By Josh Satler – www.profootball101.org
When the 12-5 Ravens head into Tennessee to face the 13-3 Titans, a defensive war is certain to take place. Both teams are ranked in the top seven defenses in the NFL, with Baltimore coming at No. 2 and Tennessee at No. 7. They’re two and three respectively in the AFC.
The last time they met, Week Five, controversy and penalties propelled the Titans to a 13-10 win. A controversial fourth-down call late in the game allowed the drive to continue and Collins threw a GW TD with seconds left.
It’ll take more than that this time for Tennessee to duplicate that effort, but after having the bye week to rest up, they should be up to the task.
But it won’t be easy.
The Ravens are on an absolute roll. After losing a last-second heartbreaker to the division rival Steelers, one that was marred by controversy as well, they rebounded with a thorough whipping of the Cowboys in Dallas and a twenty point win vs the Jags to lock up the Playoff berth. And last week, they obliterated Chad Pennington and the Dolphins to win their Wild Card matchup, 27-9.
Now comes round two.
And here’s how we see this one playing out.
When the Ravens have the ball, look for them to remain committed to the run. They’ve taken to the Giants formula a bit in that they now feature Le’Ron McClain as their featured runner and use the bruiser to wear down defenses. Then, later in the game, in usually well picked spots, they give the ball to McGahee who’s been able to break some long ones in recent weeks.
Doing this against the Titans however will not be easy. The Titans are expected to have DT Albert Haynesworth and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch back for this one, and Fisher will have his team focused on stopping the run.
And the reason for this is he’s not afraid of Joe Flacco, the Ravens rookie QB. Although Flacco’s been outstanding this season, the Titans’ secondary is one of its strong points, so look for CB Finnegan to man up against Mason and take away the Ravens leading pass catcher.
This will force OC Cam Cameron to become more creative and target TE Todd Heap and WR Mark Clayton.
While the Ravens won’t have a lot of success through the air, Cameron is creative enough to put his team in favorable situations and should be able to find a few matchups that he can exploit. One is allowing Flacco to be mobile and either run or throw the ball, something he’s done quite well this season.
When the Titans have the ball, look for a similar blueprint: a lot of RB LenDale White and Chris Johnson to take pressure off of Collins. Although they’ve given most of their carries in the latter half of the season to Johnson, we see them taking a different approach on Sunday and trying to use White in the early phases to soften up this Ravens’ defense.
This approach would be intended to then allow Johnson to use his breakaway ability against a tired defense. Good luck.
The Ravens’ defense is playing as well as they have in recent memory and DC Rex Ryan is disguising his run-and-pass blitzing schemes brilliantly, so in short, don’t expect too much out of either runner.
When it comes time to pass, look for Collins to focus on the short, quick pass. The Ravens defense is providing so much pressure that Collins will not be afforded the time to take five to seven step drops. By that time, he’ll be on his back. And when Collins is put on his back, it affects his mindset greatly.
So look for OC Heimerdinger to target his TEs (Scaife, Crumpler) and use a lot of slant patters to his receivers when he attacks this defense.
As the clock winds down in this critical AFC Divisional Playoff game, look for the Ravens to pull off the mini-upset to the tune of 10-7 or 13-10. There will not be a lot of scoring in this one, and while you usually want to go with the veteran QB over the rookie.
Collins’ mindset will be affected by the Ravens’ relentless pass rush—just as it was in the 2000 Super Bowl, so it might come down to a defensive score that decides the game. And who’s better in the NFL today than S Ed Reed for that?
So the Ravens will advance to the AFC Championship Game and take on the winner of the Chargers and Steelers game, while the Titans will fall once again as the top seed to Baltimore, just as they did in 2000.