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Ravens @ Titans: Time to Hunt

All the talk, words and statistics will finally take a back seat finally when these two powerhouses take to the field to settle what should be the war of the weekend among all the playoff games. Both teams thrive on shutdown defenses and brutal running attacks, as they are as close to mirror images of each other as any two teams in the NFL. The Tennessee Titans got to this point by running off ten straight victories to open the season, but slipped to 3-3 over their last six to finish as the AFC's top seed at 13-3. The Baltimore Ravens turned an early season three game losing streak at 2-3 into a 11-5 record by winning nine of their last eleven games, plus their opening playoff game by dismantling and demoralizing the Miami Dolphins 27-9.

However, no one will ever mistake the Dolphins for the Titans, and this week's game should be a lot closer that last week's. The Titans may think they have the mental edge by virtue of their 13-10 win in Baltimore earlier this season. However, the Ravens' rookie QB was only playing in his fourth NFL game of his career at that time and if you take away those two interceptions along the sideline that he has sinced learned to avoid, as well as some help the refs game them at the end, then even that game could have had a different outcome. However, it didn't and they won, so we just have to deal with it, as there are so many excuses out there for everyone to throw down as the reason that their teams are not where ours is at this point. Today's game should have no excuses, as the best team moves on. If the Titans are able to beat us for a second time this season, then hat's off to them, as they are the better team. On the other hand, if the Ravens are able to go into their crib and spank them like we've done in six of our last seven trips there, with the distant memory of our 24-10 playoff victory in 2001 fresh in at least our minds, then we will move on as the better team.

Depending on which team's fans you ask, the game plan doesn't change, just the outcome. Both teams plan to shut down the running attack and force the QB to beat them. The Titans fans think that their veteran Kerry Collins has the edge, by virtue of their solid offensive line and their running attack. The Ravens fans think we are on a roll, with a rookie QB who is playing like a solid veteran, calm and poised in the pocket, along with a punishing running game that seems to get stronger as the game goes on. Both teams defenses make the offense pay for every yard they surrender and are very stingy on giving up points. So, who blinks first and where does the edge for either team come from?

We looked at the positional breakdown yesterday and determined who has the advantage. Overall, it came out pretty even, so there's no obvious difference between the positions. Both teams offenses and defenses score and give up similar numbers. Since it looks to be a wash on paper, we have to look at the intangibles to decide this one. There are a few of those that can be the difference between winning and losing. On the sidelines, there is no question that if it comes down to a late need for strategy, then Tennessee's Jeff Fisher has a huge advantage over the Ravens rookie head coach, John Harbaugh. However, the depth of that advantage is negated by the extremely solid coordinator's that Harbaugh has surrounded himself with. Special Teams can sway this game one way or another and while the positional analysis favored the Titans, neither team has the burner that has had the breakout season that could make the difference. Of course, it just takes one kickoff or punt return to change the game.

To me, the team that gets the first break will have the advantage and the one that gets the last break will win the game. To me, that means a big play on offense or the same thing by the defense. That is where I see the advantage turning to the Ravens favor. On both sides of the ball, the Ravens have had the big plays made by key players. Of course there's always Ed Reed on defense returning a pick for a TD, as everyone in the league is aware of this even though they just can't stop it from happening. He can also make the opposing QB purposely avoid his side of the field and make a poor decision based on that alone. However, the offense has had its share of big plays and playmakers, none more successful than wide receiver Mark Clayton. Most teams focus on stopping the short to mid range throws to Derrick Mason, while giving Clayton single coverage by the team's second best DB. Time and time again, Clayton has gotten loose for a huge play at a key moment in the game. Twice last week Flacco just barely overthrew Clayton wide open for what would have been long plays. If he gets loose in today's game, he could be the difference maker.

Something also tells me that Cam Cameron will be looking deep into his playbook for that unused trick play to give us the edge at a key time of the game. Tennessee has played a more conservative gameplan, as it has worked for them all season and they probably see no reason to change what has brought them to this point so far. The Titans will continue to pound the ball and throw when necessary. However, they were not able to run in week four, which is why they had to drive the ball down the field through the air for their late victory. Meanwhile the Ravens rolled up over 100 yards on the ground as a team and will attempt to do the same against a great defensive line. The Titans pass rush recorded most of their sacks by rushing only four linemen and leaving the other seven players to drop into pass protection. They did not record a sack in that first game but did garner two interceptions. Their top two linemen are returning from injuries and have not played for most of the past month. On one hand, you can say they are healthy and rested, but you can also take the tack that they are not completely healthy and may not be in tip top shape. With or without those two, the Titans will do whatever they can to shut down the run and force Flacco to beat them through the air. Make no bones about it, Flacco will have to open up the passing attack in order to soften up the run defense. The Ravens are stubborn when it comes to running the ball. Their philosophy is that they really don't care if you stop them most of the game. Once the fourth quarter rolls around and we get the lead, we firmly believe and have proved that our run game will begin to overwhelm the tired defense and take control of the game, finally sealing the deal with the big breakout run.

This is exactly how we've won our tough road games lately, and while the Titans will be tougher than what we've faced, the philosophy stays the same. Some fans are peeved that there is a conspiracy theory by having the Ravens play again six days after beating the Dolphins while the San Diego Chargers get an eight day break before facing the Pittsburgh Steelers tomorrow. Not me, as I think we'll appreciate the eight day layoff before playing in the AFC Championship Game in either Pittsburgh or San Diego!

The Ravens get an early FG, matched by the Titans. Late in the first half we move down the field for a TD and lead at the half, 10-3. The Titans get another Bironas FG early in the 3rd quarter to cut the lead to 10-6. As expected, the Ravens get a huge defensive turnover that they turn into a TD for a 17-6 lead as the fourth quarter gets underway. Finally the Titans break through with a touchdown mid-fourth quarter to make it 17-12. To cut the lead to a FG, they go for the two-point conversion, but miss, keeping the score at 17-12. The Ravens defense does not either bend nor break this time around and another key interception seals the deal. Sounds pretty good to me and I'm sure it does as well for the rest of the Ravens fans. I'm sure the Tennessee Titans fans might have other thoughts of how this game will go, but that's for them to debate. Here at Baltimore Beatdown, we see something very special in this team, reminding us of what happened in the 2000-2001 season.

Ravens: 17-12