NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
Marcus Mariota and the Offense
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota performed well in last year's meeting vs. the Ravens, completing 19-of-28 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns in a win. But it's a new year, and a new week, and Baltimore is once again stout on defense, ranked 3rd in the NFL. One week after lighting it up against the Eagles, the Titans struggled on offense last week in Buffalo. The Titans failed to get in the end zone, turned the ball over three times, and just never got rolling. The Titans will need a bigger day from No.8 and Co. on Sunday.
More from the Tight Ends?
OK, so the Titans tight ends have been invisible in recent weeks, aside from doing the dirty work as blockers. In the past two weeks, the Titans haven't gotten a single catch from the position group. Five games into the season, the Titans have just seven catches combined from tight ends Luke Stocker (5-63) and Jonnu Smith (2-21). Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur said this week he needs to do a better job of getting the tight ends more involved. Will it happen immediately, and might tight end Anthony Firkser, promoted earlier in the week, be in the mix?
Dean Pees handshakes
I'm putting the over-under on Dean Pees handshakes at 31 ½ -- with the ½ being the possibility of a fist bump and not a full-fledged shake. Pees, in his first season as defensive coordinator with the Titans, served as DC with the Ravens from 2012-17 before retiring, and then resurfacing in Tennessee. Pees acknowledged it will be a special game for him against his former team. Of course what's most important is what happens in the game. How Pees goes about trying to win – and how much he decides to pressure Ravens QB Joe Flacco – will be interesting.
Stop the Run?
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises surrounded the Titans has been the defense's struggles against the run. After five games the Titans are ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, allowing 123.2 yards per game. Last week, the team missed 14 tackles. The Ravens haven't been great running the ball (ranked 20th) but running back Alex Collins has 217 yards on the ground, and Javorius Allen has contributed with 96 yards. Quarterback Lamar Jackson has 72 yards himself. The Titans don't want to let Baltimore get going.
Flacco and the Ravens had their own issues last week in Cleveland – they were held out of the end zone in a 12-9 loss. But the Ravens have some threats, and Flacco has a really strong arm. Receivers Michael Crabtree (24-250-1), Willie Snead IV (23-253-3) and John Brown (19-396-3) will test Tennessee's secondary, possibly deep. Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler has been guilty of letting some receivers get behind him, and the defense can't afford to let that happen Sunday. The hunch here is safety Kevin Byard gets his first pick of the season on Sunday – he got Flacco twice last year.
OK, allow me a moment to go down memory lane. Dating back to my first season covering the Titans in 1999, there's never been a rivalry that matched Titans vs. Ravens in the early 2000s. All the battles with Eddie George and Ray Lewis, the smack-talking, the playoff games, man, we've all seen some fun games. And they've continued, from Steve McNair returning to Tennessee as a Raven in 2006, to the Titans winning in Baltimore during a 10-0 start in '08, to the playoff game later that season. These teams played a good one last year. So what's in store for this Sunday? It's worth watching to find out what could leave another mark in the series.
The Tennessee Titans take the field for practice on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018 at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Photos: Gary Glenn)