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Ravens vs. Titans potential X factors: Interior defensive line play will be the key to success

This AFC clash could be decided by key contributions from handful of players in all three phases.

Indianapolis Colts v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens are overseas in Week 6 where they will take on the Tennessee Titans on Sunday morning. They are heading into the matchup as favorites come out on top over their former divisional and still bitter rivals, who are looking to rebound following a close loss to the Indianapolis Colts last week.

In almost every game, there is a play or two made that helped swing the momentum back into a team’s favor or extend their lead to put an opponent away for good. There are a handful of select players who aren’t being talked about as much ahead of this game that could be pivotal in determining the outcome of the contest.

Below are some of those individual players that could prove to be deciding factors.

NT Michael Pierce

NFL: Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Stopping the run and bottling up Titans’ three-time Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry begins in the trenches and leading the charge between the tackles will be the eighth-year veteran nose tackle. Pierce will be lining up over Tennessee starting center Aaron Brewer who is dealing with a neck injury that caused him to be a limited participant in practice on Wednesday and Friday and sit out Thursday.

While he has yet to record a sack or quarterback hit this season, Pierce has still been able to generate some impressive interior pressure at times, especially against undersized centers such as Brewer who measures and weighs in at just 6-foo-1 and 295 pounds.

DT Justin Madubuike

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The fourth-year pro is the Ravens’ best interior pass rusher and is on a breakout pace in the final year of his rookie deal. Madubuike is tied for the second-most sacks on the team with 2.5 through five games and also has four quarterback hits and three tackles for loss. He will be integral to not only aiding in the collective effort to limit Henry but also his ability to consistently collapse the pocket up the middle and prevent veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill from stepping up to throw will be where he will impact the game the most.

DT Travis Jones

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The second-year pro is the primary backup for both Pierce and Madubuike yet he ranks second among all Ravens’ defensive linemen in total tackles with 13 including eight solos and two for a loss. Jones has yet to play more than 39 percent of the Ravens’ total defensive snaps in a single game thus far but will likely be subject to change this week given the force he is showing he can be against the run on early downs as well as short-yardage and goal-line situations. Against a run-heavy team like the Titans with the best power back in the league, Jones could easily set a season-high for snaps played and total tackles in a single game on Sunday.

OLB Kyle Van Noy

NFL: OCT 08 Ravens at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With third-year pro Odafe Oweh ruled out for the third week in a row due to an ankle injury and another week to get more comfortable with his new teammates and scheme, the 10-year veteran edge defender could be a disruptive force this week. Van Noy went from playing 33 percent of the Ravens’ total defensive snaps in Week 4 to 47 percent in Week 5 and he will likely see another increase in his playing time this week. That projected increase in snaps raises the likelihood that his impact on the game will be even more impressive than it already has been, especially as a pass rusher where he can be the beneficiary of twists and stunts to get clear paths to Tannehill on passing plays.

WR Nelson Agholor

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The ninth-year veteran had one of the worst drops of any Ravens’ pass catchers last week in their loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. It came on arguably the best throw of the day by quarterback Lamar Jackson and would’ve gone for a touchdown in the third quarter, effectively putting the game away.

However, aside from that big mistake, Agholor has been one of the Ravens’ most reliable and consistent chain movers who has come up with several clutch grabs for key conversions including earlier in that same game. He will need to get back to being that crucial catch machine against a bottom-10 Titans pass defense as Baltimore’s receiver position group as a whole will be looking to rebound.

CB Brandon Stephens

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey still on a snap count as he continues to work his way back from foot surgery, the third-year pro will likely see more of Titans’ three-time All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on Sunday. Stephens has been a pleasant surprise through the first five-game this season and still has yet to give up a touchdown in coverage and has played 100 percent of the Ravens’ total defensive snaps.

RB Keaton Mitchell

Baltimore Ravens vs Washington Commanders Perry Knotts/Getty Images

The undrafted rookie has been practicing for the past two weeks and will make his NFL regular season debut on Sunday after the Ravens officially announced that he has been activated from injured reserve on Saturday.

Prior to suffering a shoulder injury during his second preseason game, the first-year pro was one of the stars of Ravens training camp and displayed his explosive playmaking ability in the two exhibition contests he did appear. Mitchell racked up 42 rushing yards on seven carries and added another 15 yards as a receiver out of the backfield on two receptions during the preseason.

Mitchell is another dynamic weapon added to Jackson’s arsenal that ideally fits first-year Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken’s scheme. It will remain to be seen what his workload will look like behind veterans Gus Edwards and Justice Hill but it should be exciting all the same.