Friday, January 9, 2009

What to Watch For: Ravens @ Titans

Ravens @ Titans
The Ravens defense has been stingy and exceptional most of the season. Miami had major trouble moving the ball for most of the game at Baltimore and the defense forced 5 turnovers against a Dolphins squad that led the league in least committed turnovers. The Ravens offense wasn't exactly stellar, but as usual, they got the job done.

The Titans are your prototypical successful playoff team. The run the ball and stop the run. And they do both of these things very, very well. They're very similar to the Ravens, except their defense isn't quite as good, but they have a much better rushing attack. It seemed as if they weren't as good as their hot start indicated, but they took down the Steelers at the end of season to solidify the top spot.

What I'll be watching for when they face-off:

  • Kevin Mawae is out for the Titans and his absence will definitely have an affect on the Titans run game. The question is how much? If the Titans are going to win, they need to be successful running the ball and missing interior linemen is not a good start.

  • Chris Johnson and LenDale White are the best running one-two punch in the league and you can be sure that the Ravens are going to be loading the box on most downs. I think Chris Johnson is phenomenal and the better back, but he needs LenDale to soften the Ravens up so he can find some holes. If I was Jeff Fisher, I'd lean on LenDale heavy in the first half and hope that Johnson runs wild in the second half.

  • The only way to best a great defense is to attack it. The Ravens thrive on controlling the tempo of the game with their defense, so if Tennessee is tenative out of the gate they're going to have their hands full early.

  • It is important for Tennessee to grind it out and avoid an early deficit. If Kerry Collins starts throwing the ball a lot, Ed Reed is going to have a field day. And he's consistently shown that if he gets his hands on it, he's taking it for six, almost everytime. It has gotten to the point that I'm wondering how he would fare with a few offensive touches. He's shown the ability to follow blockers, read tacklers, and make the right cut to get to the endzone. Why not send him on a toss and run him behind an overload of pulling blockers? It's slightly unorthodox, but what have you got to lose?

  • Joe Flacco has his hands full against this defense. He's going to have to make some plays because he can't rely on Ed Reed to put up points for him every week. Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain do a nice job on the ground and Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Todd Heap are find in the receiving game, but none of them are good enough to take over and take it off Flacco's shoulders. At some point in the game, he's going to have to lead them down the field and get a score, or they're not gonna win the game.

  • Most importantly about Flacco, I think it should be necessary to yell his name is your best New York accent: JOE FLACCO!

  • Ray Lewis gets a lot of credit, but it's pretty obvious that he's not the best player on this defense anymore. He's the emotional leader, but it's Reed, Suggs, and McAllister who have to make the plays.

  • Albert Haynesworth should wreak havoc on the Ravens O-line, but I think they'll find a way to get aroudn him.

Prediction Time: Ravens 17, Titans 16

This one was just a hunch, but I think the Ravens are going to sneak away with a win. Flacco was 9/23 passing last week and I think he'll be slightly better this time around, maybe a 15/25 type performance. Also, I don't think Collins is going to play mistake free and possibly a running back fumble is going to lead to defensive points (most likely by Ed Reed). I'm not expecting a ton of scoring in this one, but I think Chris Johnson is the X-factor. If he runs wild, they win. If he doesn't, they lose.

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