Each week, Baltimore Sun reporters Aaron Wilson and Matt Vensel will look back at the Ravens’ previous game and that of their next opponent. Here's a look at the Ravens' 24-23 loss to the Eagles. (For a look at the Patriots' game against Arizona, click here.)
Eagles 24, Ravens 23
Strategy: An identity crisis unfolded as the Ravens' no-huddle offense was minimized to six plays out of 65 snaps — just two after halftime and none in fourth quarter. A potential game-controlling, smash-mouth approach strangely was abandoned in short-yardage situations, despite ideal personnel to run isolation plays out of the rarely-used I-formation. Joe Flacco worked almost exclusively from the shotgun for 37 of his 42 throws. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees deployed a pure 3-4 look to stack defenders and set the edge in an attempt to box in Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy. Concerned about DeSean Jackson as a deep threat, the defense employed a soft zone scheme that surrendered far too much territory to tight end Brent Celek as far as underneath routes.
Personnel: Rugged fullback Vonta Leach was limited to 16 snaps, eight runs. Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice got 63 plays, but just 24 touches despite rushing for 99 yards and catching six passes for 53 yards. With half the workload of starter Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones was the lone receiver to consistently create separation against press coverage. Safety James Ihedigbo was pressed into action when hard-hitting safety Bernard Pollard suffered a rib contusion. Ma'ake Kemoeatu (44 plays, two tackles) and Terrence Cody (24 plays, zero stops) platooned at nose guard. Playing time tilted back to inside linebacker Jameel McClain (59 plays, five tackles), who also rushed the passer from outside spot, over Dannell Ellerbe (37 plays, four tackles, one sack).
What went right: Flacco and Dennis Pitta formed a potent tandem, connecting eight times for 65 yards as the tight end was targeted a game-high 15 times. Rice dazzled with his open-field burst, including a 43-yard run and a 37-yard reception as he averaged 6.2 yards per rush and 8.8 yards per catch. Pro Bowl offensive guard Marshal Yanda steamrolled Cullen Jenkins six yards deep into the end zone on Leach’s touchdown. Jones' double-move for a score behind star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was a textbook route. Lardarius Webb is arguably the best tackler on defense, pound for pound. Courtney Upshaw and Albert McClellan muscled blockers enough for outside containment. All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was practically unblockable. Rookie kicker Justin Tucker's 56-yard boot would have easily been good from 60 yards.
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What went wrong: Flacco lost touch in the second half, throwing off his back foot often and completing just 8 of 25 passes. His one interception was in the third quarter with middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans picking him off when he forced the football into triple coverage while staring down Pitta. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron made head-scratching play-calls. Michael Oher had trouble with speed rusher Trent Cole. Visibly frustrated, Boldin hardly ever got open. A vulnerable, bend-but-don't-shatter defense allowed Vick to pile up 405 total yards, scoring once on the ground and throwing one touchdown pass. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis often reacted too late and his tackling wasn't as sharp as usual. Ihedigbo and linebackers struggled as Celek caught eight passes for 165 yards. Jimmy Smith doesn't seem to be improving in his second season. With Pollard hurt, the intensity seemed to suffer. Without blitzes or stunts, there's rarely pressure.
Turning point: In a debatable penalty called by replacement officials, Jones had a touchdown nullified for offensive pass interference in the fourth quarter. Instead of enjoying a comfortable 10-point lead, the Ravens had to settle for a Tucker field goal. During the ensuing 80-yard drive, Vick answered with the game-winning touchdown run.
X-factor: New England Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Kellen Winslow could thrive Sunday night if Pollard is sidelined and the Ravens don't generate a sufficient pass rush on Tom Brady. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is sure to try to use Celek’s success as blueprint. So, strategic adjustments are likely mandatory.