Divisional Round Primer: Ravens vs. Titans

You’re welcome, football world.

The big, bad Patriots are now planning their offseason vacations rather than another Super Bowl parade, and it’s all thanks to the organization that has built itself as “Patriots South.” Mike Vrabel and Company went into Foxborough, stared down his former coach and the greatest quarterback of all time, and never flinched.

It was obvious the game plan going into the game was to feed Derrick Henry early and often. Henry finished with 35 total touches for 204 yards and one touchdown. The Patriots’s front seven just didn’t have an answer for the King. Ryan Tannehill on the other hand, had his least productive game as a Titan. I don’t want to say he had his “worst” game as a Titans, because he wasn’t really asked to do much. He made three or four plays in crucial spots and his one interception wasn’t a back-breaker. Against that Patriots secondary, in Foxborough, in bad weather, that’s really all you need from your quarterback if you have a running back performing like Henry was.

But if beating the Patriots was like taking down Goliath, the Titans now have to face Thanos. The Titans’s offense has been one of the hottest in the league over the final 10 weeks of the season, but the one team that always seemed to be above them in every offensive statistical category was Baltimore. Lamar Jackson has been nearly unstoppable this season and seems to have the MVP all but locked up. And it that wasn’t enough, their defense has been one of the top units in the NFL since they traded for Marcus Peters in mid-October.

Vrabel and Dean Pees have their work cut out for them this week, but this Titans team has been able to pass most of the tests thrown their way this season. If they’re able to start fast like they did in New England and contain Lamar Jackson early, things could get interesting in the second half.

Game Info: 

Tennessee Titans @ Baltimore Ravens (-10)

Game Time: 7:15 CT

Location: Baltimore, MD (M&T Bank Stadium)

TV: CBS

TV Broadcast Crew: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn

Radio: Titans Radio, 104-5 The Zone

Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Amie Wells, Jonathan Hutton, Rhett Bryan

Over/ Under: 47

Stat Corner with Matt:

I typically focus on a certain player or unit for this segment, but today I just want to look at the matchup against the Ravens as a whole. Like I said earlier, the matchup between the Titans’s offense and the Ravens’s defense is a “strength vs. strength” battle. Both units started slow, but were essentially able to make a personnel change– Tannehill being named starter for Titans, Marcus Peters coming over from the Rams to Baltimore– that was able to completely turn the season around for their respective teams.

Since Tannehill was named the starter in Week 7, the Titans rank No. 1 in Warren Sharp’s Explosive Play Rate (1st in pass, 3rd in run). Derrick Henry and AJ Brown have played huge roles in putting up those explosive plays, and they’ll need a handful on Saturday if they want to keep up with Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’s offense. The Ravens’s defense, however, are 3rd in explosive pass rates allowed since acquiring Marcus Peters in Week 7. They’ve been one of the best defenses in the NFL in the second half of the season, a fact that’s gone relatively under the radar because their quarterback is going to win the MVP.

If there is a way to attack this defense, it’s on the ground. Their defense is 19th in rushing DVOA via Football Outsiders and 16th in explosive rush rate, via Sharp Football Stats. The key for the Titans is to keep the score close enough to effectively use the run into the second half. If the Ravens jump up to a 14-point lead early, it’s more difficult to stick to a rush-first offensive game plan.

3 Things to Watch:

No Jayon Brown: Titans’s linebacker Jayon Brown went down with a shoulder injury in the first half of the Patriots game on Saturday. Brown tried to return to the game, but left again after a couple plays. It was announced on Thursday that Brown will be missing the game Saturday due to that shoulder injury. Brown plays a huge part in the Titans’s defensive scheme, but his absence this week couldn’t come at a worse time. Brown’s bread and butter throughout his career has been dropping back in pass coverage, usually matched up against a running back or tight end. Baltimore utilizes their tight ends more than any team in the NFL. Three of their top five pass catchers are tight ends: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, and Hayden Hurst. Brown’s athleticism will be missed on Saturday.

Earl Thomas vs. Ryan Tannehill: There’s nothing quite like bulletin board material during the playoffs. Ravens’s safety Earl Thomas came out earlier this week and said that things won’t go well for the Titans if they let Tannehill throw the ball. Yes, Tannehill only totaled 72 passing yards against the Patriots last week, but he was one of the hottest quarterbacks during the second half of the season. With the weather being in the mid-60s and cloudy in Baltimore on Saturday, it shouldn’t play as much of a factor in the game as it did in New England. Don’t be going and making Tanne-Thrill angry, Earl.

The Rivalry is Renewed: If you’re a Tennessee Titans fan, you know the playoff history this team has with the Ravens. The 2000 AFC Wild Card loss. The 2003 Wild Card Round 20-17 victory. The 2008 Divisional Round loss where it seemed as though a few Ravens’s defenders tried to bend Chris Johnson in half. These two franchises have a bit of a history, and that rivalry gets renewed Saturday night.

My Prediction: Ravens 30 Titans 21

I think this is easily the best Titans team we’ve seen since 2003. Unfortunately, this Ravens team may have one of the best offensive players we’ve seen in a long time. Lamar Jackson has been special this year, and I don’t think the Titans’s defense will be able to slow down the rushing attack of the Ravens.

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