Nickel package: Five things to watch in Ravens vs. Titans

Here's what you need to know ahead of today's Ravens-Titans game at M&T Bank Stadium.

As the Ravens (5-4) square off with the visiting Tennessee Titans (2-6) at 1 p.m. today, here’s Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson’s checklist of things to keep an eye on:

1. Turnovers

One of the major reasons the Ravens are in last place in the ultra-competitive AFC North and have lost two straight games is their tendency for turnovers. The Ravens have thrown three interceptions and lost one fumble in the past two games. A lost fumble by rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro and an interception by quarterback Joe Flacco, in particular, led directly to Pittsburgh touchdowns last Sunday during a 43-23 loss to the Steelers. In their four losses, the Ravens have a combined nine turnovers. For the season, the Ravens are tied for 19th in the NFL in turnover margin, at minus-one. They have 13 takeaways (five interceptions, eight fumble recoveries) and 14 giveaways (eight interceptions, six lost fumbles).

The Titans aren’t much better. They’re tied for 15th with an even turnover margin: 11 takeaways (eight interceptions, three fumble recoveries) and 11 giveaways (eight interceptions, three lost fumbles).

2. New-look secondary

When the Ravens line up on defense today against rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger, they’ll have an overhauled secondary. With top cornerback Jimmy Smith out for the season after season-ending foot surgery, journeyman cornerback Danny Gorrer likely will make his first start after being claimed off waivers from the Detroit Lions. Gorrer, who played in 11 games with the Ravens in 2011, knows the system and has 38 tackles and an interception in his six-year NFL career. Veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb has been picked on throughout the season and still is dealing with a lingering lower-back injury affecting his flexibility and mobility. Undrafted rookie cornerback Tramain Jacobs is set to play in his first NFL regular-season game, after being promoted from the practice squad. And cornerback Rashaan Melvin was just signed off of the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad.

At safety, Will Hill is making just his second start since joining the Ravens in late July after serving a six-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

The Ravens rank 24thin pass defense and have allowed 560 passing yards over the past two games. Those numbers don't exactly inspire confidence, but the Ravens should be able to handle Mettenberger, an untested rookie with a big arm. If they can’t take care of business against him, they’re in serious trouble in the weeks to come against Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.

3. Delanie Walker

People don’t talk enough about the Titans tight end, who is athletic and difficult to tackle after the catch. Walker leads the Titans with 35 receptions for 475 yards and four touchdowns. He also has a team-high 59 targets and been more productive than wide receivers Kendall Wright (35 catches, 350 yards, four touchdowns ) and Justin Hunter (20 catches, 351 yards, two touchdowns). When Mettenberger is under pressure, look for him to try to locate Walker downfield.

4. Eugene Monroe and Jeremy Zuttah

Against the Steelers, both veteran offensive linemen struggled with their pass blocking. Monroe was dominated by 36-year-old outside linebacker James Harrison for a pair of sacks and four quarterback hits. Zuttah allowed one sack and a considerable amount of pressure up the middle. Between them, the Ravens have invested in contracts worth a combined $55.5 million, and they need better performances. The Titans’ top defensive line threat is defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, a second-team All-Pro pick last season who had a career-high 90 tackles and 10.5 sacks. He has 42 tackles and four sacks this year.

5. Steve Smith and Torrey Smith

A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Steve Smith got off to a great start to the season. He has caught 46 passes for 711 yards and four touchdowns, but his pace has slowed over the past three games, a span in which he does not have a score. In the past two games, he has only eight catches for 71 yards total. He caught five passes against the Steelers but averaged only 7.2 yards per reception for 36 yards overall. Smith has been dealing with increased attention from defensive backs because of the big plays he made earlier this season, but he still needs to produce. Smith is on pace to finish the season with 81 receptions for 1,264 yards and seven touchdowns.

Meanwhile, wide receiver Torrey Smith has had an uneven season in a contract year. The former Maryland standout has caught 22 passes for 371 yards and five touchdowns and is on pace to finish the season with 39 receptions for 659 yards and eight touchdowns. Since scoring a combined three touchdowns in wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons, Smith has just four catches for 63 yards and a touchdown, all of which came against the Steelers. He didn't have a catch in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

awilson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/RavensInsider

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
88°