Tennessee Titans: Previewing the 2018 Schedule – Week 6

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 3: Running Back Alex Collins #34 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at M&T Bank Stadium on December 3, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 3: Running Back Alex Collins #34 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at M&T Bank Stadium on December 3, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

Continuing to examine the 2018 Tennessee Titans schedule by taking a look at their Week 6 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens.

Now that most rosters are largely set in stone following free agency and the draft, we can finally begin to look ahead to next season and gauge how the Tennessee Titans’ roster will match up with opponents’, as well as start to put together a rough estimate for wins and losses. With little to no news coming out of training camps this time of year except for notable absences, this marks a great time to preview how each team the Titans will face has changed over the offseason and whether that team is trending up or down in 2018.

As seems to have been the case so many times in the last couple of years, the Ravens just missed out on the playoffs after losing to a 7-9 Bengals squad in a must-win Week 17 game. John Harbaugh’s team once again sported a stifling defense that got dragged down by an awful offense. Baltimore’s defense ranked firmly in the top ten in almost every major defensive category, while the offense ranked near the bottom of the league in most categories. Despite the Jekyll-and-Hyde-esque nature of the current roster,  the Ravens clearly believe that their defense can still bring this team to the Super Bowl. Newsome’s drafting and free agency moves seem to be priming the roster for a reload rather than a rebuild.

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As the Jaguars proved in 2017, a defense can drag an anemic offense pretty far if it has accrued enough talent, but as it stands now, the Ravens defense has not yet reached that point. The Ravens offense clearly held the team back last year. They simply could not win a game unless the defense kept the opposition to less than 20 points. If the defense was anything short of phenomenal, the Ravens would not win. This meant that the Ravens did not defeat a single playoff team in 2017 as they easily dispatched the league’s bottom-dwellers, but consistently fell short against actual contenders.

In 2017, the Ravens counted on offseason additions and young talent to rescue an offensive unit that had been sputtering of late. Their efforts were hit-or-miss, leaning heavily towards miss. Both 2016 4th rounder Kenneth Dixon and free agent signing Danny Woodhead suffered injuries almost immediately and left Terrance West and Buck Allen to shoulder the load at running back. In a panic move, the Ravens signed former Seahawk Alex Collins early in the season and Collins quickly became the Ravens best skill position player, which says just as much about the Ravens offense as it does about Collins. Despite not earning his first start until Week 5, Collins ranked 11th in the NFL with 973 yards and returns in 2018 as the team’s feature back.

The other players that Baltimore needed to step up did not perform so admirably. Free agent receiver Jeremy Maclin failed to make much of an impact with the team as he put up career lows in both receptions and yardage. Meanwhile, the Ravens’ two top selections in the 2015 draft (WR Breshad Perriman and TE Maxx Williams) both failed to put up respectable numbers yet again and neither player is a lock to make the roster in 2018 after both players have not managed to translate their talent to the playing field since they were drafted.

With each of these players failing to develop and produce in 2017, OC Marty Mornhinwheg leaned heavily on Collins, aging TE Benjamin Watson, and veteran speedster Mike Wallace. Unsurprisingly, Joe Flacco couldn’t elevate these receivers to a level that threatened opposing defenses as he cruised to another mediocre season at QB.

Correctly recognizing that they only need a league average passing attack to compete on a roster that already boasts a strong offensive line, a talented, young running back, and a very capable defense, GM Ozzie Newsome completely revamped the receiving corps around Joe Flacco. Flacco might not be capable of operating at a league average level anymore, but he will certainly receive his fair shot in 2018 with the new weapons Newsome added in free agency.

The Ravens only signed three free agents in 2018, but all of them were WRs who had a history of production. Most notably, Michael Crabtree was brought in as Flacco’s new No. 1 target after several stellar years in Oakland. Crabtree can use his size in the redzone and will likely be targeted to make catches over the middle to move the chains as well. Meanwhile, John Brown can provide Flacco with more of a big play threat that uses his speed to beat defenses as long as he has put his injury issues behind him. The third and final receiver that Baltimore added is Willie Snead, who wore out his welcome in New Orleans following a DUI arrest and almost no production in 2017, but he has flashed potential as a high level complementary receiver in the previous two seasons.

Newsome continued to make offensive additions in the draft. On the first two days of the draft, he invested solely in the offense by drafting TEs Hayden Hurst in the first round and Mark Andrews in the 3rd Round. He also spent a 3rd rounder on OT Orlando Brown, whose father previously excelled in Baltimore. All of these players will be counted on to start and contribute in their rookie seasons.

Furthermore, Newsome also made one of the splashiest moves of the draft by trading up into the first round to select QB Lamar Jackson, one of college football’s biggest playmakers through the air and on the ground, who arguably boasts the most unique and potentially dangerous skillsets of any quarterback in the league. The selection of Jackson was yet another move that indicates the front office is looking to the future on offense and will move on from Joe Flacco sooner rather than later.

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The Titans skill position players like Corey Davis, Dion Lewis, Derrick Henry, and Delanie Walker will more consistently be able to create mismatches than players like Michael Crabtree, Hayden Hurst, or Alex Collins, and Marcus Mariota will be more likely to take advantage of these mismatches than Flacco.

One key position group for the Titans  in Week 6 will be their offensive line. Against a solid defense, one of the best things the Titans could have is good line play to keep Mariota clean in the pocket and open running lanes. The longer that OTs Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin can stymie the Baltimore edge rushers, the more likely that the Titans wide receivers will shed coverage and get open. Provided that the offensive line can return to its 2016 dominance or even maintain their level of play from 2017, the Titans skill position players will be in a better position to succeed, which is exactly what the Titans need to win this game.

Predicted Outcome:  Win

Current Predicted Record (Updated Each Installment): 4-2

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