BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Baltimore Ravens enter tomorrow night’s matchup with the Tennessee Titans as heavy favorites in front of the home fans at M&T Bank Stadium. Boasting the league’s best scoring offense, third-best scoring defense and the seeming lock for the league’s MVP award in quarterback Lamar Jackson, it’s easy to see why.
The offense hasn’t really been stopped all year, scoring 20 points or more in every game this season including their two losses. But, there is one proven way to keep high-powered offenses from lighting up the scoreboard, aside from a dominant defense, which the Titans don’t have. What Mike Vrabel’s group does bring to the table is a pounding running game with Derrick Henry.
The fourth-year back ripped off 182 yards against New England in the team’s 20-13 win in the Wild Card round. It seemed that he could gain yards whenever he wanted, and as the game wore on, the Patriots defenders started to slide off his 6’3″ 238-pound (listed) frame. That kind of running game keeps the clock moving and affords fewer possessions, as the Ravens and their fans are no doubt aware having watched their unit do the same thing to teams this season. But, for as good as Henry looked against the Patriots, NFL On CBS analyst Dan Fouts points out there is one big difference between New England’s defense and the one Wink Martindale fields.
“Well, first of all, if you look at the makeup of the Ravens defense, they’re huge up front. Brandon Williams 336, Michael Pierce 345, Justin Ellis 350, and Peko 325,” said Fouts. “They’re space eaters. And they allow the linebackers to pretty much run without being hit. That is a little bit different than what New England presented.”
Those “space eaters,” as Fouts calls them, may not stand out on the stat sheet, but they make a big impact. Still, getting Henry to the ground has been easier said than done this season. He did lead the league in rushing yards, doing most of his damage in the third quarter, when defenses had begun to tire of tackling him. But, while Tennessee will look to control the clock and keep Baltimore’s offense off the field, the question of how to stop the Ravens offense still remains. And Fouts is quick to point out, even if you do everything right, Lamar is still likely to burn you.
“Nobody runs like Lamar Jackson, nobody ball handles the option play as well as he does. His relationship with both Ingram and Edwards at the mesh point is solid,” said Fouts. “How do you stop them? It’s the same story. You have to be good with your eyes as a defense, do your job and fill your responsibility. Hopefully, when you’re face to face with him, you can bring him down. But, that’s been a big problem with a lot of teams that have the right assignment and the right play called and there they are to make the tackle. Then, poof, he’s gone.”
The Ringer’s Kevin Clark got a great quote from Miami Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker in regards to why Jackson is so difficult for defenders to stop. He knows the angles of the game well and uses them to his advantage.
Thinking a lot about my conversation about Lamar Jackson with Dolphins LB Jerome Baker. He said Lamar isn’t great because he takes advantage of slow guys—though he does—it’s that he takes advantage of fast guys by using their own speed against them. https://t.co/3kKzF1T004 pic.twitter.com/JWpqO5ibkH
— Kevin Clark (@bykevinclark) January 8, 2020
Combine that with his success in the red zone, and former defensive coordinator Dean Pees has a big task on his hands as he returns to face his old team. Jackson threw for 24 touchdowns with zero interceptions once inside the 20 this year, and Fouts says it has a lot to do with the tight ends.
“It’s the tight ends. Andrews has 10 touchdowns, Boyle has two and Hurst has a couple,” said Fouts. “It’s basically that, and don’t forget about Mark Ingram out of the backfield. They’re very particular down there.”
When it comes to the key to this game, Fouts goes back to the likely nature and pace of this game based on both teams’ offensive styles. While pointing out that each team is likely to see fewer possessions, due to the dominating running games, he says that turnovers become even more important.
“I think it is going to be a limited-possession game because both teams run the ball well, which takes time off the clock. So you start thinking about time of possession and you start thinking about, well, we’re only going to get the ball so many times,” said Fouts. “If we have a turnover, we’re in trouble. It seems like in the playoffs that is always the key. Who prevents the turnover and who gets the turnover.”
Fouts will be on the call alongside Ian Eagle and sideline reporter Evan Washburn when the Ravens and Titans kick off their divisional round matchup at 8:15 p.m. EST on CBS.
You can watch the Ravens face the Titans at 8:15 p.m. Saturday on WJZ.
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