(WJZ)- The week is finally here.
Anticipation for the Ravens first playoff game has been building since Week 16, when the team clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win over the Cleveland Browns. It was just a matter of who they would play.
After a thrilling Wild Card win over the New England Patriots, the Tennessee Titans have presented themselves as that foe. Running back Derrick Henry had a massive day, racking up 182 yards on 34 carries in leading the Titans to the 20-13 win. Henry was the leading rusher in the NFL this season, and at a listed 6’3″ and 237 pounds, he presents a unique blend of power and speed that has proven difficult to stop.
But, NFL Today and Inside The NFL analyst Phil Simms believes that Wink Martindale’s unit has the necessary components to slow the focal point of the Titans offense.
“The Ravens defense, let’s not forget they’re one of the biggest defensive fronts in the NFL. Michael Pierce, Brandon Williams inside. Probably the two biggest defensive tackles, as a pair, in the NFL,” said Simms. “And not only that, they’ve got depth. They’ve got a lot of guys; once the big guys get tired, they bring in another set of big guys. There’s no doubt that this week’s going to be tougher running the football for Derrick Henry.”
Simms highlights one of the biggest problems teams have had stopping Henry this season. Late in games, his powerful stature and running style has often worn opponents down. In the second half of games, Henry has posted over 1,000 yards this season at a 5.6-yards-per-carry clip. He is particularly dangerous in the third quarter, with a 6.6-yards-per-carry average and nine touchdowns on the season.
The good news for the Ravens is they do have a guy like Domata Peko, who can come in and help spell either Williams or Pierce if need be as the front tries to contain Henry. And, while stopping Henry will, of course, be a big part of Sunday’s game plan, the Ravens will get to test the Tennessee defense as well. While Henry has been slowed at times this year, the Ravens’ offense, really hasn’t. That’s why Simms believes the Titans defense will have to try to hang on early, in what is sure to be a raucous atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium.
“I think that plan is let’s play it safe, not take chances, get a feel for the game, especially early, and don’t let it get away, because Baltimore is explosive running and throwing. They can be explosive on the defensive side with their secondary,” said Simms. “The emotion is going to be off the charts down in Baltimore. So Tennessee, their big thing is weather the storm, get a feel for the pace of the game, and then, knowing Tennessee and Mike Vrabel, grind it to a halt and see if you can keep it low-scoring and close all the way to the end.”
That has been easier said than done for opponents this season. The Ravens have outscored their opponents by an average of 8-2 in the first quarter, and 17-9 in the first half. Tennessee certainly has the ball-control style of offense capable of making the game a lower-scoring affair. But, the Ravens have been quick starters so far this season, so Saturday night will be an interesting test of which style prevails.
Kickoff between the Titans and Ravens is set for Saturday at 8:15 p.m. EST on CBS.