With a dozen consecutive wins, the Baltimore Ravens were the best team in the NFL during the 2019 regular season. The real season will begin with a divisional round home date against a former AFC Central combatant, the Tennessee Titans.
Second year head coach Mike Vrabel has done an admirable job coaching up the Titans. After beginning the season 2-4, the switch to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback propelled Tennessee to a wildcard berth. Tennessee then went to New England and dethroned the Patriots on Saturday night.
Head Coach of the Year candidate John Harbaugh has constructed perhaps the most complete team of his twelve year tenure in preparation for this postseason. Expectations are sky high for the Super Bowl favorite. Yet as the Ravens two previous championship seasons displayed, playoff upsets are common.
In the postseason, every bounce is magnified and every inch matters. Coaches can devise brilliant plans but the players have to remain poised and execute. Whichever collection of players makes the most plays will emerge victorious in the ultimate matchup league.
Ravens Offense vs Titans Defense:
Surefire league MVP Lamar Jackson and the NFL’s top rushing attack will square off against a respectable defensive front. Patrick Mekari, Marshal Yanda and Bradley Bozeman will be tasked with keeping underrated tackle Jurrell Casey and impressive rookie Jeffery Simmons out of the backfield. They are supported by thumping linebacker Rashaan Evans, yards may be hard to come by for Mark Ingram inside. Tennessee is susceptible to runs off tackle and are likely to be unprepared for the diversity of the Ravens run game.
Ascending outside linebacker Harold Landry and former Raven castoff Kamalei Correa combined for 15 sacks in 2019. Still, dissecting the constant pre-snap motion, beating premier pass blockers Ronnie Stanley or Orlando Brown Jr, and then taking the elusive Jackson to the turf will prove difficult. The unpredictability of Greg Roman’s offense coupled with the threat of Lamar’s scrambling ability should allow ample time in the pocket on most passing plays.
Former All-Pro Kevin Byard prevents Dean Pees’ defense from breaking. Byard snared five interceptions from his free safety position this season. When healthy, cornerback Adoree’ Jackson has the long speed to run with Marquise Brown and Logan Ryan is another capable corner with ball skills. But Tramaine Brock has been forced into action due to Malcolm Butler’s injury, Willie Snead IV and Miles Boykin could find favorable matchups from ‘11’ personnel.
The offensive gameplan should feature the tight end trio as the passing game’s focal point, as Roman has throughout the season. Strong safety Kenny Vaccaro is not a coverage specialist and cover linebacker Jayon Brown exited the wildcard game with a shoulder injury. Opposing tight ends have smashed the Titans down the stretch this season. Baltimore’s fearsome group, led by Pro Bowler Mark Andrews, are primed to feast on Saturday night.
Ravens Defense vs Titans Offense:
Derrick Henry, the NFL’s rushing leader, is the centerpiece of Tennessee’s offense. He is a true workhorse, carrying a massive 6’3 250 pound frame and averaging more than 20 carries per game. Coordinator Martindale should be able to stuff the interior attempts by using his 3-4 base personnel with stout defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce. Still, Henry’s build-up speed allows him to do serious damage on outside runs. Setting a firm edge with Matthew Judon, Jihad Ward and Jaylon Ferguson, and gang tackling from Chuck Clark and Earl Thomas will be important.
Disappointing former top-five overall draft pick Corey Davis has ceded the top receiver role to playmaking rookie A.J. Brown. The Mississippi product packs a full toolbox with strength, speed and elusiveness that enabled nine all-purpose touchdowns, over 1,000 receiving yards with and better than 20 yards per catch. Baltimore is likely to mark him with their most physical corners Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith. Tight end Jonnu Smith and Tajae Sharpe can also move the chains. Nonetheless, the Ravens have the personnel to use press man on the outside while devoting extra numbers to the box.
The offseason acquisitions of free agent left guard Rodger Saffold and rookie right guard Nate Davis have bolstered a blocking unit that allowed eleven sacks to the Ravens in 2018. Center Ben Jones is an above average pass blocking pivot but fiery left tackle Taylor Lewan has been inconsistent this year. Expect a healthy dose of deceptive blitzing, particularly stunts that target their right side of Davis and Jack Conklin, along with gap shooting from inside ‘backers L.J. Fort and Patrick Onwuasor. Tannehill has a reputation for holding the ball too long, contributing to Tennessee’s 30th ranked 56 sacks taken in 2019.
Tannehill is in the midst of a career season, despite posting just 72 passing yards and an interception in the wildcard round. He managed a 7-3 record including three game winning drives since taking over for the ineffective Marcus Mariota in Week 7. Tannehill is playing gritty football but does not have the arm talent required to consistently defeat tight coverage. If Baltimore can set up a favorable game script early in the game, they should be able to take the Titans offense out of their comfort zone and force the issue.
The Titans are a worthy foe and will give the Ravens a challenge. Vrabel’s squad is strong in the trenches and battle tested. Henry is a bulldozer capable of stinging the run defense that allowed a 20th best 4.4 yards per carry. However, Baltimore’s run stopping unit allowed the fifth fewest total rushing yards because they dictated game flow to their opponents all season.
Well rested, with the benefit of home field advantage, two top-notch coordinators, superior roster talent and a special teams advantage, the Ravens are poised to advance to the conference championship round.
Baltimore 30, Tennessee 13