Chris Harris undercut for a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown, triggering a dreadful 14-point swing as a high-risk pass was attempted rather than run the football or call a timeout. The running game was largely abandoned as Baltimore fell behind, and Rice got stuffed on first downs. Reed and cornerback Cary Williams were embarrassed by Eric Decker by his stutter-step double move for a 51-yard touchdown, perhaps underestimating his speed. A slow-reacting Reed resembled a human statue when Moreno hurdled him Moreno ran roughshod over Baltimore, piling up 118 yards and a score. Engulfed by blockers, Cody looked like he was on skates. Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' torn right biceps rendered him a non-factor, and caused him a lot of pain. Boldin and Cary Williams displayed frustration on late hits.
Turning point: Threatening to score before halftime, Flacco's ill-advised pass ruined any chances of being competitive as the turnover stamped out momentum built through an encouraging hurry-up series.
X-factor: The Ravens aren't done being haunted by the Manning family as New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning orchestrates a dangerous, albeit inconsistent offense headlined by deep threat Victor Cruz.
Strategy: The Giants often used two-receiver sets in the first half, with either two backs or two tight ends on the field with them, before falling behind early. They had to get away from that, and the running game, after they fell behind by three scores, but they tried to stay balanced. Their base defense is a 4-3, but the Falcons often dictated that they use their nickel package by putting three wide receivers on the field. The Giants tried to generate pressure with their four defensive linemen and did not blitz aggressively, but the Falcons were the more physical team.
Personnel: The Giants have a talented defensive line rotation that includes Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka, and they play them all at different spots along the line. Due to injuries, the Giants started rookie cornerback Jayron Hosley and journeyman Stevie Brown starts at safety. Safety Antrel Rolle does double duty as the team's nickel cornerback. Speedy rookie running back David Wilson made his first NFL start, but Ahmad Bradshaw could play and split carries with him on Sunday. The Giants have a solid veteran offensive line.
What went right: Not much, honestly. The Giants were able to move the ball in the first three quarters, but they did not score in two trips inside the red zone. Wilson and fellow back Kregg Lumpkin averaged 4.6 yards per carry, but they were forced to abandon the run. Domenik Hixon, whose snaps increased when they used more three-receiver sets, had five catches for 80 yards.
What went wrong: Pretty much everything, honestly. The Falcons won up front and their talented skill players like wide receiver Julio Jones and cornerback Asante Samuel routinely won individual battles on the outside. The bad Eli Manning showed up. He threw an interception on his first pass and was off all day, finishing with two interceptions and a 40.7 passer rating. They struggled at times against the physical running of Michael Turner. Screen passes gave them trouble, too. Lawrence Tynes missed a short field goal. And the Giants went 0-for-3 in 4th-and-short situations.
Turning point: After the Giants fell behind, 17-0, in the second quarter, they either got aggressive or desperate, depending on your perspective. Wilson got stuffed on fourth-and-1 at Atlanta's 32-yard line. Then, on the ensuing drive, they went for it on fourth-and-1 again from Atlanta's 11-yard line, and Victor Cruz couldn't come up with a catch in traffic. Maybe it's a different game if they take the points.
X-factor: Cruz had his least productive game of the season, partially due to Manning's struggles and partially because he couldn't shake free of Samuel and Dunta Robinson, one of the NFL's best cornerback tandems. He had just three catches for 15 yards. But Cruz is a good route runner, especially when he is operating out of the slot, and he is slippery once he gets the ball in his hands. If the good Eli shows up, the banged-up Ravens secondary will have its hands full with Cruz this weekend.