Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson looks back at the Ravens' game each week and looks ahead to their next opponent.
GAME PLAN: Maintaining a downhill, physical approach even with Bernard Pierce sidelined with a quadriceps injury, Gary Kubiak manufactured a balanced strategy headlined by the unveiling of powerful rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro. Creating pathways for Taliaferro and Justin Forsett, fullback Kyle Juszczyk had his best game in three NFL starts with hard-nosed lead blocking. Taliaferro adeptly executed Kubiak's trademark inside and outside zone runs while quarterback Joe Flacco delivered a series of high-percentage throws to eight different receivers. Dean Pees deployed his defense to crowd the line of scrimmage to try to bottle up Cleveland Browns rookie running backs Terrance West (Towson, Northwestern) and Isaiah Crowell. The defense used a mixture of zone coverage and man-to-man coverage schemes. However, the secondary frequently struggled to execute what Pees had intended.
PERSONNEL: An ugly, season-ending hip injury to tight end Dennis Pitta impacted the offense as he left the game after 23 snaps, causing Owen Daniels to play 59 snaps (87 percent playing time). With Pitta out, Crockett Gillmore played 15 snaps. Despite a painful knee injury that hampered his mobility and drive blocking and nearly forced him out of the game, left tackle Eugene Monroe played every snap. Steve Smith capitalized on his 49 snaps and seven targets with five receptions for 101 yards. Marlon Brown went up to 23 snaps from three in the previous game. The defensive leaders were Matt Elam and Daryl Smith, who played every snap, with Jimmy Smith playing all but one snap. Nose tackle Brandon Williams played a career-high 51 snaps. One game after recording two sacks, Elvis Dumervil curiously went down to 22 snaps as Courtney Upshaw played 37. Chris Canty was banged-up and limited to 26 snaps as Pernell McPhee played 30 and DeAngelo Tyson played 22. Timmy Jernigan missed the game with a meniscus problem in his knee. Jeromy Miles' playing time went down to eight snaps.
WHAT WENT RIGHT ON OFFENSE: Steve Smith had a clutch 32-yard reception on which he beat Browns cornerback Joe Haden to set up the game-winning field goal by Justin Tucker in the final minute. Taliaferro rushed for 91 yards, typically making one cut and then driving into linebackers. Taliaferro displayed some speed during a 31-yard run, but he doesn't have a lot of moves. Left guard Kelechi Osemele manhandled the Browns' interior defensive linemen. Flacco had a nice improvisational play on a scrambling throw to his left to Torrey Smith to escape the pass rush. Right tackle Rick Wagner held his own against former Ravens pass-rusher Paul Kruger, limiting him to three tackles, one quarterback hit and no sacks. Wagner had the key block on Taliaferro's longest run. Juszczyk slipped out of the backfield to his left and was uncovered as Kubiak recognized a flaw in the Browns' base defense as they never reacted to the play on the 9-yard touchdown catch.
WHAT WENT WRONG ON OFFENSE: Without being touched, Pitta painfully stumbled to the ground as he dislocated and fractured his right hip when he planted his right leg and tried to head upfield. His loss represents a major blow to the team. Daniels caught just one pass for 8 yards. Flacco's accuracy on deep balls and red-zone throws was off again. The chemistry between Flacco and Torrey Smith continues to be an issue overall as Flacco completed just two of eight passes to the former Maryland standout for 25 yards. Flacco threw an interception when he failed to look off safety Tashaun Gipson. Jacoby Jones' confidence is clearly down.
WHAT WENT RIGHT ON DEFENSE: The Ravens held the Browns to 91 rushing yards on 29 carries as West averaged 3 yards per carry. Terrell Suggs did a nice job on outside containment by staying disciplined and strong in his techniques at driving back blockers. Despite being hobbled, Jimmy Smith was solid in coverage compared to his fellow defensive backs. Upshaw had five tackles, one sack and two tackles for losses with a pass deflection.
WHAT WENT WRONG ON DEFENSE: DeAngelo Tyson got reach-blocked on Crowell's 14-yard touchdown, opening up a hole as Daryl Smith failed to fill in the gap. West was unchallenged as he leapt into the end zone. The defense struggled with its pass rush as Brian Hoyer calmly completed 19 of 25 passes for 290 yards and one touchdown. Suggs had trouble with Joe Thomas. There were a ton of miscommunications in zone coverage as Matt Elam didn't run with Taylor Gabriel on a 70-yard catch. Elam compounded the error by pointing at teammates about the miscue instead of tagging Gabriel down. Plus, Elam was beaten by Travis Benjamin on a similar zone mix-up and was flagged for pass interference on another play. Tackling was substandard, especially by the defensive backs. Lardarius Webb displayed a lack of mobility and rust in his first game back from a lower back injury and was pulled after four snaps
KEY PLAY: With a terrific jump off a left-handed stance as he burst past Billy Winn, Asa Jackson pounced through the air to block a 36-yard field goal attempt by former Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff in the fourth quarter. By preventing the Browns from scoring three points, Jackson's momentum-changing play led to a 21-yard field goal by Tucker to close the Browns' lead to one point.
GAME BALLS: 1. Steve Smith (dominated Haden); 2. Taliaferro (averaged 5.1 yards per carry); 3. Juszczyk (scored first NFL touchdown); 4. Jackson (blocked field goal)
INTANGIBLES: Maintaining their resolve following allegations that challenged the Ravens brass' statements about former running back Ray Rice, the team stayed focused. When John Harbaugh asked players during a team meeting if they had any questions about the organization's handling of the Rice situation, he was met by silence.
LOOKING AHEAD: Steve Smith figures to be extremely fired up against the Carolina Panthers, his former team, predicting a "blood and guts" game this offseason. Cam Newton isn't as much of a dual-threat now, but he has an imposing downfield target in rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is formidable.