Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson breaks down the game film from Monday night's game between the Ravens and the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
GAME PLAN: Gary Kubiak crafted a straight-forward game plan based on a physical approach, pounding the football with his trademark outside zone plays as the Ravens piled up 215 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. The Ravens hit creases and displayed patience with the running game, sticking with it even as the New Orleans Saints were gaining traction through their big-play passing game. The offensive line, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and tight ends Owen Daniels and Crockett Gillmore sealed off defenders and created running lanes. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees was aggressive with his blitz package to try to equalize the Saints' advantage at the skill positions in pass coverage against a vulnerable secondary. The Ravens mixed up coverage and pressure enough to keep star quarterback Drew Brees off-balance. Safety Will Hill was the point man in trying to contain tight end Jimmy Graham
PERSONNEL: Daniels played 53 snaps, 90 percent of the offensive plays. Torrey Smith and Steve rarely left the field, playing 48 and 45 snaps, respectively. The Ravens have gotten to a point with offensive tackle Eugene Monroe's recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery where he's playing 100 percent of the snaps and not being substituted with rookie James Hurst. The Ravens are using more two-back formations than anyone in the league as Juszczyk and the I-formation have remained a vital part of the offense. He played 32 snaps, 54 percent of the workload. Bernard Pierce remains the backup running back ahead of rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro ever since Taliaferro fumbled against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pierce had seven carries for 28 yards. Former second-round picks Arthur Brown and Terrence Cody were both healthy scratches. Marlon Brown played 24 snaps on offense, catching the one pass thrown to him for 14 yards. Wide receiver Jacoby Jones made a rare appearance on offense, playing three snaps in his hometown and carrying it once for three yards and a first down. Hill, rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley, middle linebacker Daryl Smith and cornerback Lardarius Webb played all but a handful of snaps. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' playing time increased to 61 snaps. Against a heavy passing team, nickel back Danny Gorrer played 53 snaps. Matt Elam played 20 snaps on defense, seven more than rookie Terrence Brooks.
WHAT WENT RIGHT ON OFFENSE: Justin Forsett had excellent vision, waiting for holes to develop as he gained a career-high 182 yards and scored untouched on a pair of touchdown runs. Forsett broke at least five tackles, has rushed for 903 yards and is on pace to finish the season 1,313 yards. Quarterback Joe Flacco managed the game smoothly and remained calm when pressured. Flacco completed 6 of 8 play-action passes for 60 yards. With the exception of an errant throw that should have been intercepted by linebacker David Hawthorne, Flacco was sharp and made sound decisions. He completed 18 of 24 passes for 243 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Steve Smith delivered an acrobatic touchdown pass in the back of the end zone while being held by cornerback Mark Dixon. Torrey Smith escaped coverage and was difficult to bring down after the catch with an average of 19.6 yards per reception. Flacco was only sacked once and hit three times. Punter Sam Koch had a 73-yard punt and averaged 63 yards on two punts.
WHAT WENT WRONG ON OFFENSE: Although Monroe had a great seal block on linebacker Curtis Lofton on Forsett's second touchdown run, Monroe struggled in pass blocking as he had trouble with Junior Galette. Left guard Kelechi Osemele whiffed on Galette on a sack, but overall had a solid game. Juszczyk lost a fumble deep in Saints territory. Daniels wasn't a big factor with just two catches for seven yards on five targets.
WHAT WENT RIGHT ON DEFENSE: The Ravens cranked up their pass rush, sacking Brees four times and hitting him eight times overall. Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil sacked Brees twice and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs sacked him once. Pernell McPhee shot through gaps on a regular basis for three quarterback hits and four hurries and remains a disruptive force inside. Rookie inside linebacker C.J. Mosley recorded a game-high nine tackles to go with a sack, three tackles for losses and two quarterback hits. Nose tackle Brandon Williams anchored the middle and had four tackles. There was nowhere for Saints running back Mark Ingram to run inside as he was shut down on 11 carries for 27 yards and a 2.5 average while Pierre Thomas had just 19 yards on five carries.
WHAT WENT WRONG ON DEFENSE: Graham still managed to score two touchdowns and Brees passed for 420 yards. The Ravens were prone to surrendering big plays and had poor pursuit angles, especially safety Darian Stewart and Suggs on a 67-yard end-around by wide receiver Joe Morgan. The Saints went after Lardarius Webb and Gorrer as Webb gave up a 62-yard bomb to Morgan. Gorrer got outmuscled for a long sideline reception by Kenny Stills. Anthony Levine had issues outside, too, in his second NFL start. With Matt Elam beaten in single coverage by Marques Colston, Terrence Brooks had a chance to intercept the pass in the end zone, but failed to react instinctively and essentially watched as Colston barreled into the end zone. In an otherwise stellar season, Haloti Ngata was uncharacteristically quiet and unproductive at the line of scrimmage. His roughing the passer penalty on third down extended a Saints drive that led to a field goal.
KEY PLAY: With the game tied in the third quarter, Hill read Brees' eyes and jumped a pass intended for Graham. The 44-yard interception return for a touchdown provided a lead for the Ravens. They never trailed or were tied for the remainder of the game.
BEST HIT: Rookie inside linebacker C.J. Mosley crushed Brees on a blitz as he got rid of the football just in time to avoid a sack.
GAME BALLS: Forsett (career-high for yardage, two touchdowns, 8.3 average per carry); Hill (interception for a score impacted the momentum heavily); 3. Steve Smith and Torrey Smith (combined for nine receptions, 187 yards and one touchdown on a dozen targets); 4. Dumervil (two sacks nine lost yards)
INTANGIBLES: It was an emotional performance anchored by wide receiver Steve Smith, who got the best of a wild altercation with safety Kenny Vaccaro. The Ravens were intense throughout the game, especially after halftime when defensive coordinator Dean Pees delivered a fiery speech imploring the defense to play to a higher standard.
LOOKING AHEAD: San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is one of the toughest players in the league regardless of position. And Rivers has the benefit of throwing to tight end Antonio Gates and wide receiver Keenan Allen. The defense is led by veteran safety Eric Weddle.