Saturday night baby. The 9-7 Tennessee Titans come to Baltimore and renew an old rivalry with the 14-2 Ravens. The Titans are coming off a big win up in Foxboro, which is no easy task regardless of the status of that football team. The Ravens are coming off… well they’re coming off a pretty remarkable steamrolling of 12 straight opponents, 5 of which made the postseason. We’ve known for weeks that we’d be hosting a home game here in Baltimore and it just so happened to be an old rival. Could not be more excited for this one. 3 big questions for this pivotal playoff contest:
1. Can The Titans Win 1-on-1 Battles to Bring Down Lamar Jackson?
I’m gonna be honest. It’s been painful to hear some of these national talking heads try to throw shit at the wall this week in terms of how to stop Lamar Jackson. I get it. The NFL is king and there are only 4 games for these guys to talk about right now. They’ve gotta scramble to find ways to sound like they’ve been watching the film all season. But some of the stuff I hear is laughable. “You gotta put a hit on Lamar every single play”… yeah buddy… you think there aren’t 13 different defensive coordinators who haven’t thought of that yet? If it was that easy, everybody would do it.
That’s a huge part of the allure of Lamar. He’s tough to get your hands on. Every single week he makes guys look foolish. Often times he’s past you before you even know who has the football. If you’re disciplined enough to stay in your gap, he’ll still find a way to beat you. When it comes to the way this entire offense blocks, it’s rare that you’re going to get a gang of tacklers in a place to bottle him up. Realistically if you force Lamar to keep on his read and play a scrape exchange to perfection, you’re going to end up with a 1-on-1 with Lamar in a gap. That’s been the recipe to stopping this type of zone-read offense in the NFL from the get-go. What makes Lamar so special is that he’s the first QB in the NFL where that 1-on-1 in the gap is a losing proposition for the defense. He’s proven that week after week after week.
So you’re left to pick your poison. Do you load up the box and try to get an extra tackler near the line of scrimmage at the expense of getting beat in play-action? That was the solution a year ago for the Chargers, but Lamar made it a point from the very first drive this season that that’s just not going to work anymore. I think the Titans will roll the dice trying to win one-on-one battles with Lamar and they’re going to have a bad time just like everyone else has the last two months.
2. Can Derrick Henry Replicate Last Week’s Performance And Get Some Help Too?
The other thing the national talking heads have been doing is painting Derrick Henry out to be an unstoppable force. He’s had a really good season. He’s a specimen. He played like a man up in Foxboro last week. But with that said, the Titans offense only put 14 points and 272 yards last week. That’s simply not going to cut it when trying to keep up with an offense that has a surprisingly legitimate case of being the most efficient offense in league history:
Suffice to say, the Titans are going to need Derrick Henry to play like he did last week AND get more from the rest of his pals. Now you might be saying… hey, 14 points and 272 yards isn’t great, but they were going up against the league’s best defense! And to that I say, empty your mind of that drivel Jerry Thornton has been trying to feed you all season and listen here:
There’s been little to no talk about just how the Ravens defense has been the league’s best the last two months.
You think I’m kidding? Sure, there’s been mention of how the defense has improved with the addition of Marcus Peters, and how they’re not giving up 500+ yards and holding the team back like they did in weeks 3 and 4, etc etc.
But nobody has really put the changes they’ve made into the proper context. The Ravens overhauled the linebacking corps in Week 5, adding Josh Bynes and LJ Fort to aid in the run game. Marcus Peters arrived in Week 7, and Jimmy Smith came back from injury in Week 9. Guys like Jihad Ward and Domata Peko were added on the fly to the defensive line. This defense was essentially rebuilt going into the 2nd half of the year, and the results have been remarkable. In the final 8 games of the season, the Ravens allowed 106 points and 2,019 yards (or 13.3 and 252.4 per game). That was #1 in the league by a pretty significant margin in BOTH of those categories.
Better yet, those stats compare favorably with any defense in the last 8 games of any season IN THE ENTIRE DECADE. They gave up the 2nd fewest yards and the 6th least points of any team in that time period.
So what we have here is a defense that has only played half a season or so as a unit and they’ve played historically well. Much better than that big bad Patriots defense that the Titans were only able to put up a measly 14 points and 272 yards against. So what would give anyone reason to believe that they would be able to replicate that performance, let alone exceed it?
I’m not sure. Maybe Ryan Tannehill hits a home run to AJ Brown at some point. Maybe we’re only scratching the surface with Derrick Henry. But it seems extremely unlikely that they’d be able to put up the 30 or so points they’re going to need to keep up with Lamar. The only things that can shrink the gap are the fluky types of things that are inherent to the game of football. Which brings me to my 3rd point…
3. Can the Ravens Protect The Football And Avoid Special Teams’ Mistakes?
Look, the fact of the matter is that the Ravens are a significantly better team than the Titans. Period. They were +179 points and 5 games better for a reason. One Titans win against a sinking ship in New England doesn’t change that. The Ravens are better in all 3 phases of the game. The only way teams like the Ravens lose games in situations like these is by foolishly turning the ball over and allowing special teams touchdowns. That’s how you fuck up big games like this. I don’t mean to be brash and braggadocios when I say the Titans have no business winning this football game. It’s simply the truth.
The Ravens have done a pretty remarkable job this season of protecting the football. Lamar has completely changed the narrative on what some called a fumbling habit in his rookie year. I expect him to continue to play clean football. It’s the special teams coverage that slightly concerns me. The coverage units have suffered after special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg retired last season. It feels like every other week they give up a kick return that gets taken back to midfield. They allowed a blocked punt TD to the Jets as well. The Titans will be looking for every edge they can get to try to shrink the gap between these teams, and these are areas they will try to exploit. The Ravens have to button it up and make sure that doesn’t happen. Simple as that and we’ll have no problems.
I know this seems like a one-sided preview. But facts are facts. The Ravens are the better team and they should move to the AFC Championship game with ease. Only they can fuck it up with sloppy mistakes, and I don’t expect a John Harbaugh team to do that in January. We earned the right to play this game at home. I’ll be there doing my part along with 70,000 of my best friends. Let’s fucking do this thing. Big Truss.