Some name three stars of the game after the game. I'll do that one better: I'm going to name them before the Ravens even play. These will be the three stars of the game when the Ravens host the 2-6 Tennessee Titans and aim to enter the bye next week at 6-4.
1. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs
The Ravens are returning home to play the first of several must-win games after two difficult road losses. Suggs has been under fire for his low hit against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night, and probably wants to change the conversation. All of that adds up to a game in which the star pass rusher will feed off a raucus home crowd and make the trip to Baltimore utterly miserable for rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger and the Titans.
It certainly helps that Suggs will either be lined up against a rookie, former Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan, or former teammate Michael Oher. He's beaten the latter plenty in practice over the years, and likely knows him as well as he'd know any opponent. He's also beaten rookies plenty of times before, so neither should provide Suggs with unmatchable resistance.
The Ravens are also likely to be aggressive in the pass rush with Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Pernell McPhee to make the rookie quarterback uncomfortable in just his second career start. The Ravens' cadre of inside rushers will require equal attention, meaning the Titans' tackles might not get much help. Look for Suggs to pick up at least two sacks and generally ruin Mettenberger's afternoon Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
2. Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro
What's been an uneven rookie season for Taliaferro has still been a productive one, and the powerful back out of Coastal Carolina could send fans into the bye with happy visions of their future every-down back after a big game against the Titans.
Through eight games, Taliaferro's 247 yards rushing rank eighth among rookies, and his four touchdowns are second among first-year runners. Taliaferro found the end zone twice in Week 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals and hasn't had more than 10 touches in a game since Week 4 against the Carolina Panthers, but if the Ravens coaching staff can forgive his game-swinging fumble from last Sunday's game in Pittsburgh, Taliaferro could be primed for his biggest game with the Ravens.
The Tennessee Titans rank 29th in run defense, having allowed nearly 135 yards per game this season. Tennessee has held opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing just twice, and teams with offensive lines that have been praised like the Ravens', including the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns, have plowed through the Titans' front four for 220 yards and 175 yards, respectively.
While the Ravens offensive line has had some health questions, the right side will be able to succeed against nose tackle Sammie Lee Hill and left ends Ropati Pitoitua and Mike Martin. Taliaferro could be in line for his first 100-yard day, but even if he doesn't get there, another trip to the end zone is all but a given.
3. Wide receiver Kendall Wright
Until the Ravens' secondary improves, an opposing wide receiver will occupy this space. The 24th-ranked pass defense hasn't had many bright spots this year, and has allowed nearly as many touchdowns (six) since star cornerback Jimmy Smith got hurt in Week 8 as they did in the seven weeks before that (seven).
Enter Wright, a talented third-year man out of Baylor who compiled over 1,000 yards receiving and caught 94 balls a season ago. With Tennessee now on its third quarterback in Mettenberger, Wright had the bye week to get on the same page with his rookie quarterback and could exploit the Ravens secondary in its moment of crisis. Wright is just behind tight end Delanie Walker for most targets on the team, and is a threat alongside receiver Justin Hunter to break plays against a Ravens secondary that could have a relatively new starter at safety in Will Hill and at least one new cornerback in at all times — either undrafted rookie Tramain Jacobs or journeyman Danny Gorrer.
As a player who last year compiled over half of his receiving yards after the catch and is a known playmaker in space, the Ravens' zone coverage scheme is probably looking appetizing to jumpstart his 2014. Even if he doesn't get it early, Wright will become the fifth receiver of the season to eclipse 100 yards receiving against the Ravens, and the fourth in four weeks. Tennessee won't score often, but he's a prime candidate if they do.