The Tennessee Titans will get their first test of this postseason when the Baltimore Ravens visit LP Field on Saturday. Not only is this game a rematch of a nailbiter in Week 5, but also a playoff rematch of two similar and heated foes. The implications are huge, regardless of a history that makes this game that much more intriguing. To put in bluntly, these guys don’t like each other very much, and when the Titans and Ravens play, you know you’re in for one hell of a ballgame.
On a lot of levels, these clubs mirror each other pretty well, which we’ve become accustomed to. Neither defense gives an inch without a fight, both rushing attacks intend on wearing down opposing defenses until they break and both quarterbacks, while capable of the occasional big play, are expected to take care of the ball and limit mistakes.
The fact that this game adds a little bit of fuel to Nick (Titans fan) and Kellen’s (Ravens fan) sh!t-talk fire is just an added bonus. So, without further ado, our Titan Sized game preview…
Titans Passing Offense vs. Ravens Defense:
For years, the formula for the Titans offense has consisted of three things: run the ball effectively, efficiency at the QB position (i.e. limit the mistakes) and solid play from the offensive line in both run blocking and pass protection (which, by the way, is probably the most underrated unit in the league). I suppose that with a 13-3 record and the #1 overall seed in the AFC playoffs, it’s safe to say that the Titans have executed all three of those goals. Kerry Collins has been as steady as can be at the helm, and has been one of the biggest components of the Titans success this season. His mission on Saturday is simple, and is the same as it has been all season: limit mistakes and stay as far away from safety Ed Reed as possible (i.e. do the exact opposite of what Chad Pennington did). That man is in the zone right now and should be avoided at all costs. Maybe the biggest key to the game for the Titans to be successful though, will be to get into third-and-short yardage situations against a Ravens defense that has been able to tee off on opponents when they get into obvious passing downs.
Collins has his own bone to pick with Baltimore, as he will look to exercise some of his own personal playoff demons against the team that ruined his first (and only) trip to the Super Bowl. This isn’t the same Kerry Collins though, so expect him to give his team a lot better chance to win than he did for the Giants in Super Bowl XXXIV. He’s gonna need more help out of the backfield than he got last time, and if he get’s it, there should be some passing lanes open to move the ball against an aggressive Ravens defense. It won’t be easy, but a veteran like Collins should be able to keep this game close by managing the clock and converting third downs. Those things happen, Titans win. Asking him put the offense on his shoulders and win the thing by himself is not what Titans fans want. Especially if that last pass is going anywhere in the general vicinity of Justin McCareins…
Titans Rushing Offense vs. Ravens Defense:
If Kerry Collins is at the wheel of this ride, the combo of “Smash and Dash” has to be the engine. When they are on, they’re as unstoppable as any combo in the league (yes, we’re talking to you DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart), and for the most part this season, they have been. Against some of the top defenses they faced this season though they have, at times, had difficulty getting it going on the ground. In their 16 games this season, Tennessee has faced five teams that rank in the top 10 in rushing defense (Vikings, Ravens, Bears, Jets and Steelers) and have averaged a pedestrian 61 yards per game. In their remaining 11 contests they averaged 172 yards per game. Big difference. It should be tough grinding on the ground against the 3rd ranked Baltimore run defense (they only managed 47 yards in their first meeting), but if “Twitch” and LenDale can make the yards that they do get count (like they did against Minnesota and Pittsburgh when they combined for five touchdowns) then the Titans should be in good shape. Getting into the end zone or safely into field goal range is way more important than racking up meaningless yards, and given that the duo combined for 25 total touchdowns this season, it seems as if the two fully understand their mission. Precedence has shown that this too, will be an uphill battle though.
Ravens Passing Offense vs. Titans Defense:
Rookie Joey Flacco has exceeded all expectations this season. No one in their right mind would have expected the Ravens to make the playoffs, let alone win a game with the young QB, but Flacco has continued to get better as the season has progressed, and has become a leader in a veteran locker room full of big personalities. The Titans know enough to take Flacco, Mason and Co. seriously so don’t expect Tennessee to put eight in the box all that often. But, don’t be surprised when the Titans feel comfortable with single coverage when necessary. Flacco has proven to be dangerous at times, but his play is not always consistent, and he had problems with the Titans secondary during their earlier match up. Even though Flacco has played leaps and bounds better since in week 5, with Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch expected to be back and healthy, he could be in for a long and hurried day. Flacco still has the tendency to try and force the issue a bit, so pressure at the line might create some throws that have Cortland Finnegan and Michael Griffin doing their best Ed Reed impressions.
Ravens Rushing Offense vs. Titans Defense:
The Ravens lead the league in rushing yards, as they should since they also lead the league in rushing attempts per contest. Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee and Ray Rice form a three-headed monster with the purpose of taking as much pressure off of Joey Flacco as possible. The formula has worked out pretty well for Baltimore so far thanks to a young and surprisingly effective offensive line; a line that hasn’t missed Jonathan Ogden nearly as much as one would have expected. Again, the return of Albert Haynesworth should have a huge impact on Tennessee’s ability to stop the run, but if the Titans win over the Steelers taught us anything, it showed that Tennessee has great depth at the position (Jason Jones and William Hayes to name a few). Baltimore ran relatively well against Tennessee in their first contest, and McClain has been on a tear as of late, but this defense’s priority will be to stop the run, and they should be pretty effective.
The Titans sport the top-ranked kick return unit in the NFL, which is no small feat given how poorly they performed in that area over the first four weeks of the season. Baltimore falls into the middle of the pack (15th) in kick coverage, so presumably, Chris Carr will have some chances to give Tennessee good field position. On Baltimore’s side of the ball, Jim Leonhard has been a pleasant surprise returning punts as of late (he’s been a pleasant surprise at safety as well). This has helped offset some of the disappointment of Yamon Figurs’ season, but still, the Ravens lack an imposing return threat.
Punters Craig Hentrich and Sam Koch are two of the best at their position, and seeing as there should be plenty of three-and-outs and stopped drives, their dependability will be all the more important in this game. Both of these teams play a field position game, and this is one of the areas where that strategy plays itself out the most.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while then you are well aware of how crucial we feel Rob Bironas is to the Titans. Sure, he hasn’t had the All-Pro season that he did a year ago, but the Titans have been far more effective in the red zone this year. And let’s not kid ourselves, he can still hit the big kick. He just might have to again this Saturday. Baltimore has a fine kicker of their own in the ageless Matt Stover, though his range has started to noticeably decrease over the course of the season. With that said, he’s been clutch over his career, and has the noticeable edge in terms of playoff experience.
The Titans obviously have home field advantage throughout the playoffs, but over the last few years that has far from guaranteed success in the Divisional Round. Joey Flacco became the first rookie quarterback to win a road playoff game in NFL history last weekend, but both the Titans and LP Field will prove to be a much tougher challenge than the Dolphins, and Miami’s often less than fierce crowd.
Maybe the biggest question will be how the Titans respond to their ample time off. Last year might have been an infomercial for the benefits of playing the season out, regardless of what’s already been wrapped up. If the time off and away from the game has formed a little rust on some of the players that they can’t easily knock off in the beginning of the game, then they may be in trouble. But if the extra time off has gotten Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch closer to full strength, and the rest of the Titans come out firing on all cylinders (which should be the case), then this has to go to the Titans. Slightly.
Usually, after many hours in the “war room” (on the couch) Titan Sized is usually able to come up with a final score that we can all agree on. Not this week though. This week, we’ll just agree to disagree.
Nick: If the Titans can give themselves good field position with defensive stops and good kick and punt returns, and the offense can move the ball both effectively and efficiently, they should be in a good position to win this game. Weather conditions for the game should be cold and could get nasty, which I’d say is quite fitting given the feelings these two franchises have towards each other. With the home crowd at LP as loud as ever, the Titans should pull out the win in what I believe will be a game for the ages.
Titans win the part three of the playoff trilogy, 17-13.
Kellen: I think this game comes down to who can run the ball the most effectively, easing the burden of either QB. Baltimore was able to move the ball on the ground better than the Titans in their October meeting. We should see the same thing on Saturday, with the Ravens noticeably out-rushing Tennessee (+ 50-60 yards), in the process giving “Joe(y) Cool” the patience to pick his spots. I expect both quarterbacks to throw at least one pick, but look for the Ravens to switch field position more drastically (if not score) off of those turnovers. After a pick, that defense blocks like a return unit. This should be an extremely close one until the very end.