NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Baltimore Ravens in a Wild Card playoff game on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
Running back Derrick Henry influenced games and the decisions of defenders during the regular season. In the playoffs, the Titans hope they can pick up where they left off in the running game. Henry had success against the Ravens in the past two meetings – he ran for 195 yards in the Divisional playoff contest against the Ravens last January, and then produced a 133-yard rushing performance in a win at Baltimore in October, when he scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime. The Ravens, of course, want to keep Henry from going off again. The Ravens finished the regular season ranked 8th in rushing yards allowed per game (108.8), but just 22nd in yards per carry (4.55).
Contain Lamar Jackson
Titans defenders have talked all week about containing Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, rather than delivering big shots on him. Jackson is a nightmare to prepare for because of his unique athletic ability. While Jackson threw for 2,757 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions during the regular season, he also did a lot of damage on the ground, where he racked up 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns. The Titans have done a nice job defending Jackson in recent meetings, which is part of the reason they've won the last two. They'll need to play with discipline while tackling well on Sunday.
Titans Passing Game
Because of Henry's success, quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn't have to carry the Titans in the playoffs last year. Still, he made some big plays when the team needed him. Tannehill's deep ball to Kalif Raymond in Baltimore was one of the highlights of last year's postseason. If all goes according to plan, the Titans will need a combination of Tannehill in the passing game and Henry in the running game to succeed in the playoffs. That means receiver A.J. Brown, who was quiet in the postseason a year ago, and receiver Corey Davis, who struggled in the regular season finale after a stellar 2020 season, will need to perform well against a talented Ravens secondary. The Titans need all hands on deck in this one.
Stop the Run
The Titans have struggled stopping the pass this season, allowing 277.4 yards per game through the air. On Sunday, the big challenge will be slowing down Baltimore's vaunted rushing attack. The Ravens led the NFL with 3,071 rushing yards in 2020. In their win last Sunday against the Bengals, the Ravens racked up a mind-boggling 404 yards on the ground. Yes, you read that right – 404 yards. It's not just Jackson who is breaking off big runs. Running back J.K. Dobbins, who had 160 yards last week, began to get into a groove in the Nov. 22 game against the Titans, and he finished the year with 850 rushing yards. Gus Edwards and Mark Ingram help the cause as well. Once again, it'll be about tackling well.
The Titans get kicker Stephen Gostkowski back, and he's a big game kicker who is tied for second all-time with 39 postseason field goals and second on the NFL postseason points list with 205. Punter Brett Kern has been a consistent weapon, and the Titans have shown positive glimpses in the return game with kick returner Darrynton Evans. The Ravens, meanwhile, have some dandy specialists of their own, including reliable kicker Justin Tucker. In playoff games, special teams can play a big role in the outcome. The Titans found this out the hard way during a playoff contest vs the Ravens in 2000, but they won it on a memorable Gary Anderson field goal in the 2003 season's playoffs. And, of course, the Ravens beat the Titans in the 2008 season's playoffs with an overtime kick.
So, I just touched on some of the history between these two teams, but there's so much more. It dates back to the early days of the Titans, in fact. In my 20-plus years covering the Titans, I contend the franchise has never had a rivalry quite like the one with Baltimore during the early years when Eddie George and Ray Lewis used to bang heads. The players have changed, but in reality, this rivalry has never gone away. Tennessee's two wins over the Ravens in the last year only helped fan the flames even more. The Titans and Ravens have met four times in the playoffs over the years, with each team winning twice. Sunday's meeting will be No.5. Which way will it go? Well, we're about to find out.