The Tennessee Titans will face off against the Baltimore Ravens midday Sunday in the wild card round of the AFC Playoffs. The Titans are coming off a wild 41-38 win in Houston, where they claimed the AFC South title thanks to the leg of rookie kicker Sam Sloman.
In Houston, the team got off to a hot start in the first half, jumping out to a 17-9 lead, before Deshaun Watson torched its defense in the second half, putting up 19 points in the third quarter and 10 in the fourth. Ultimately, the Texans tallied 457 yards on the Titans defense.
Now that defense will need to play to its best potential as it takes on the powerful rushing attack of the Ravens. Last Sunday against Cincinnati, Baltimore racked up more than 400 yards.
“When they read you, you’re going to have to be sound, and everybody’s going to have to take care of their responsibility,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said this week. “If they’re responsible for an inside run fit, then they’re going to have to stay inside. And if they have to match a guy on the edge, they’re going to have to match the guy on the edge. When they do option, it becomes responsibility football.”
J.K. Dobbins has run for 805 yards this season as a rookie and put up 160 yards against the Bengals. Quarterback Lamar Jackson also had a great game, running for 97 yards and passing for 113 yards with three touchdowns. The Ravens may not be one of the higher playoff seeds this year but they are still very effective in how they use Jackson in the offense.
“He’s won a lot of games,” said Vrabel. “He takes care of the football, throws a deep ball. He’s got plenty of arm strength. The shots are going to be something that are going to be critical. That’s his style. It’s not going to change, nor should it. That’s who he is. He’s dynamic.”
With that, here’s a breakdown of some of the keys in Sunday’s matchup:
Why the Titans can win
One of the things Tennessee did well against the Texans was get off to a hot start. On the second drive on the game for the Texans, the defense was able to force Watson into a bad throw that resulted in an interception. From then on, the first half belonged to the Titans. A hot start will be critical against Baltimore, too.
While the Ravens do have a committee of backs who can wreak havoc on any defense, the Titans definitely have the better running back in Derrick Henry. The Alabama product just became the second player in franchise history to top 2,000 yards rushing in a single season. Doing so at 5.4 yards per carry isn’t a bad stat to have, either, and keeps the clock running in the Titans’ favor.
Another strong part of the Titans offense — helped immensely by Henry’s impact in the run game — is the passing game. In their last matchup against the Ravens, Corey Davis and A.J. Brown five receptions for 113 yards and four catches for 62 yards, respectively. If Henry can again get off to a good start, he’ll give the receiving corps a chance to have another great game.
The Titans have managed to control the amount of turnovers this year, tallying a +11 turnover differential that is the NFL’s best. That could help them down the stretch — particularly if their defense is as porous as it was for big chunks of the Texans game. The league’s worst third-down defense helped its cause against the Ravens in November by forcing three turnovers. It’ll likely need several game-changing plays this time around, too.
Why the Ravens can win
Beyond the emergence of the running game in Baltimore, Jackson has been on fire after recovering from COVID-19. He has completed 67 percent of his passes since early December and has done a good job of not turning over the ball, accounting for 11 touchdowns and three interceptions since week 13.
One of the areas where you can usually expect the Ravens to do well in is in defending the run. This season, however, the team has allowed the 19th-most rushing yards per game at 120.8 yards. If Henry and the Titans get rolling on the ground, Jackson will have to take to the air, which may not be a bad thing for Ravens fans: The Titans rank 29th in passing yards allowed with 277.4 yards passing per game and are 30th in the league in terms of sacks this year with just 19.
The Ravens are entering this matchup with the best rushing attack in the NFL, putting up 191.9 yards per game. If they can find a balance between their running and passing games and keep the Titans defense guessing, they’ll fancy their chances.