Mike Preston

Preston: The Titans pushed the Ravens around and beat them at their own game

It’s been so easy to get caught up in the pass-happy craze throughout the NFL for the past 15 years. Everybody wants to load up with three receivers or two tight ends and just throw the ball around the stadium.

It looks good. It creates excitement. Scoring points puts more fans in the seats.


But in the NFL, as much as some things change, some things stay the same. The Tennessee Titans proved that a team can still compete for a Super Bowl title by running the football, and they pounded the Ravens for a 28-12 victory in the AFC divisional round Saturday night.

The Ravens knew they had to stop the Titans’ running game, as Tennessee entered with the NFL’s top rusher in halfback Derrick Henry, who ran for a league-best 1,540 yards on 303 carries.


And the Ravens still couldn’t stop him.

“I thought they played really well, especially up front," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of the Titans. "The trenches on both sides, they played extremely well. That was the biggest difference.”

The Ravens tried six- and seven-man defensive fronts. They tried an assortment of run blitzes using linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks. And they still couldn’t slow Henry, who rushed for 195 yards on 30 carries.

Henry’s effort was a throwback to the old era of legendary running backs like Jim Brown, Earl Campbell and even Ravens halfback Jamal Lewis in 2000.

It goes along with my lifelong philosophy: If your five fat guys can beat their five fat guys, you’re probably going to win.

And the Titans’ fat guys won. Oh, did they ever. They pulled the upset of the postseason, even bigger than defeating the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the wild-card round. The Ravens had a better and more balanced team and appeared to be one of the two best teams in the NFL, along with the San Francisco 49ers.

The Ravens have a great running attack of their own — the best in the league — but they don’t have a power back like the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry. Even his ponytail is big.

Tennessee has an offensive line similar to the Ravens'. The group isn’t athletic, but can be powerful at the point of attack in the running game. The Titans ran so well that they ran the Ravens right out of their offense, from a running team to a passing team.


But it wasn’t just the Titans’ rushing attack. Quarterback Lamar Jackson’s weakness as a passer was exposed because he couldn’t connect on passes outside the numbers. The arm strength isn’t there.

Jackson threw 59 passes and the Ravens aren’t going to win with him throwing that many. Few quarterbacks can throw that often and win.

It was that type of day for Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman. He got outcoached by former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who is now calling the defense for Tennessee. Roman has abandoned the running game too quickly before, and he did it again Saturday night.

And let’s remember Harbaugh and his analytics. The Ravens gambled and failed on two fourth-and-1 situations, which eventually led to 14 Titans points. Forget the analytics mess. When the opposing team is beating you at the line of scrimmage, it’s time to either punt or kick a field goal, not continue to go for it and fail.

But a lot of this game was decided along the line of scrimmage. The Ravens came into the game with the No. 5-ranked rushing defense in the NFL, allowing only 93.4 yards a game. Since 2000, this is a franchise that has prided itself on stopping the run, and it couldn’t.

Basically, a one-dimensional offense pushed and punched the Ravens around. That’s what the Ravens have done to a lot of other teams this season.