“I miss the Billick and Fisher rivalry just because they usually take good shots at each other during the week. That was always fun,” Bulluck said. “But to me, it’s pretty much the same team; it all starts with defense.”
The fifth week of the NFL season may pose the toughest test yet for the Titans, as they travel to Baltimore to face the hated Ravens. The history of bad blood between these two teams is well-documented, even though many of the players that helped create that old AFC Central rivalry are no longer apart of it. Keith Bulluck and Craig Hentrich are the only two hold-overs from those days, although Jevon Kearse is now back with the team. Of course, the Ravens still have “Stabbin” Ray Lewis, the constant for the Ravens that was always at the center of the bitter feuds (and murder scenes). Gone now though is Brian Billick, the biggest reason that I despised those Ravens teams with such passion. He just made it so easy. I don’t know that the NFL has ever seen a more smug, pretentious head coach. That guy was the worst. I still remember the day he got fired as one of the happiest of my sad, little life. I’ve never been so ecstatic about seeing someone lose their job, especially when it had nothing to do with me or my well-being. What a jerk. Ugh…
Sorry about that, I think I sorta blacked out and went on a hate tirade. But you know what? He deserved every bit of it. Now, back to the preview. The fact that many of the faces have changed doesn’t mean that this meeting will be any less intense. Both teams still pride themselves on a stellar defense and a solid ground attack that should the focal points of each team’s game plan.
Titans rushing offense vs. the Ravens defense
Last week, the Titans didn’t have the rushing numbers you might expect for the amount of points they were able to put up, but the rushing yards they did manage against a stout Minnesota front were quite effective. Chris Johnson and LenDale White combined for only 74 yards on 28 carries, but three big touchdown runs were the reason that Titans beat Vikings.
The Ravens, meanwhile, held the Steelers in check last week (28 carries for 69 yards-2.5 ypc), but that was after the they had lost rookie Rashard Mendenhall to a season-ending shoulder injury in the first half, and without starter Willie Parker who didn’t play (knee). The strength of the Ravens lies in their talented trio of linebackers (Lewis, Bart Scott, and Terrell Suggs) that defend both the run and the pass extremely well. Hopefully though, if the Titans are getting to that second level, it will mean that they are busting of 5-6 yards a clip, which would certainly bode well for them. In the end, this will be one of the more interesting matchups on the afternoon.
Titans passing offense vs. the Ravens defense
Yet again last week, Kerry Collins was the field general that we needed out their to lead a balanced attack. He didn’t throw an interception (he’s only thrown one since he took over the starter role) and yet again, the Titans offensive line was perfect in pass protection, as Collins wasn’t so much as touched all day. On the season, the o-line has allowed a mere two sacks, good for first in the league.
Unlike the Vikings, the Ravens’ secondary is not the defense’s weakness; it is its strength. This unit is the number one passing defense in the NFL, giving up a measly 117 yards per game. Thank God that the Titans’ game plan doesn’t demand a lot through the air to win ballgames. They have two ball-hawks in cornerback Chris McAlister and free safety Ed Reed, and luckily for them (not us), Samari Rolle will be inactive after having neck surgery. They will try and pressure Collins all afternoon into making poor decisions, and if he does, those two are some of the best in the league at turning an opponent’s mistake into 6 the other way. Kerry must again be judicious (what am I Ron Jaworski?) with the football. That task will be made that much more difficult with wide receiver Justin Gage being doubtful for this one.
Ravens rushing offense vs. the Titans defense
After allowing Houston Texans rookie Steve Slaton to cut up in week 3, I thought the Titans defense did a decent job against All Day last weekend (minus the two scores). This week, they will face a Ravens team that may not have starting running back Willis McGahee due to a rib injury. You can add that to the running list of ailments that have plagued McGahee so far this year (knee, eye). If McGahee is not able to go, the Ravens will depend on second year pro Le’Ron McClain and rookie Ray Rice to fill the void. McClain is a ferocious, bruising runner that has been pretty impressive so far, but he is the type of runner that the Titans can keep in check. Rice was supposed to be a bigger part of the backfield than he has been to this point, but that may change Sunday if McGahee isn’t able to lace em’ up.
After facing three pretty solid backfields so far (Jacksonville, Houston and Minnesota) and dominating the line of scrimmage in each game for the most part, the Titans front four should yet again reek havoc on the Ravens offensive line. And there will be a bit of extra incentive to stuff the run given the opponent in this one. The Titans front four of Kyle Vanden Bosch, Albert Haynesworth, Tony Brown and Jevon Kearse should yet again be nasty.
Ravens passing offense vs. the Titans defense
Joe Flacco has been decent so far this season, and might have a bright future ahead of him in Baltimore, but he has yet to face a secondary quite like the Titans. That, coupled with the fact that they too are less-than-average in the WR department as well (besides the eternally steady Derrick Mason) should give the Titans own ball-hawking tandem of Cortland Finnegan and Michael Griffin the advantage in this one. Not really a whole lot more to say.
After a rough beginning to the season for the Titans kick coverage and return unit, the last two weeks has seen that unit start to address some of those problems. The Titans and Chris Carr are in the top ten in return yards, averaging a healthy 26.1 yards per return on kickoffs and punts. Last week, it was Carr’s 52-yard kickoff return after a late Peterson TD shrunk the lead to 6, that helped seal the game and move the Titans to 4-0. Baltimore has also had its own struggles returning kicks as they are 23rd overall (20.3 yards per return) in that particular area. This will yet again be an important component as field position should a crucial stat for both of these clubs if either plans on winning. And of course, kicker Rob Bironas’s boot should be a factor.
After going 4-0 for the first time in franchise history, the Titans will look to remain undefeated as they head into their bye week. Critics of the team have pointed out that the combined record of their opponents is a paltry 3-12, and that 3 of their first 4 games have been played at home, but by going into Baltimore and beating a very good Ravens team, they will surely solidify their status as one of the top 2-3 teams in the NFL. This team seems poised to keep their foot on the throats of the rest of the AFC, and a win in Baltimore would do just that.
Baltimore, on the other hand, looks to rebound after a tough loss to division rival Pittsburgh last Monday night. They will depend on team leader/murderer Ray Lewis to get them revved up this week, in hopes of knocking off one of the better teams in the NFL and remain relevant in the AFC themselves. Needless to say, a lot is riding on this one for both ball clubs.
If you know anything about the history between these two teams, then it goes without saying that this one is sure to be a nasty affair. This should be yet another classic showdown between two bitter rivals with as much on the line this early in the season as any matchup in the NFL in week 5. It should be a good one…
Prediction: Titans 20-13
Tags: Adrian Peterson Albert Haynesworth Baltimore Ravens Bart Scott Brian Billick Chris Carr Chris Johnson Chris McAlister Cortland Finnegan Derrick Mason Ed Reed Houston Texans Jacksonville Jaguars Jeff Fisher Jevon Kearse Joe Flacco Justin Gage Keith Bulluck Kerry Collins Kyle Vanden Bosch Le'Ron McClain LenDale White Michael Griffin Minnesota Vikings Pittsburgh Steelers Rashard Mendenhall Ray Lewis Ray Rice Rob Bironas Ron Jaworski Samari Rolle Steve Slaton Tennessee Titans Terrell Suggs Tony Brown Willie Parker Willis McGahee