Playoff football is here once again for the Tennessee Titans, and this time, they’ll have the luxury of hosting a playoff game.
That’s right, for the first time since 2008, the Titans will host a playoff game at Nissan Stadium. Mediocrity and pitiful excuses for football plagued this team for most of the 2010s. But this year, Mike Vrabel’s team put it all together to win a division title, and finally receive the reward of a home playoff game.
Their first home playoff game in years will include a familiar opponent, one that Tennessee has plenty of postseason memories of, the Baltimore Ravens.
This game is shaping up to be the best Wild Card weekend has to offer, so let’s preview it all.
Major Storylines Heading Into The Game
Titans & Ravens Renew Their Rivalry of the Past
If you watched football during the early portion of the 2000s, you probably heard of the heated rivalry that the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens had.
Both teams were AFC powerhouses at the time, seemingly looking like the two best teams the conference had to offer. So when these type two teams started to regularly meet up in the playoffs, you could almost feel like each game wasn’t going to disappoint.
None of the games did, in fact, you could say each of those games exceeded the expectations anyone had before they even began.
From Ray Lewis’ iconic pick six in 2001, to Gary Anderson’s clutch, late game winning field goal in 2004, these match-ups always include some sort of dramatic play to seal the game at the end.
Years later, these two teams are meeting up again, and but compared to the teams of the past, there isn’t an overwhelming amount of hostility between these two teams.
Yes, there’s some juicy tension between the two teams due to the fact that the Ravens played this team two times in 2020, and lost both times while getting pushed around in the trenches
But the general feeling around this game is that both teams are strictly business, no extra trash talking and wars of words included.
The #Titans and Ravens are renewing their heated rivalry of the past.
But they’re doing so by doing it in a way unique to them.
— TreJean Watkins (@TreWatkins099) January 8, 2021
Baltimore Looks Like a Team to Be Reckoned With
The Baltimore Ravens found their selves in a bit of a sticky situation at the start of December.
COVID-19 was running rampant in their organization, sending dozens of players to the Reserve/COVID-19 list, and throwing off any sort of flow the team was trying to acquire late in the 2020 season.
COVID wasn’t the only concern for the Ravens either.
Baltimore was sitting outside of the playoff picture with a month to go in the year, with a handful of key players still waiting to be cleared of any COVID-19 troubles. These unfortunate circumstances left the Ravens fighting to get their selves back into the picture, let alone secure a playoff spot.
But instead of falling victim to the negativity that surrounded the team, they hunkered down, and kept playing their brand of football until they officially returned to the postseason.
They did so while riding the backs of the recognizable success in the run game, which was a welcome sight considering how inconsistent the run game was weeks prior.
Now after reeling off an impressive streak of wins, Baltimore in back in the playoffs, and ready show the rest of the AFC that they can’t be forgotten about just yet.
Match-Ups to Watch
1. Brandon Williams & Calais Campbell vs. Titans iOL
When Derrick Henry rushed for over 130 yards during the Titans’ Week 11 win against the Ravens, he did it against a Ravens front that didn’t have Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell wreaking havoc on the defensive line.
However, both players are back for this game, and will pose a challenge to the Titans’ rather impressive interior offensive line trio of Rodger Saffold, Ben Jones, and Nate Davis.
If the Titans can slow down Campbell and Williams in the run game, then it’ll become much easier for the Titans’ offense to maneuver their way up and down the field.
#Titans HC Vrabel on problems Ravens' Brandon Williams causes: "I think he's stout. He's instinctive as well, plays with his hands and a body lean."
— Kayla Anderson (@KaylaAndersonTV) January 6, 2021
2. Titans’ Front 7 vs. Ravens’ Run Game
We know what we’re going to get with Baltimore.
A diverse run scheme that that takes full advantage of the skill set Lamar Jackson possesses. His electrifying straight line speed gives this Ravens offense the wings it needs to fly, and makes life a living hell for all other 31 opposing defenses.
That’s where the Titans’ journey to win defensively starts at.
Containing Jackson, and making sure you keep his big plays in the run game to a minimum. Then slowing down JK Dobbins and the rest of the Ravens’ rushing attack, while forcing Jackson to beat you with his arm.
It’s easier said than done, but it’s a formula that’s worked well in the past and has continued to work this year, so it’s valid.
The Titans employed 3 man DL fronts on run downs. They didn't explicitly use a Tite/Mint front all the time, but the concepts were very similar. No edge defender on the DL. All interior gaps covered. It gave BAL fits. 4/x pic.twitter.com/wsdNV8tNAn
— Superhorn (@Super_Horn) January 8, 2021
This Titans defense is bad, but it had one of its best performances of the year against Baltimore in Week 11, only allowing 24 points, and playing legitimate shut down defense in the 2nd half.
Things are obviously different this time around, so it’d be foolish to expect a repeat performance.
Still, the Titans showed they could limit the damage the Ravens could do in the run game, so it’s a necessary past example to bring up.
Tennessee Titans: MLB David Long Jr.
When you begin the discussion of how to slow down Lamar Jackson and this potent Ravens run game, it has to start with the play of your linebackers.
David Long Jr. has played really well after taking over for the injured Jayon Brown in late November, and his play will be especially crucial towards the Titans’ effort to limit the success of the Ravens’ run game. He’s a mobile linebacker that can use his speed to make plays in and outside the box, a must for your linebackers when you’re playing this specific rushing attack.
— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) January 9, 2021
If David Long Jr. can hold his own in the power run game, and pursue ball carriers when they bounce plays outside, it’ll go a long way towards the Titans playing much better defensive football, and moving on in the playoffs.
Baltimore Ravens: TE Mark Andrews
Mark Andrews isn’t having the same type of prolific year he had in 2019, but he’s still making a big impact in this Ravens offense.
The Titans usually struggle with tight ends, and it’s due to a plethora of shortcomings the Titans simply can’t fix overnight. Andrews is one of Lamar Jackson’s favorite targets, specifically across the middle and in the red zone.
If Andrews can cause some trouble in the back end of this Titans secondary, then it’s going to be really difficult for the Titans’ defense to find stops throughout the game.
While this game could go either way, I’m concerned about the Titans’ ability to stop the run on defense. The Ravens’ run game is rolling right about now, and I don’t see any way the Titans slow it down.
I think this game will be close for about 3 1/2 quarters, until the Ravens pull away in the 4th quarter.