Oh, how quickly things can change in the NFL…
It doesn’t feel like a long time ago that the Titans were one of two undefeated teams left in the NFL at 5-0. Even after the win over the Bears, the Titans were 6-2 at the top of the AFC South and coming off a much-needed positive performance from their defense.
Then, Thursday Night Football happened in Nissan Stadium, and the Indianapolis Colts continued their dominance of the Titans in Nashville with a 34-17 win. The Titans now sit at 6-3 in second place in the AFC South with a myriad of problems, and this team’s playoff status is suddenly in doubt for the first time this season.
PICTURE ME POLLIN'!
Will the #Titans make the playoffs?
— JMart and Ramon (@JMartandRamon) November 16, 2020
As of right now, the Titans are on the outside looking into the playoff picture. The good news? There are still seven more games to be played. The Titans now make their way to Baltimore, Maryland, the site of the 28-12 win over the No. 1 seed Ravens in last season’s divisional matchup that vaunted them into the AFC title game. The Ravens have dropped two of their last three, including a 23-17 loss to the Patriots on Sunday Night Football last week. The recipe for beating Baltimore has been fairly simple over the last couple of seasons – get off to a fast start, control the line of scrimmage to keep the Ravens offense off the field, and keep Lamar Jackson between the hashes as much as possible. Easier said than done, but we saw the Titans do just that in that January matchup.
3 things to watch:
Special teams: Last week, I told you to keep an eye on the new additions to this roster in the game against the Colts. One of those newcomers was punter Trevor Daniel, who usurped Ryan Allen after a good week of practice. After an initial punt of 47 yards, Daniel’s night went sideways. The Dickson, Tennessee native shanked a 17-yard punt off the side of his foot, and had his next punt blocked. Both led to Colts touchdowns. Throw in another missed field goal by Stephen Gostkowski from 44 yards out, and it was a special teams disaster that allowed the Colts to run away with a 17-point win. Gostkowski has become a liability in the kicking game, converting on just 12 of his 20 attempts this season.
This matchup between two 6-3 teams with a decorated history figures to be a close one. As the Titans saw on Thursday, special teams can decide close games. This unit simply must be better moving forward.
Time of possession: Typically, I find this to be an incredibly overrated stat in football. This week though, we have a matchup of two teams that have run the ball better than any other NFL franchise since the beginning of 2019. In the last 25 games, the Ravens have rushed for over 190 yards per game, and the Titans have run for 142 yards per game. The Ravens present arguably the best running quarterback in the NFL, while the Titans boast a guy named Derrick Henry, who is locked into a duel with Dalvin Cook over who will be the league’s rushing champion at the end of the year.
The Titans need to grind out drives and control time of possession not just to keep the ball out of Lamar Jackson’s hands, but to keep this defense off the field. The more this Titans defense that has allowed 26 points per game is on the field, the less of a chance the Titans have to win. To make matters worse, the Ravens have the best scoring defense in the NFL this season, allowing just over 18 points per game. The two-toned-blue’s offense must convert third downs and sustain drives, something they were unable to do in the second half against the Colts last week. This banged up offensive line will need to step up on Sunday.
Ryan Tannehill off play-action: Last time these two teams met, Derrick Henry compiled 195 yards on 30 carries. Tannehill only needed to complete 7-of-14 pass attempts for 88 yards and two touchdowns during a dominant win, in large part due to the attention Baltimore was forced to pay to Henry. While he could explode for another huge game on Sunday, the Titans cannot rely on Henry to rack up 200 rush yards again. Arthur Smith will have to dial up some explosive plays on offense, that will involve pushing the ball downfield on play-action. After making the first five weeks look easy on offense, big plays have been harder to come by for the Titans since Taylor Lewan’s ACL tear against Houston in Week 5. Tannehill’s clock has clearly been sped up a touch, with his blindside not nearly as secure as it is with Lewan in the lineup. Pass protection will be huge in this game, to allow the Titans to stretch the field when they need to. The return of Adam Humphries would be a help, but Humphries has not practiced since being knocked out of the Cincinnati game with a concussion in Week 8.
The Titans win if….
The Titans did an excellent job of making Lamar Jackson run sideline-to-sideline in last season’s playoff matchup. The stats are deceiving, as Jackson did rack up 143 rush yards in that game, but the Titans were able to keep him in front of them. The reigning MVP is going to make plays, but if the Titans defense is able to replicate the blueprint from last season’s win on Sunday, it will give itself a chance. It will be a much tougher task, as the Titans continue to wait on the return of Adoree Jackson on defense and Jadaveon Clowney battles through a knee injury.
Finally, establish an early lead. These are two teams that are at their best when they are controlling the clock with a lead, and I expect that trend to continue on Sunday.
Although both teams are 6-3, both are reeling a bit and are a far cry from being locked into a postseason berth. Mike Vrabel has shown a propensity for creating winning gameplans coming out of a long week, and the Titans could get back on track with a win here.
The Titans and Ravens are 12-12 all time, and the Ravens will have revenge on their minds after being eliminated by the two-toned blue last season. This one has all the makings of another great addition to this rivalry.
Tennessee Titans @ Baltimore Ravens (-5.5)
Location: Baltimore, Maryland (M&T Bank Stadium)
TV Broadcast Crew: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson
Radio: Titans Radio, 104-5 The Zone
Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Amie Wells, Jonathan Hutton, Rhett Bryan
Referee: Alex Kemp
Weather: Cloudy skies, high of 54 and low of 50
Gameday hangouts/giveaways: Party Fowl’s Gulch, Donelson, Murfreesboro, and Franklin locations; knit Titans socks