By Charles Jay
There aren’t all that many secrets about the way the offenses are going to be operating as the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans clash in the AFC Divisional Round game on Saturday night.
But how the respective defenses are going to throw a monkey wrench into the other’s plans is something else entirely.
We THINK we know how they are going to approach it, so that’s what we’re going to be talking about. The game will be kicking off at 4:35 PM ET at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
In the odds off which we will make our AFC playoff picks on this game, the Ravens are decisive favorites:
Baltimore Ravens -9.5
Tennessee Titans +9.5
Over 47.5 points -110
Under 47.5 points -110
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It is incumbent upon the Titans, who scored a 20-13 win at New England last weekend, to run the ball first. And they have about as good a guy as any to help them do it. Derrick Henry led the NFL with 1540 rushing yards this season, but it didn’t start out that way. In fact, he did not exceed 100 yards in any of the first nine games. But what he has done over his last seven games has been nothing short of sensational. Henry has run for 1078 yards during that period, for an average of 6.2 yards per attempt, with eleven TD’s, and this includes 182 yards last week against the Patriots.
How important is it for the Titans to establish the run? Well, it sets up their play-action game, and in those situations where he has thrown a play-action pass, Ryan Tannehill has averaged 14.3 yards per attempt. That’s big.
Baltimore is dead set on stopping the run first, as they probably should be. But they don’t think that Tannehill can beat them through the air if it comes down to that. Earl Thomas has been outspoken about that. In other words, they are assuming they’ll be able to stuff Henry and then force Tennessee to live off the pass.
There are a few problems with this. One is that for all the ferocity that some associate with their image, the Ravens are not all that great at defending the run. They are 19th in stuff rate, and extremely vulnerable once a back gets beyond ten yards. Henry has 968 yards after contact – 86 more than anyone else – averaging 3.2 “YAC” on each carry.
Also, who really thinks that even if the Ravens do a really good job on Henry, Tannehill won’t still operate play-action? The very presence of Henry in the game is enough that Baltimore will have to account for him.
I wonder if people are still discounting what Tannehill can do. He has excelled in just about every category, and done so while getting the poorest pass protection in the NFL from his offensive line, whose Adjusted Sack Rate was the worst in the league.
Tannehill has a 120.3 passer rating against blitzes. That is actually higher than his overall rating of 114.7, which led the league and is the fifth highest in history. You saw his 14.3 ypa with play-action. That, we would say, compares favorably with that of Lamar Jackson (5.47). And perhaps it would surprise you to know that Tannehill, the former Texas A&M wide receiver, averaged eleven yards per scramble, the same as Jackson.
By the way, Jackson has completed only 43% of his passes to wide receivers, preferring to concentrate on tight ends, who constitute three of the team’s top five pass-catchers. And it’s our feeling that the Titans will try to scheme something to force Jackson to throw the ball downfield. He was only 20th in the league in “air yards” (yards that passes actually traveled) and 10th in air yards per attempt. I’m not convinced he can excel that way, although making him do it is easier said than done.
Jackson has 24 TD passes without an interception in the red zone, and the Titans have allowed TD’s in 68% of red zone trips. That doesn’t bode well for them. But with Tannehill at the controls, Tennessee has scored a touchdown 87% of the time in the red zone, and that is almost inconceivable.
But Jackson has had to lead only one fourth-quarter comeback. The Ravens have outscored their opponents by a 97-point margin in the first quarter. That accounts for 39% of their point differential. If the Titans and their defensive coordinator Dean Pees (who previously held that position with the Ravens) throw some wrinkles at Jackson, that make take him some extra time to adjust to, as we also consider that many of these offensive starters have not played in THREE weeks.
You know, if you take the whole Tennessee season into account,which includes their awful performance with Marcus Mariota at quarterback, that’s one thing. But if you look at that which happened after Tannehill took over and put together one of the most efficient seasons in recent memory, along with the efforts of Henry during that time, you’ll see a whole different ballclub. And that team is not deserving of being a 9.5-point underdog here. So we’re taking the points.
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