Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson looks back at the Ravens' game each week and looks ahead to their next opponent.
GAME PLAN: Instead of airing it out and employing a no-huddle offense the way they did frequently in ineffective fashion during a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens scrapped the hurry-up approach and adopted a balanced, gritty approach. There were just a dozen shotgun snaps out of 65 offensive plays, zero no-huddle plays. They ran the football downhill, gaining 157 rushing yards on 36 runs to wear out a visibly tired Pittsburgh Steelers defense. Joe Flacco orchestrated a high-percentage passing game with 21 completions on 29 throws for two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Double-tight end formations were heavily utilized, closely mirroring what Gary Kubiak favored when he was with the Houston Texans. There was a heavy emphasis on exploiting soft spots in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ zone defense. Dean Pees didn’t have to dial up blitz packages to create pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. He had Jimmy Smith shadow wide receiver Antonio Brown, made good use of strong safety Matt Elam in nickel packages lined up in the slot and increased Jeromy Miles’ workload at safety.
PERSONNEL: Tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels rarely left the field. Pitta played 62 snaps (91 percent) and Daniels got 52 snaps (76 percent). Even rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore played 13 snaps. Torrey Smith (47 snaps) and Steve Smith (45 snaps) played a bit less than usual. Running backs Bernard Pierce (38 snaps) and Justin Forsett (28 snaps) closely divided playing time. Jacoby Jones (28 snaps) and Marlon Brown (three snaps) aren’t big factors offensively. The ironmen on defense with 100-percent playing time: Elam, Jimmy Smith and Darian Stewart and linebackers C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith. Elvis Dumervil played 46 snaps as fellow strong-side linebacker Courtney Upshaw was down to 19 snaps. Terrell Suggs was rested frequently and had the same amount of playing time as Dumervil. Pernell McPhee rotated in for 30 snaps. Haloti Ngata playing a lot at nose tackle in his 36 snaps, as starting nose tackle Brandon Williams played just nine snaps. There was no defensive playing time for rookie safety Terrence Brooks.
WHAT WENT RIGHT ON OFFENSE: Daniels flashed his old Pro Bowl form with two touchdowns on five receptions, displaying more quickness than he showed during an injury-filled preseason. He bounced up after an illegal hit from Troy Polamalu. Steve Smith is still dangerous after the catch, breaking tackles and eluding defenders. Pierce didn’t fumble and provided a tackle-breaking presence as he gained 96 yards. Forsett showed burst and vision on his 41-yard jaunt. Left guard, Kelechi Osemele manhandled linebacker Lawrence Timmons and nose tackle Steve McClendon. Flacco completed 70 percent of his throws while leading methodical drives. He was never sacked or even hit.
WHAT WENT WRONG ON OFFENSE: Flacco failed to locate an open Jacoby Jones in the corner of the end zone, misfiring on a red-zone throw intended for Steve Smith. Pierce failed to locate holes, squandering some yards and not finishing runs. Torrey Smith was targeted three times, catching only one pass for 10 yards . Smith did clear out room for his teammates with his deep speed still being respected and drew a pass interference penalty to set up Daniels’ first touchdown.
WHAT WENT RIGHT ON DEFENSE: Dumervil steamrolled offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert, bull-rushing him into Roethlisberger for a pair of sacks. Dumervil’s strength and speed looked much better than they did late last season. Ngata had an athletic pass deflection and leaping interception. Mosley instinctively timed up his shot on Heath Miller to force and recover a late fumble after Smith stripped the football for an early forced fumble. Elam has upgraded his open-field tackling with a team-high 10 tackles. Stewart briefly knocked Brown out of the game with concussion symptoms when he uncoiled his right shoulder into the shifty receiver.
WHAT WENT WRONG ON DEFENSE: The Ravens had a few issues containing multidimensional running back Le’Veon Bell on outside runs and covering him out of the backfield. Suggs is still overly aggressive in pursuit, costing himself opportunities to make plays and creating large gaps when he crashes down to try to make tackles. As a smaller corn, Asa Jackson is having some problems in run support. He suffered a concussion and was forced out of the game.
KEY PLAY: When Daniels got a clean release off the line of scrimmage in the third quarter, he was all by himself in the end zone on a savvy route by the veteran. Daniels’ one-yard touchdown provided a 17-6 lead, plenty of points against a struggling Steelers team.
BEST HIT: Upshaw planted Roethlisberger with a crunching tackle where his helmet collided with the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback’s chest. The sack was nullified on a debatable roughing-the-passer penalty, but Roethlisberger said he hadn’t been punished like that since Bart Scott drove him into the ground in a 2006 Ravens win.
GAME BALLS: 1. Steve Smith (seven catches, 96 yards), 2. Flacco (109.3 quarterback rating), 3. Dumervil (two sacks ). 4. Justin Tucker (four field goals).
INTANGIBLES: Following a highly emotional week that began with Ray Rice’s $35 million contract terminated when a graphic video surfaced of his domestic violence incident, the Ravens maintained their focus and beat their AFC North rival to avoid dropping into a potential 0-2 hole.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Cleveland Browns are a talented team that runs similar concepts offensively to the Ravens because offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is a Kubiak disciple. Rookie running backs Terrance West (Towson, Northwestern) and Isaiah Crowell are difficult to bring down. There are plenty of playmakers on a defense headlined by cornerback Joe Haden and linebackers Karlos Dansby, Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard.