Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas on the key to stopping Titans' Ryan Tannehill play action fakes.
RAVENS PASSING GAME: Lamar Jackson finished third in the NFL in passer rating at 113.3 and led the league with 36 touchdown passes against just six interceptions, remarkable statistics for a player whose passing skills were picked apart as recently as the start of this season. The Ravens finished 27th in passing, largely because they attempted the fewest throws in the league. But they averaged 6.9 yards per attempt, 10th best. Tight end Mark Andrews made his first Pro Bowl, leading the team with 64 catches, 852 receiving yards and 10 touchdown receptions. He was easily Jackson’s favorite target on third down and in the red zone. His tight end colleagues, Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst, also delivered efficient seasons, catching 61 passes on 82 targets between them. Andrews, Boyle and Hurst all graded among the NFL’s top 13 tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus. By contrast, the Ravens’ wide receivers were the least targeted in the league. Rookie Marquise Brown led the group with 46 catches for 584 yards and seven touchdowns, but he only exceeded 50 yards in three games and last hit that mark in Week 10. The Ravens offensive line did a superb job protecting Jackson, with tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. and right guard Marshal Yanda all ranking among the best pass blockers in the league.
TITANS PASSING GAME: Tennessee took off on offense after coach Mike Vrabel inserted Ryan Tannehill as his starting quarterback in Week 7. The former Miami Dolphins starter went on to lead the league in passer rating, completing 70.3% of his passes and averaging a remarkable 9.6 yards per attempt. Tannehill used play action to set up downfield attempts to rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown, who averaged 20.2 yards on 52 catches and produced more than 100 yards in four of the Titans’ last six regular-season games. Tight end Jonnu Smith and wideouts Corey Davis, Adam Humphries (who did not practice Tuesday and Wednesday) and Tajae Sharpe were also effective, though Tennessee attempted fewer passes than any team but the Ravens. Tannehill handled pressure well, a necessity given that the Titans allowed 56 sacks, third most in the league and twice as many as Baltimore. Tannehill completed just 8 of 15 passes for 72 yards and threw an interception in the Titans’ wild-card playoff win over the New England Patriots.
"The way he runs behind his paddles, the way when he gets started he's hold to stop," said tackle Brandon Williams when asked how Titans RB Derrick Henry.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: The Ravens smashed the all-time rushing record for a season, finishing with 3,296 yards, almost 1,000 more than any other team in 2019. Jackson led them with 1,206 yards, a single-season record for quarterbacks, and averaged a league-best 6.9 yards per carry. The biggest question for the Ravens is whether No. 1 running back Mark Ingram II will be completely recovered from a calf injury suffered in Week 16. Ingram has said he plans to play, and coach John Harbaugh has also said he’s on target. But Ingram did not practice Tuesday and Wednesday. The veteran gained 1,018 yards, led the Ravens with 10 rushing touchdowns and served as the team’s most prolific receiver out of the backfield. If Ingram is not 100%, Gus Edwards proved he could thrive as a lead ball carrier with 130 yards in Week 17 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Edwards was the most effective third option in the league, finishing with 711 yards and averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
TITANS RUNNING GAME: Tennessee can’t match the Ravens but did finish third in the league in both rushing and yards per attempt. The Titans rely heavily on 6-foot-3, 247-pound running back Derrick Henry, who led the league with 1,540 rushing yards, averaged 5.1 yards per attempt and scored 18 combined touchdowns. The Patriots knew Henry was Tennessee’s top threat in the wild-card round, and he still battered an excellent defense for 182 yards on 34 carries. The Titans do a good job clearing space for their bulldozer; starting tackles Jack Conklin and Taylor Lewan both grade as very good run blockers, according to Pro Football Focus. The Titans did not accomplish much on the ground when Henry did not have the ball, though Tannehill has always moved fairly well. Their backup running back, Dion Lewis, averaged 3.9 yards on just 54 carries.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens allowed several big rushing performances this season and will have their hands full with Henry. They finished fifth in rush defense but allowed 4.4 yards per carry, 12th worst in the league. They did hold another large, fast running back, Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns, to 45 yards on 15 carries in Week 16. The Ravens have generally played well in the middle, with linebacker Josh Bynes and interior linemen Brandon Williams, Chris Wormley and Michael Pierce grading as the team’s top run defenders, according to Pro Football Focus. They’ve been more vulnerable on the edges, where rookie Jaylon Ferguson and even Pro Bowl linebacker Matthew Judon have struggled against the run at times.
TITANS RUSH DEFENSE: Tennessee was solid against the run all season, holding opponents to 4 yards per carry, seventh best in the league. The Titans allowed opponents to rush for more than 150 yards just twice, while the Ravens offense cleared that mark in all but three games. So this will be a key flashpoint. The Titans limited the Patriots to 98 rushing yards in the wild-card round. Logan Ryan led the team in tackles, unusual for a cornerback, but Tennessee’s best individual run defenders are interior linemen DaQuan Jones and Jurrell Casey. According to stats kept by FootballOutsiders.com, the Titans did not stuff many runs at the line of scrimmage but were good in short-yardage situations and even better at tackling runners 5-10 yards past the line.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens went from below average to among the best in the league after they traded for Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters. They allowed just one of their final eight opponents to throw for more than 200 yards and have the second best pass defense of the eight remaining teams in the playoffs, according to FootballOutsiders.com. Peters and fellow cornerback Marlon Humphrey both made first-team All-Pro. Safety Earl Thomas III made the seventh Pro Bowl of his career, and his back-end partner, Chuck Clark, was also excellent in coverage while serving as the team’s defensive signal caller. This gifted secondary allows the Ravens to blitz on 54.9% of dropbacks, far more than any other team in the league. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale has to send that much pressure in part because Judon is the only edge rusher who regularly wins one-on-one battles. Judon easily led the team with 9½ sacks and 33 quarterback hits to earn his first Pro Bowl selection. The Ravens ranked just 21st in the league with 37 sacks and finished 15th in pressure percentage.
TITANS PASS DEFENSE: The Titans finished 24th in pass defense and allowed opponents to average 6.4 yards per attempt, so this is where they’re most vulnerable. They did limit Tom Brady to 209 yards on 20 of 37 passing in their wild-card victory. The Titans’ starting defensive backs received average or better coverage grades from Pro Football Focus, and they finished eighth in the league with 14 interceptions. They tied for 13th with 43 sacks, but like the Ravens, they don’t have many outstanding individual pass rushers. Outside linebacker Harold Landry III led the team with nine sacks, and no one else had more than five. The Titans blitz on just 24.6% of dropbacks, continuing the long-term philosophy of defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who held the same position with the Ravens from 2012 to 2017.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Justin Tucker made 28 of 29 field-goal attempts to earn his third All-Pro selection. Sam Koch punted just 40 times, easily a career low, but put 21 of those inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, a rate that would have ranked second in the league if he had enough kicks to qualify. The Ravens allowed more average yards than they gained on both kickoff and punt returns, unusually poor performance from a special teams unit that usually ranks among the best in the league.
TITANS SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Brett Kern made the Pro Bowl and turned in a masterful performance in the wild-card win, putting four of his six kicks inside New England’s 20-yard line. But the Titans have run through four kickers this season, and their current starter, Greg Joseph, has yet to attempt a field goal for the team. Joseph made 17 of 20 but missed four extra-point attempts for the Cleveland Browns last season. Tennessee has also played poorly in kickoff and punt coverage.
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RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens enter the playoffs as Super Bowl favorites after winning their past 12 games. They’ve won at least one playoff game six of the seven times they’ve made the postseason under Harbaugh. The only exception came last season when they fell to the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC wild-card round. The Ravens have also won 19 of 23 games started by Jackson, the league’s presumptive MVP, and they should be fresh coming off two weeks of rest (three for some key players).
TITANS INTANGIBLES: The Titans won five of their past seven regular-season games to pass the Steelers in the AFC wild-card race and then went on the road to knock off the once-mighty Patriots. So confidence should not be a problem for them under Vrabel, who’s 18-14 in two seasons. The Titans are 6-3 away from home, including that playoff victory, and lost just one road game after Tannehill took over as their starter.
PREDICTION: With a devastating runner in Henry and a high-efficiency passing attack based on play action, the Titans can keep up with the Ravens’ league-best offense. But the Ravens can win in more ways, are well-rested and will benefit from a frenzied home crowd. Expect the Titans to keep things interesting on another wet game day in Baltimore but not interesting enough to stop the Ravens’ charmed run. Ravens 31, Titans 21.