Ravens head coach John Harbaugh on the teams red zone efficiency and how it coincides with wins and loses.
The preferred choice by many local fans was for the Ravens to play the Indianapolis Colts or Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs, but it’s better that they play the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans (11-5) have beaten the Ravens in their past two meetings — in the divisional round last season and in Week 11 this season — but Tennessee is among the playoff teams the Ravens should be able to handle.
If the Ravens want to make a statement early in the postseason, then bring on the Titans.
Tennessee running back Derrick Henry is a nightmare to handle and few teams know that better than the Ravens. The 6-foot-3, 238-pound Henry ran for 195 yards on 30 carries in the Titans’ 28-12 playoff win last season and had 133 yards on 28 carries, including a game winning 29-yard touchdown run, in a 30-24 overtime victory earlier this season. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill is playing well, and even though the Ravens’ John Harbaugh is a better coach than counterpart Mike Vrabel, the former linebacker is better on game day.
Harbaugh downplayed the revenge factor Monday and said the team was just preparing to play its best game of the season. Oh, ho-hum. That’s part of the reason the Ravens were one-and-done last year. This team needs a nasty side, especially after playing a bunch of weak teams for nearly five weeks.
Remember, the Titans danced on the Ravens’ midfield logo in November, which drew the wrath of Harbaugh. They should want to play this team anywhere at any time, even on a parking lot at a Nashville high school.
The Titans are primed to get beat. They rank No. 19 in rushing defense, allowing 120.8 yards per game, and No. 29 in passing defense, giving up 277.4 yards. The Ravens will win because they have the league’s top rushing attack. If quarterback Lamar Jackson has time to throw, he should be able to move the ball while keeping Henry off the field.
Now, let’s not get crazy here.
There is no need for Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman to rev up the passing engines. In the past two years, the Ravens have gotten away from their powerful running game too soon, and it cost them. But they should be able to find the right balance to be successful.
The Titans have virtually no pass rush. They only have 19 sacks, tied for the fewest by any playoff team to play a 16-game schedule since the Denver Broncos had 19 in 1979. When you look at Tennessee’s defense, nobody stands out. Outside linebacker Harold Landry is solid (69 tackles, 5½ sacks) and cornerback Malcolm Butler (100 tackles, four interceptions) can make teams pay for their mistakes. The secondary has a pair of athletic safeties in Kenny Vaccaro (83 tackles) and Kevin Byard (111 tackles), but that’s not enough. Tennessee is ranked No. 24 in scoring defense (27.4 points per game) and has allowed opponents to convert on more than half of their third-down situations (111 of 214) this season.
If the Ravens have to rally to victory, Jackson shouldn’t be under constant pressure.
But there will a different kind of pressure on Jackson. He has been carrying that “can’t win a playoff game” tag on his shoulder for almost two years.
Defensively, the Ravens to have slow Henry, who became the eighth player to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a single season (2,027) and leads the league in rushing touchdowns (17). They have to get to him early before he squares his pads and gets to the line of scrimmage or barrels off the edge. His stiff arm is tough beat.
The Ravens slowed Henry for nearly three quarters in November. Unfortunately, Tennessee’s offense is more diverse than a year ago. Tannehill, like Jackson, thrives off the play-action passing game, but he is more accurate throwing downfield, completing 65.5% of his passes for 3,819 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. A.J. Brown is a big receiver who can give the Ravens problems, and so can tight end Jonnu Smith. Wide receiver Corey Davis is the Titans’ version of Marquise Brown (catch one, drop one).
The Titans will cause some problems, but the Ravens should win. They have more than enough motivation. The home playoff loss to Tennessee last year was an embarrassment, and they have had all offseason to think about it. The Ravens wanted to get revenge in November but couldn’t, and the Titans danced on their logo like they were in an old “Soul Train” dance line.
It would have been nice for the Ravens to get a chance to knock off Pittsburgh or Indianapolis, but it’s even better to get revenge. If the Ravens want to send a message in the postseason, they will win in Nashville.