NFL Wild Card Preview: Baltimore Ravens vs. Tennessee Titansby James Dudko January 9, 2021 1 comment
Revenge will be on the minds of the Baltimore Ravens when they rock up at Nissan Stadium to face the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. It was the Titans who bounced the top-seed Ravens from the AFC playoffs a season ago.
Baltimore dedicated the offseason to fixing what went wrong in that game. Specifically, John Harbaugh wanted to bolster a defensive front bullied by Derrick Henry. In came linemen Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell, along with rookie linebacker Patrick Queen. This group is tasked with stopping Henry, who retained the NFL rushing title after topping 2,000 yards on the ground in 2020.
Henry broke records, and so did Lamar Jackson. Baltimore’s dual-threat sensation became the first quarterback in NFL history to post back-to-back 1,000-yd rushing seasons.
There’s plenty of playoff history between these two 11-5 teams. The Ravens won in Tennessee following the 2000 and ’08 seasons, while the Titans tasted victory in Baltimore after the 2003 campaign.
Stopping Jackson on the ground will be the Titans’ priority, but head coach Mike Vrabel can’t ignore his threat as a passer. Jackson still relies on the short game, and he’s at his most efficient whenever the Ravens move inside the 20, where seven-touchdown tight end Mark Andrews is a go-to target.
Lamar Jackson has 46 Red Zone Pass TDs in his career to go along ZERO interceptions.
No one in NFL history has ever done that. pic.twitter.com/EEd224aoWT
— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) January 3, 2021
Those astonishing numbers are an ominous warning for a struggling Tennessee defense. Vrabel never replaced Dean Pees once the defensive coordinator retired back in January. It looks increasingly like a major faux pas from the man in charge.
The Titans ranked 24th in points allowed, as well as 28th in yards surrendered this season. There isn’t a stud pass-rusher upfront, with Jadeveon Clowney hasn’t performed as well as expected, while Jurrell Casey has been missed against the run.
Pees had a plan to keep Jackson bottled up. He called a lot of man coverage and challenged Jackson to throw deep. Quarters looks also kept safeties closer to the line of scrimmage as potential force players against the run. The Titans know the blueprint for stopping Jackson, but who’s going to call the gameplan? Harbaugh will be confident rookie runner J.K. Dobbins and backup Gus Edwards can take some of the pressure off of Jackson this time around.
How do you stop Henry? It’s a dilemma for every defense. He’s a rare combination of throwback power and break-away speed.
Derrick Henry: 1,490 yards after contact in 2020
That is the most for a player in the last 15 years 🤯 💪 pic.twitter.com/ntfdxXsGgy
— PFF (@PFF) January 7, 2021
The Ravens added more beef to the trenches just for Henry. Campbell and Wolfe are stout against the run, as is mammoth nose tackle Brandon Williams. If any group can give Henry problems, it’s these guys.
Fortunately for the Titans, their offense is no longer Henry or bust. Ryan Tannehill continued his maturation into a prolific quarterback by throwing a career-best 33 touchdowns this season. It helps to throw to A.J. Brown. This generation’s Steve Smith tore up defensive backfields in 2020 with 70 receptions for 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns. Tannehill needs Brown healthy and ready to stretch an opportunistic Ravens secondary. The wideout didn’t practice Thursday after suffering a knee injury during the regular-season finale against the Houston Texans. Brown’s fellow receiver Corey Davis can get vertical, but he won’t strike fear into the hearts of Ravens’ DBs the way Brown will.
Defensively, the Titans will need active tackle Jeffery Simmons to be a menace inside. Harold Landry and Jack Crawford can set the edges, but Tennessee won’t box Jackson in without pressure up the gut.
Date: January 10, 2021
Start Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Stadium: Nissan Stadium
TV Info: ESPN and ABC
Betting Odds Sponsored by Jazz Sportsbook
Point Spread: BAL -3.5 (-110) | TEN +3.5 (-110)
Moneyline: BAL -185 | TEN +150
Over/Under: O 54.5 (-110) | U 54.5 (-110)
There’s going to be a lot of playmakers on the field for both offenses, but this is playoff football, so you shouldn’t expect a shootout. The under’s a safe bet thanks to a Ravens defense that is better equipped to slow Henry down.
The Ravens are on a roll, having won five straight to close out the regular season. Henry’s the X-factor, but this game will be more about how easily Jackson and Dobbins steamroll the Tennessee defense.
Final Score: Baltimore Ravens 27, Tennessee Titans 17