RAVENS RUN OFFENSE VS. TITANS RUN DEFENSE: The Titans worked out six defensive linemen Tuesday as injuries and ineffectiveness have taken a toll on a unit they hoped would be improved after several offseason additions. In their season-opening 16-14 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Titans allowed 163 rushing yards. The Jaguars' game-opening 11-play touchdown drive featured nine runs totaling 49 yards. Defensive ends Derrick Morgan and Jason Jones, who both missed the opener with knee injuries, are back, so that could help stabilize a run defense that finished 20th in the NFL last season. But after rushing for 170 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens feel that they can run the ball against anybody. An offensive line that didn't play together the entire preseason exceeded the most optimistic expectations last week, and the additions of left tackle Bryant McKinnie and fullback Vonta Leach paid immediate dividends in front ofRay Rice.
RAVENS PASS OFFENSE VS. TITANS PASS DEFENSE: Tennessee's pass defense was miserable last season, allowing 269 yards per game, 29th in the NFL. It certainly won't help that its top pass rusher, Jason Babin, who had 12.5 sacks last year, departed for the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency. The Titans, with agitator Cortland Finnegan and Jason McCourty starting at cornerback, allowed only 160 yards passing last week, but that was to Jaguars journeyman quarterback Luke McCown. Well protected by the offensive line, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco played one of his best games as a pro last week, passing for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta were big factors, as was Anquan Boldin. Lee Evans was shut out last week, but he has given Tennessee trouble in the past, scoring three touchdowns in two games against them. Assuming Flacco keeps getting time, there should be opportunities for the Ravens to make more big plays in the passing game.
TITANS RUN OFFENSE VS RAVENS RUN DEFENSE: If the Ravens were facing the Chris Johnson of 2009 — the phenom who became just the sixth running back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season — this might be different. However, Johnson held out for most of training camp, then rushed for only 24 yards on nine carries last week. It was his third straight game in which he was held to fewer than 60 yards on the ground. The Titans have promised to get him far more touches this week, and stopping the speedster is the Ravens' foremost concern. The Ravens have slowed plenty of good backs before. They've had a top-five rushing defense for five straight seasons, and the unit got off to a good start last Sunday, holding Rashard Mendenhall and the Steelers to just 66 rushing yards. Johnson, however, will be a bigger challenge for Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata and company.
TITANS PASS OFFENSE VS. RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: With Jimmy Smith out and Chris Carr's status in question, the Ravens are a little thin in the secondary. Titans veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, signed to bridge the gap to the Jake Locker era, threw for 263 yards last week and two touchdowns, both to troubled but talented wide receiver Kenny Britt. Physical and fast, Britt had nine touchdown catches last season, and his 18.5-yard average ranked seventh in the NFL. In order to give Hasselbeck, a pocket passer, time to use his weapons, the Titans' veteran offensive line will have to slow linebacker Terrell Suggs, who combined with Ngata to wreck the Steelers' offensive game plan last week. Suggs has eight sacks in the Ravens' past three games. The Titans' offensive line, the same group from last season, has been able to protect the quarterback. The group allowed two sacks last week and 27 last season, tied for sixth fewest in the NFL.
SPECIAL TEAMS: One disappointment for the Ravens last Sunday was the way they covered kickoffs as they allowed the Steelers' Antonio Brown 103 total yards on three returns. Titans return man Marc Mariani made the Pro Bowl last season and broke a 63-year-old franchise record with 1,530 kickoff-return yards. Tennessee kicker Rob Bironas missed his only field-goal attempt last week but has been one of the league's best since his rookie season in 2005. The Titans' Brett Kern averaged 41.6 yards on his seven punts last week, well below his career average. The Ravens counter with one of the league's best kicking tandems in Billy Cundiff and Sam Koch. Cundiff has made 16 straight field-goal attempts in the regular season. One question is whether David Reed, who is back from a one-game suspension, will return kicks after Lardarius Webb handled those duties last week.
INTANGIBLES: The Ravens and Titans last met in the divisional round of the 2008 playoffs, a 13-10 victory that gave the Ravens a 10-9 advantage in the series. Both rosters have been turned over significantly since, but the teams are simply in different places, with Mike Munchak replacing longtime Titans coach Jeff Fisher and trying to mold a young roster. Tennessee has dropped nine of its past 10 games dating to last season. The Ravens are 5-2 at LP Field, including a playoff win, so they won't be intimidated by what could be a loud environment. While several Titans acknowledged that they played "flat" last week against Jacksonville, the Ravens are coming off one of their better all-around efforts in several seasons and have plenty of confidence.
PREDICTION: This game might not feature the all-out dominance that the Ravens showed against Pittsburgh last week, but they have too much leadership and talent to suffer a major letdown here. The latest chapter to a rivalry once defined by big hits and big plays will probably lack the drama of past meetings. However, a solid and business-like performance in the Ravens' road opener will work just as well.