Contain, Control, Combust: Three keys to a Ravens win over the Titans
By Darin McCann
There is a clear path for the Baltimore Ravens to end the Tennessee Titans season: Contain, control, and combust. Do this, and victory is assured.
Ultimately, we all knew it would come down to this for the 2020 Baltimore Ravens season.
We’re past successful regular seasons and watching steady development from young quarterback Lamar Jackson. For this team, at this time, it’s all about playoff performance — or lack thereof. And isn’t it poetic that the Ravens get the chance to prove that they are a different kind of playoff team this year than in recent years against the very team that brutally smacked the team from last year’s postseason, and left much of the Flock with crow in their mouths?
And here we are. Wild Card Weekend of the 2020 season and the Ravens are squaring off with Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill, and the Tennessee Titans. The Ravens have peeled off five straight wins to get to this point and appear to be peaking at the right time. But they came into last year’s matchup riding the wave of a 12-game streak, and wielding a shield of perceived invincibility. How does this team create a different result this time, you might ask?
Go ahead. Ask. I already have it figured out, and have done so in a tidy alliterative package — Contain, Control, Combust. I’ll explain:
It starts with Henry. Or, if all goes bad, it all ends due to Henry.
The powerful back steamrolled Ravens defenders and sent former safety Earl Thomas into orbit with a vicious stiff-arm last season, exploding for 195-yards on 30 carries. He also added a 3-yard touchdown pass in the game, just to add a little salt to the gaping wound. Earlier this season, in another Titans’, win over the Ravens, Henry ran for 133-yards on 28 carries, including a 29-yard-run in overtime to secure the win. The man does not play around.
The Ravens gave their defensive line a facelift this past offseason, adding Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell to a unit featuring Brandon Williams in part to help contain running backs like Henry, while hopefully improving their ability to push the pocket from the interior. In this year’s regular-season matchup, Williams and Campbell weren’t available. Would they have made the difference? Who knows?
But all hands will be on deck this go-around, and the hope is that those three mountains of men, combined with the chase-and-hit capabilities of rookie linebacker Patrick Queen, can help contain Henry. This is key. They aren’t going to completely shut him down, but stopping big runs, and consistent significant rips from Henry can go a long way in helping to slow a dangerous Titans offense.
The Ravens need to control the ball and simply can not afford to have very many three-and-out possessions. They need to do this to generate offense on their own and wear down the Titans’ defense, and they need to keep Henry off the field to prevent him from wearing down their own defense. This is the epitome of “complementary football.”
They can do this with possession passes to Mark Andrews and Willie Snead to keep moving the chains and they can certainly do it riding the legs of Jackson, rookie back J.K. Dobbins, and the ever-improving Gus Edwards. In fact, this is what the Ravens do very, very well — maintaining control of the football and generating points off long possessions.
The Titans surrender 120.8 yards of offense a game on the ground, and the Ravens produce an average of 191.9 yards a game. This will be a big factor in how this game goes, but don’t pin it all on the ground game. Jackson will have to complete some third-down passes to keep the ball in the Ravens’ hands. This will be a huge determinant in this week’s game.
In a game as tight as this is expected to be, it will be imperative that the Ravens combust for a couple of big plays to swing the momentum — and, potentially, the score.
We’ve seen Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin make more big plays downfield as of late, and that is expected to still be available with the Titans anticipated to “sell out” against the Ravens formidable run game. But, keep in mind, big plays can come from just about anywhere on the field. Jackson and Dobbins are both capable of long runs against aggressive defenses, and we’ve seen Andrews explode for big plays in the past.
The Ravens would also happily welcome a combustible play from Devin Duvernay in the return game, or a defensive touchdown, which this unit does just about as well as any team in the league. Turnovers, special teams, and explosive downfield plays can determine the winner of two evenly-matched teams.
• Jackson does hit his playoff stride and combines for 275-plus yards with three total touchdowns and no turnovers. It is a calmer Jackson this go-around who lets the game come to him.
• The Ravens do a better job on Henry overall, limiting his big runs, but he still manages to hit the century mark on the ground.
• Marcus Peters goes “Marcus Peters” and allows one touchdown through the air, but returns the favor with a pick-six.
Ravens 34 Titans 24