Five thoughts on the Ravens' 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
No Style Points, But Ravens Just Needed To Win
After two straight losses, the Ravens just needed to win a game, period, to get some traction back and set up the rest of their season. They got what they needed, enabling them to take a 6-4 record and bona fide playoff hopes into their bye-week break. Was it a style-point win? Not really. As 10-point favorites, the Ravens fell behind early, didn't take the lead until midway through the third quarter and didn't put away the (now 2-7) Titans until the fourth quarter. The defense stumbled early and the offense sputtered throughout. But again, this was strictly a bottom-line day and the Ravens got what they needed. Anyone taking it for granted should consider what happened to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who followed up their epic beatdown of the Ravens last weekend by going to New York and laying a big, fat egg against the woeful Jets. Go ahead, have a giggle.
Game-Changing Hit, Adjustments
The first minutes of this game were stunning. Led by Zack Mettenberger, a rookie quarterback making just his second start, the Titans drove 79 yards on the game's opening possession before fumbling on the Ravens' 1-yard line, then got the ball back and drove 58 yards to a touchdown. The Ravens certainly didn't expect that. What happened? The Ravens' coaches and players credited the Titans for deploying some new wrinkles; Tennessee was coming off a bye "and it showed," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. But the Titans did little on offense after that. In fact, they came to a complete halt and didn't make another first down until the fourth quarter. What changed? Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees adjusted some schemes and coverages and the Ravens' pass rush took over, making Mettenberger look like a rookie. But the biggest game-changer, according to Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil, was the massive hit that rookie safety Terrence Brooks laid on Tennessee tight end Delaine Walker. Though violent, the hit was legal and knocked the Titans' top pass-catcher out of the game with a concussion. After seeing that, the Titans' receivers didn't seem to want to go over the middle anymore, according to Dumervil. "A hit like that changes the whole momentum," Ravens cornerback Danny Gorrer said.
Encouraging Signs From New-Look Secondary
After a turbulent week, the Ravens' new-look secondary held up nicely. In fact, the unit made plays. Brooks delivered the big hit. Gorrer intercepted a pass in his first game with the Ravens since 2011. Anthony Levine, a third-year player who has been a reserve safety and special-teams guy until now, started at cornerback opposite Lardarius Webb and "played really good football," Harbaugh said, contributing four combined tackles and two passes defended. "I guess we're not going to be calling him a safety anymore," Harbaugh said. Obviously, a home game against an under-fire rookie quarterback bears little resemblance to the withering test the pass defense will face when the Ravens come off the bye and play the Saints and Drew Brees in the Superdome. That game, not this one, will speak volumes about the Ravens' ability to adjust a struggling secondary on the fly. But all they could do was play the Titans Sunday, and there were encouraging signs. Safety Will Hill was active in the back. The cornerbacks kept Tennessee's wideouts in front of them. "It was a good day," Webb said.
Run Game Helped Flustered Flacco
As expected, the Titans brought the heat on defense after Pittsburgh flustered the Ravens and quarterback Joe Flacco with that strategy the week before. Although the Titans lost, I wouldn't call their defensive plan a failure. Flacco was only sacked once, but he faced fairly steady pressure that seemed to force him to misfire at times. Gary Kubiak's offense is rhythm-based, the Ravens had little rhythm until late in the game. You can be sure Flacco will see plenty of blitzes when the Ravens come off their bye. But the offense prevailed because Kubiak stuck with the running game, which produced just 21 yards in the first half but 130 in the final two quarters after adjustments were made to prevent Tennessee defenders from stopping runs from the "back side" of plays. Once the running game was rolling, Flacco had more time to throw. His 32-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith sealed the game.
Rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro paid the price for his crucial fumble against the Steelers last week. He had just three late-game carries and Bernard Pierce took over as Justin Forsett's backup … Forsett has now rushed for 721 yards, a career high. He only needs to average 46 yards a game down the stretch to reach 1,000 for the season ... In his return to Baltimore after five years as a starter here, offensive tackle Michael Oher did NOT get flagged for a false start penalty. More than a dozen Ravens came up and hugged him after the game … After a couple of penalty-heavy games, the Ravens were flagged just five times for 40 yards Sunday … Brace yourself: With the Steelers' loss in New York, the Cleveland Browns are now in first place in the AFC North. The Ravens are a half-game game back with six to play.