By Aaron Wilson and Matt Vensel
The Baltimore Sun
7:59 PM EST, December 4, 2012
Steelers 23, Ravens 20
Strategy: The Ravens aggressively tried to strike deep, but were largely inefficient. Wide receiver Torrey Smith was targeted eight times, but only generated three catches for 31 yards. They wavered between a smash-mouth approach and a free-wheeling passing game. The no-huddle offense was used just three times, one leading to Anquan Boldin's touchdown against an overmatched Cortez Allen. The shotgun formation was curtailed severely, down to 14 of 58 plays after the Ravens used it 51 times in San Diego a week earlier. The waggle pass out of play-action was a good luck as bruising fullback Vonta Leach snuck out of the backfield for four catches and went into juggernaut mode against undersized defensive backs trying to bring him down. The offensive line used some legal chop-blocking techniques to control the Steelers. Dean Pees didn't blitz nearly as much with inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe sidelined with a right foot and ankle injury. Cornerback Corey Graham walked up to the line of scrimmage for a blitz against a running play. Attempts to match up defensively, particularly over the middle, became discombobulated as the Steelers created separation regularly.
Personnel: The Ravens' iron men with 100 percent participation were linemen Michael Oher, Jah Reid, Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele, quarterback Joe Flacco and defenders Jameel McClain, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard and Cary Williams. Ray Rice got 47 snaps, 77 percent playing time. A healthier Haloti Ngata was up to 58 snaps, or 88 percent playing time. Nickel back Chykie Brown played 29 snaps. Courtney Upshaw (43 snaps) and Arthur Jones (37 snaps) are becoming pivotal to the front seven. Massive nose guards Terrence Cody (27 snaps) and Ma'ake Kemoeatu (25 snaps) closely divided up playing time.
What went right: Rice hopped, skipped and jumped out of a crowd for an electrifying 34-yard touchdown run and finished with 78 yards on 12 carries. Rookie backup Bernard Pierce continues to run hard to earn an expanded workload, getting four less carries than Rice. Boldin muscled defensive backs for five catches for 81 yards. Vonta Leach steamrolled an unsuspecting Casey Hampton, pancaking the veteran nose guard. Reed had an acrobatic end-zone interception, the 61st of his career. Paul Kruger was relentless in chasing down Charlie Batch with Jones showing similar second effort. Graham was disciplined in sharply diagnosing a reverse pass from Antonio Brown for an interception.
What went wrong: Kruger's roughing the passer penalty was crucial, leading to the Steelers' game-winning kick. Suggs tore his right biceps. Tackling was extremely poor by Reed and Upshaw on Jonathan Dwyer's touchdown run, and Williams got blocked by a quarterback who celebrates his 38th birthday Wednesday. Rice didn't have a single touch in the fourth quarter. Flacco was erratic on deep throws, held the football too long and made a terrible decision to throw it up for grabs on his lone interception after being spun around by Brett Keisel. Oher got set up by James Harrison with bull rushes prior to surrendering a sack and forced fumble.
Turning point: The Ravens' defense was dissected by Batch in the fourth quarter. He completed 10 of 11 passes for 105 yards and a score as the Ravens blew a 10-point lead.
X-factor: The task gets no easier for Oher against Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, a hustling, fluid pass rusher who already has 6 1/2 sacks, a forced fumble, an interception and six pass deflections.
Redskins 17, Giants 16
Strategy: The Redskins have designed their offense around the unique, dynamic talents of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. They use the pistol formation with Griffin behind center and a running back lined up behind him, deep in the backfield. With their read-option plays, Griffin can make defenses pay with his legs or play-action passes, though against the Giants, he rarely threw deep. Their Redskins' defense has been hit hard by injuries, but they use an aggressive 3-4 scheme.
Personnel: The Redskins have a lot of new talent at the offensive skill positions. Rookie running back Alfred Morris, who is already over 1,000 yards rushing, joins Griffin in the backfield. The team signed wide receivers Pierre Garçon and Josh Morgan in free agency, and Garçon is healthy and playing well. Rob Jackson is starting at outside linebacker in place of the injured Brian Orakpo. Now in his 15th year, inside linebacker London Fletcher is still a tackling machine.
What went right: The Redskins caught a huge break in the first quarter when Griffin fumbled in the red zone, but the ball landed in the arms of Morgan, who ran it in for a touchdown. The Giants had no answer for the Redskins' running game. Morris, a patient runner who reads blocks well, rushed for 124 yards and Griffin ran for 72 more as the Washington averaged 6.7 yards per carry. Griffin was held under 200 passing yards, but he was efficient and found holes in the Giants' secondary on short and immediate passes. The Redskins only had one sack, but they had quarterback Eli Manning on the run all night. The Giants did not have any turnovers and converted 60 percent of their third-down plays, but they were held to one touchdown.
What went wrong: Former Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson played well in coverage, but the Giants picked on DeAngelo Hall and Cedric Griffin (who was suspended by the NFL on Tuesday). Giants wideout Victor Cruz had five catches for 104 yards, and tight end Martellus Bennett consistently got open over the middle, catching five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown. The Redskins averaged 7.1 yards per play, but somehow lost the time of possession battle by nearly seven minutes.
Turning point: The Redskins took a 17-16 lead when Griffin III threw a touchdown pass to Garçon early in the fourth quarter. On the play, which gave the Redskins the deciding points, Griffin faked a handoff to Morris and then rolled to his right, finding Garçon in the end zone to cap a 12-play, 86-yard drive. The Giants did not cross midfield on their final two drives.
X-factor: It is no doubt Griffin III, a former track standout. He makes smart decisions and is much more accurate than some might realize (he has four interceptions in his rookie year and hasn't thrown more than one in a game). He picked apart the Giants whenever they couldn't get pressure on him, and he was also very effective throwing the ball after play fakes. If Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch could pick the Ravens apart, imagine what this kid might do if they don't pressure him.
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