Coming off of their most successful regular season in franchise history, the Baltimore Ravens will play a perhaps shocking opponent in the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional round on Saturday. The Titans eliminated the New England Patriots in their Wild Card meeting and present a very different opposition than their aforementioned opponents.
The Ravens have not played the Titans in the playoffs since 2009 and are also the only AFC playoff team the Ravens did not face in 2019. Baltimore last saw Tennessee Week 6 of 2018 when the Ravens led by a ferocious pass rush, recorded their franchise-high 11 sacks, and shutout the then Marcus Mariota led Titans 21-0. This year’s Titans team looks quite different from that one and should be a sizeable first opponent for the team that finished with the best record in the NFL at 14-2. They play a similar smash-mouth style of football to the Ravens, dictated on running the ball and creating big plays.
Saturday will be Lamar Jackson‘s first playoff start since his rookie unraveling against the Los Angeles Chargers last season. A majority of pundits were – and have still been – very critical of that performance and the AFC Divisional round will be just another chance to prove his naysayers wrong. Jackson had maybe the most electric regular season of any player since Adrian Peterson‘s 2012 MVP campaign but needs to now show he can lead a team in the playoffs. He has helped the Ravens create a scary identity rushing the ball and him and the team are looking to build off their franchise-best 12-game winning streak coming into the playoffs.
These are the keys to a Ravens divisional round victory against the Titans.
Keys To A Baltimore Ravens Divisional Round Victory
1. Stop Derrick Henry
While the old saying is that ‘defense wins championships’ has been tested in recent years, the biggest key to the Ravens advancing to their first AFC Championship game since 2012 will be how they stuff the run. Henry was the sole reason Tennessee was able to escape Foxborough with a win and if the Ravens can at least contain him, have a secondary that should be able to handily deal with Ryan Tannehill and the Titans receivers. Stopping him will be a tall task, but there is no reason the Ravens can’t with the players they have in place on the defensive line.
Henry ran wild in his first playoff game of 2019. The former-Heisman trophy winner broke tackles and powered his way to 182 yards on 34 carries on the ground. He also added a 22-yard reception for good measure. The performance was the sixth 100-yard rushing performance in Henry’s last seven games, as he has become the biggest factor in an offense that has ranked fourth in scoring offense since Week 10. Over this period, Tennessee scored the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL (14) and trailed only the Ravens in team rushing. This was even more present with Henry’s performance against the Patriots and their NFL sixth-best rushing defense.
It’s easy to say the Ravens have to stack the box and guard the run at all costs, but their personnel should make it a lot easier. Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce have become one of the NFL’s premier run-stuffing duos and will be heavily leaned on against the Titans. They’ve helped the Ravens excel in 2019 to the league’s fourth-best run defense and best yardage defense since Week 4. In that span, they’ve only allowed six total rushing touchdowns. If there’s a team left in the playoffs that can limit the run, it’s the Ravens.
2. Get A Lead And Control The Clock
As previously mentioned, the Ravens defense hasn’t been giving up many rushing yards in recent months. However, a big part of that is forcing the opponents to throw the ball. The Ravens have a historically great rushing offense that eats clock (first in time of possession) and scores touchdowns (first in scoring) at the same time. This makes things really hard on their opponents if they aren’t comfortable leaning on their quarterback. Not to mention they’ve scored over 35 points six times this season.
While the Titans offense has been very impressive since Tannehill took over at quarterback, they do not possess the ball much — a surprising stat from a team that leans on their continually strong running game. Since Tannehill’s first appearance Week 6, Tennessee has possessed the ball on offense the third-least in NFL. Yet, they are averaging the most yards per play over that span. An ability to strike at any time on both the ground and through the air is very valuable but the Ravens can limit those opportunities by simply keeping the ball and forcing the Titans to strike back using their quarterback. They were tied for eighth in pass plays of 20+ yards.
To advance in the playoffs, The Ravens offense needs to do exactly what it has done all season and score at will. Even if Mark Ingram is unable to play, the duo of Gus Edwards and Justice Hill did a great job of executing the Ravens have all season in their Week 17 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The duo combined for 169 yards in the 18-point victory against a run defense that was closely-ranked (14th) to Tennessee’s (12th). That coupled with Jackson’s legs should be a lot for the Titans to handle.
3. Utilize Marquise Brown
Despite the specific importance of time of possession, the x-factor in the game could be Marquise Brown. The deep-threat has been easily Jackson’s favorite target on the outside and a big strike to him could be the deciding factor in the game.
Look no further for a comparable than the Ravens win over the Buffalo Bills. The Bills did a great job stopping the run all-day and the difference in the game was the 61-yard connection between Jackson and Hayden Hurst early in the third quarter.
Of all the position group matchups in this game, the Ravens wide receivers against the Titans corners likely possesses the least talent. The rest of the Ravens receivers outside of Brown are either best utilized over the middle of the field or on a rare occasion. Mark Andrews and the tight end group should do well against a team that has allowed the seventh-most yards to tight ends but Brown will likely be the only wide receiver getting many looks on the outside. The next closest outside receiver to Brown in receptions is Seth Roberts with just 1.3 per game.
Make no mistake, the approach should not be for the Ravens to force the ball deep to Brown, but rather play their game until the Titans defense steps up, and then not be scared to connect over the top. A quick strike to Brown could be the difference in the game that forces the Titans to play catchup and get away from the run. Since Week 10, Tannehill has only been asked to throw the ball over 27 times once — a 24-21 loss to the Houston Texans. Brown could be the reason Baltimore is able to pull away early and dictate the pace of the game for the rest of the night.
A Should Win Game
Though the Titans have found their rhythm in the latter weeks of the NFL, the Ravens are the superior team on paper and should win. Baltimore is currently a +10 favorite in the matchup according to Vegas Insider and an upset would be the biggest of the playoffs this year by far.
The Ravens cannot overlook the Titans, as they are a very good football team, but they should also enter the game knowing that if they play their game, they should win. Jackson is almost a shoo-in for league MVP, after claiming 47 of 50 votes for first-team All-Pro, and will be looking to vanquish his playoff demons from a year ago. A strong showing from Jackson and the entire Ravens team would go a long way in ramping towards a real Super Bowl run.
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