Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson breaks down the game film from Sunday's game between the Ravens and the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium.
GAME PLAN: The Ravens tried to establish the run early in the game, but they were stonewalled throughout the first half. They had some sloppy plays early in the game overall offensively as wide receiver Steve Smith dropped a pass and tight end Owen Daniels jumped offsides. After a conservative approach initially, quarterback Joe Flacco came out throwing passes downfield in a fourth quarter during which he connected on long passes to Torrey Smith to spark a dormant offense. Flacco had two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter as the Ravens upgraded their spacing and timing. The Ravens tried to box in unheralded rookie quarterback Connor Shaw throughout the game, but they had some issues initially keeping him contained because of his elusiveness. The Ravens eventually solved Shaw, figuring out his unconventional style of play and aggressively collapsed the pocket to defeat the Browns and an undrafted quarterback who proved to be much tougher and prepared to play than high-profile injured rookie Johnny Manziel. Shaw took a beating in the second half, suffering a bruised kidney, but he still remained in the game.
PERSONNEL: Because of injuries to starting offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Rick Wagner, the Ravens were forced to start two rookies as they reconfigured the offensive line. Undrafted rookie James Hurst stepped in for Monroe at left tackle. John Urschel, a fifth-round pick, played right guard with Marshal Yanda shifting to right tackle. Tight end Owen Daniels played 61 snaps, missing just six offensive plays. Rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore played 24 snaps. Running back Justin Forsett played 52 snaps, shouldering the majority of the workload as Bernard Pierce and Fitzgerald Toussaint played nine snaps and three snaps, respectively. Wide receivers Torrey Smith (52 snaps) and Steve Smith (51 snaps) played the majority of the time, with Marlon Brown (28 snaps), Kamar Aiken (16 snaps) and Michael Campanaro (eight snaps) working behind them. This marked the first time Campanaro (River Hill) has been active since Oct. 26 against the Cincinnati Bengals when he pulled his hamstring. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk was up to 27 snaps as the Ravens ran 28 times for 129 yards. The ironmen defensively with 100 percent participation were free safety Will Hill, inside linebackers Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley, and cornerback Lardarius Webb, with cornerback Rashaan Melvin playing all but two snaps defensively. Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs (46 snaps), Courtney Upshaw (38 snaps), Pernell McPhee and Elvis Dumervil (33 snaps apiece) closely divided up playing time. With defensive end Chris Canty out with an ankle injury and rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan leaving the game after injuring his left foot, Lawrence Guy played 42 snaps and DeAngelo Tyson played 34 snaps. Nose tackle Brandon Williams played 40 snaps. Defensive tackle Casey Walker played nine snaps in his first game with the Ravens. With Darian Stewart starting at strong safety and playing 37 snaps, Jeromy Miles played just nine snaps less than him. Matt Elam, the team's 2013 first-round draft pick, played 13 snaps on defense and 15 snaps on special teams. Reserve inside linebacker Arthur Brown pulled his hamstring and was limited to six special teams snaps.
WHAT WENT RIGHT ON OFFENSE: Despite the overhauled offensive line, Flacco was only sacked once and hit three times. Left guard Kelechi Osemele was particularly sharp in carrying out his assignments. Forsett hit his stride in the fourth quarter when he ran for most of his 119 rushing yards on 17 carries, including a 32-yard play up the sideline. Juszczyk drew high marks s a lead blocker. Hurst didn't allow a sack or a quarterback hurry. Urschel held up solidly, and Yanda adjusted well to being back at right tackle for the first time in years. The Ravens scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Targeted a dozen times, Steve Smith overcame a slow start to catch eight passes for 90 yards. Torrey Smith caught four passes for 83 yards and a touchdown on seven targets. Daniels' 39-yard reception up the right sideline led to a field goal. Both Gillmore and Campanaro flashed some mobility and hands on 22-yard and 17-yard receptions, respectively. Aiken caught a late touchdown pass to put the game away.
WHAT WENT WRONG ON OFFENSE: The Ravens are dreadful nowadays in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on just 2 of 6 opportunities Sunday. The most glaring breakdown was when they had a first-and-goal at the Browns' 2-yard line in the first quarter. Backup running back Bernard Pierce got punished in the hole on consecutive carries for 1 yard and no gain before Flacco threw an incompletion to Gillmore. On fourth down, the Ravens faked a reverse and gave the football to Forsett. He went nowhere after Yanda missed his block on outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard and the Ravens turned it over on downs. Pierce has struggled to break tackles recently as he rushed for 8 yards on six carries for an average of 1.3 yards per run. Besides Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, Daniels and Gillmore all dropped passes.
WHAT WENT RIGHT ON DEFENSE: Williams manhandled center Andrew McDonald, while McPhee dominated blockers with a blend of speed-rushes and power moves to pick up two sacks. He also displayed instincts in his reactions to running plays. Tyson and Suggs each had one sack apiece. Suggs had one of his better all-around performances. Webb was targeted six times, allowing one catch and intercepting his first pass of the season. Shaw was sacked four times and hit seven times overall.
WHAT WENT WRONG ON DEFENSE: Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley both bit on a play-action fake in the first quarter, allowing a long reception to tight end Jordan Cameron on Smith's side of the field. Baltimore native Terrance West outmanuevered the Ravens' defense, gaining 94 yards on 18 carries and scoring one touchdown. He ran away from pursuit on a 36-yard sideline play as Hill missed him completely as he sidestepped the tackle attempt. Shaw broke outside on a scramble and found Taylor Gabriel open downfield for a 49-yard completion. Dumervil had a quiet game with no sacks or quarterback hits. A Pro Bowl selection as a rookie, Mosley was a bit slower than usual in his reactions to run and pass schemes.
KEY PLAY: Trailing, 10-6, in the fourth quarter and needing to win this game to make it to the playoffs, Flacco launched a 53-yard pass to Torrey Smith on which he challenged standout cornerback Joe Haden. Smith made an acrobatic leaping catch to come down with the football. That set up a 16-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Smith on the ensuing play to take a 13-10 lead that the Ravens wouldn't relinquish.
BEST HIT: In a rare example of Steve Smith being roughed up by a cornerback, Buster Skrine picked the five-time Pro Bowl selection off the ground and body-slammed him after a sideline catch in the first quarter. Smith was unhurt, but it was somewhat surprising to see him unable to shrug off Skrine.
GAME BALLS: 1. McPhee (five tackles, three for losses, two sacks, one pass deflection); 2. Flacco (delivered with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns); 3. Forsett (instrumental in the win with 119 rushing yards, 7.0 average per carry); 4. Torrey Smith and Steve Smith (combined for 12 catches, 173 yards, one touchdown).
INTANGIBLES: It's inexplicable to watch the Ravens come out so flat again in another must-win game, clearly lacking tempo, fire and intensity at the start of the game. It's commendable that the Ravens rallied in the fourth quarter to put an inferior team away, waking up in time to qualify for the playoffs and avoid a potentially disastrous end to the regular season.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Pittsburgh Steelers have a formidable passing game headlined by wide receiver Antonio Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but it's not only about them. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley has capable downfield targets in tight end Heath Miller and wide receivers Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. However, the Steelers will sorely miss running back Le'Veon Bell if he's unable to play because of a hyperextended knee. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is the architect of the zone blitz and has coaxed production out of pass rushers Jason Worilds, Cam Heyward and James Harrison. The defensive standout has been versatile inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who leads the Steelers with 132 tackles.