The Baltimore Sun sports staff answers some key Ravens questions ahead of Saturday night’s divisional-round game against the Tennessee Titans.
Whom should the Ravens be more worried about: Derrick Henry or Ryan Tannehill?
C.J. Doon, reporter: Tannehill. In a quarterback efficiency table created by The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin that charted expected points added per play and completion percentage above expectation in the regular season, Tannehill ranked as one the league’s best. Only Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, two of his fellow divisional-round QBs, created more expected points per play. Henry, the league’s leading rusher, is a huge weapon. But in the modern NFL, a good running back, even at his best, can only do so much. A good quarterback can lead a team to the Super Bowl.
Daniel Oyefusi, reporter: Derrick Henry. Ryan Tannehill’s success is largely predicated on play-action success, which is rooted in an effective running game. Like safety Earl Thomas III said Tuesday, “If Tannehill tries to pass on us, I don’t think that will go in their favor.”
Mike Preston, columnist: There are three players left in the AFC who can dominate and take over a game. Two are quarterbacks — Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson — and the other is Henry. If the Ravens can control Henry, it completely changes the dynamics of the Titans offense. Tannehill is a complement to Henry.
Peter Schmuck, columnist: Derrick Henry is the guy who can keep the Titans in the game, but Ryan Tannehill is the wild card here. If he can complement the Titans’ running attack with some key throws downfield, the Ravens will have their hands full. The Ravens should win, but they don’t want this to be a low-scoring grinder.
Jonas Shaffer, reporter: Henry, if only because Tannehill’s gaudy numbers this season are not entirely trustworthy. The former first-round pick hasn’t played a lot of great pass defenses this season, and the Patriots went after some of his weak spots Saturday. With their week off, the Ravens should be up to speed on Tennessee’s passing game. But I’m not sure there’s an easy way to simulate a Derrick Henry run in practice.
Childs Walker, reporter: Stopping Henry has to be the first priority. He devastated the Patriots with little help from the Titans’ passing game, which is largely based on play-action. Tannehill was very good this year, and the Ravens can’t afford lapses on the back end. But Henry is the man who makes Tennessee go, and that will be even more the case if rain falls as forecast.
What Ravens coach or player should benefit most from the break?
Doon: Marshal Yanda. At age 35, the All-Pro right guard played 970 snaps in the regular season, tied with Lamar Jackson for third most on the Ravens offense. An extra week to heal some bumps and bruises is just what Yanda needed to keep the running game at full strength.
Oyefusi: Running back Mark Ingram II. However, the latest developments regarding his calf injury might say otherwise. Ingram missing practice early this week and the subsequent report that he felt his calf tighten during the bye indicated that he likely would not have been able to play if the Ravens were in the wild-card round. There’s still a chance Ingram could suit up Saturday night, and these next few days will be crucial.
Preston: It has to be running back Mark Ingram II. The other players were just taking a break from the rigors of a long season. Ingram needed that as well, but the break also gave him time for his calf injury to heal. He might not be 100%, but the Ravens still need him on the field.
Schmuck: Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale should benefit greatly from the additional time to prepare for the Titans offense. That would have been less of a factor against the Texans or Bills, because the Ravens played those two teams recently and already had a lot of advance work to draw from.
Shaffer: Brandon Williams. The 30-year-old defensive tackle sat out two games this season, and he still finished with his most defensive snaps (528) since 2016. Anytime a behemoth like Williams comes back from a midseason knee injury, no matter how small, load management is important. He’s been stout against the run and much improved as a pass rusher (career-high five quarterback hits). If Williams has any extra juice after sitting out Week 17 and the week off, watch out.
Walker: Mark Ingram II is the obvious choice because he might not have been able to play last weekend. But the time off should pay serious dividends for guard Marshal Yanda and safety Earl Thomas III, both of whom have many miles on their bodies.
Do you expect to see new wrinkles in the Ravens offense this postseason?
Doon: Yes. In his final five games of the regular season, rookie receiver Marquise Brown was targeted just 17 times and caught 11 passes for 65 yards. If he’s healthy, he’s due to receive more touches, perhaps even as runner on jet sweeps out of the backfield. If the Ravens offense needs a spark, Brown might be the player that provides it.
Oyefusi: For sure. Years ago, the Ravens broke out a goal-line pick play against the Pittsburgh Steelers that I had never seen during the regular season. Offensive players have spoken about how vast coordinator Greg Roman’s playbook is, and I’m sure he has a few more tricks he has yet to unveil.
Preston: There might not be new wrinkles that the average fan can see, but I suspect the Ravens will have some different looks to change any tendencies the Titans might have noticed on film. But at this point, the good teams basically stay with what got them here.
Schmuck: There certainly are some pages in the playbook that have not been incorporated yet, but the Ravens won’t need any trick plays unless the offense stalls for an extended period and the game is on the line. No one has stopped Lamar Jackson and the revolutionary offense in a long time, so there’s no reason to get fancy unless there is no alternative.
Shaffer: Even if Mark Ingram II’s injury limits the Ravens’ options somewhat, every big game seems to give Greg Roman a chance to show something new. Saturday’s matchup with Tennessee, which hasn’t faced the Ravens this season, might not require a changeup on offense. But if the Ravens win, their AFC championship game game plan should have some new bells and whistles.
Walker: It would be surprising if Greg Roman weren’t holding on to a few plays for special occasions. But the Ravens have already moved the ball with wondrous variety this season, so nothing would be hugely surprising.
With the Ravens and Chiefs on the rise and Tom Brady’s future uncertain, is the Patriots’ dynasty over?
Doon: Not yet. If Brady leaves and the Patriots turn to Jarrett Stidham or a rookie quarterback, maybe it is. But if Brady returns, and the Patriots find him some offensive weapons either through the draft, free agency or trades, the 42-year-old and coach Bill Belichick might be right back in the AFC championship hunt.
Oyefusi: This feels like the fifth time we’ve publicly declared “The Patriots’ dynasty is over.” Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger and the Patriots certainly looked mortal this season, but you can never count them out. If Brady, who for the first time in his career is expected to be a free agent, decides to leave Foxborough, a new era will obviously begin. But if he decides to run it back with the only franchise he has ever played for, the Patriots are still the best team in the AFC East and won’t be knocked out easily.
Preston: It’s hard to shovel dirt on the Patriots. We’ve tried it before and they’ve shoveled it back. Unless New England invests some serious money into playmakers, especially on offense, they are done. Brady is at the point in his career in which he can’t carry an offense alone.
Schmuck: That has a nice ring to it, but it would be a mistake to ever count out Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. They’ll probably still be together next season and the front office will fill some of the holes in the offense ... and they still play in the AFC East. Let’s be honest, if Rob Gronkowski had not retired, we wouldn’t be talking about this right now.
Shaffer: If a dynasty requires somewhat regular Super Bowl trips, I think it is over. As long as Bill Belichick is in charge, the Patriots will continue to have one of the NFL’s best defenses. But there’s no more important position in sports than quarterback, and a Tom Brady-led offense just came up short in back-to-back weeks against the Dolphins and Titans. Unless Brady finds the Fountain of Youth, or some receivers who can get open, championships are out of the question.
Walker: It’s over in the sense that the Patriots will no longer be the presumptive AFC favorite going into every season. But they were still a very good team this season with an elite defense that played well enough to win against the Titans. If Brady does stick around and the Patriots add a significant playmaker, they could be right back in the conference title game next year.
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