So, we meet again…
The last time the Titans hosted a playoff game in 2008, it was a heart-wrenching 13-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. How fitting is it that 12 years later, we’re seeing Déjà vu at Nissan Stadium? This will be the third time in the last calendar year that these two teams will face off, and the Titans will look to beat the Ravens in three straight games for the first time since the 1998 and 1999 seasons.
The Titans have secured a banner for the 2020 season with an AFC South title, but this team is not satisfied. Can this record-shattering offense continue to do enough to compensate for one of the NFL’s worst defenses? Will Derrick Henry replicate the incredible postseason run he went on last season, just one week after wrapping up the greatest season by a running back in franchise history? The rivalry will be renewed in what promises to be one of the best matchups of “Super Wild Card Weekend”.
Let’s dig in, shall we?
Three things to watch:
Run defense: This applies to both teams, but we start with the Titans. Normally this is the part where I talk about the futility of the Titans’ pass rush, but the ability to stop the run will be more important on Sunday. In a battle of the NFL’s two best rushing offenses – a stat the Ravens have the edge in, averaging 192 rush yards per game compared to the Titans’ 168 – the outcome could be determined by which defense is more capable of containing the rush. The Titans’ defense has allowed over 120 rush yards per game this season while the Ravens’ front has allowed 108.8 per game. Titans’ linebackers David Long and Rashaan Evans may become the most important players on defense on Sunday, as Tennessee looks to replicate the success they had in the last two matchups in forcing Lamar Jackson to run sideline to sideline.
J.K. Dobbins vs Derrick Henry: On the same note, both teams come into this game with running backs that are playing their best football. I don’t need to tell you about what Derrick Henry has accomplished this season, but J.K. Dobbins also ended the year on a high note with a career-high 160 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals last weekend. In the last nine weeks of the regular season, the rookie out of Ohio State has averaged over 72 rush yards per game. No, that number does not jump off the page, but it has been an excellent complement to Lamar Jackson, who just put the finishing touches on his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season.
Ryan Tannehill and Co.: Yes, the Titans’ offense will revolve around Henry on Sunday, as it should. But can Tannehill make the ultimate difference? It is no secret that the majority of Tannehill’s success comes off the play-action due to the attention Derrick Henry draws. Despite the dominance displayed by Henry throughout this season, the most backbreaking plays by this Titans offense often comes from Tannehill’s ability to stretch the field and the run-after-catch ability of this Titans’ receiving core. Tannehill only needed 88 passing yards in January of 2020 to knock off the No. 1 seed Ravens, but they were all crucial. After putting together the greatest season by a quarterback in the Titans era, Ryan Tannehill will need to have a big game for this team to reach the divisional round.
The Titans win if….
Look, the formula for beating the Baltimore Ravens is quite clear, and anyone that has watched the Titans’ last two wins against the Ravens can see that.
It’s just about whether or not the Titans can execute it for the third time in a row.
Wear down the Ravens’ front by riding Derrick Henry on time-consuming drives, with the occasional big play off the play-action. Grab an early lead and turn Lamar Jackson into a pocket-passer. This is not his strength and getting into this situation would play right into the Titans’ hands.
Looking back at last season’s postseason matchup, Lamar Jackson put together over 500 yards of total offense, but the Ravens only scored 12 points. The Titans were able to build up to a 21-6 lead early in the second half, and sit back, letting Lamar Jackson get his yardage with a bend-don’t-break defense. Despite the massive step back this defense has taken in 2020, the unit actually did a much better job on Jackson in Week 11, holding him to 186 pass yards and 51 rush yards in a 30-24 overtime win.
Give King Henry the football. Maintain that connection between Tannehill and the Titans receivers. Turn Lamar Jackson into a drop-back quarterback. Stay alive for one more week.
Baltimore Ravens (-3.5) at Tennessee Titans
Kickoff: 12:05 pm
Location: Nashville, Tennessee (Nissan Stadium)
TV Broadcast Crew: Steve Levy, Brian Griese, Louis Riddick, Lisa Salters
Radio: Titans Radio, 104-5 The Zone
Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Amie Wells, Jonathan Hutton, Rhett Bryan
Referee: Jerome Boger
Weather: Partly cloudy, high of 43, low of 27