Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, January 8, 2021

Titans seem to have Ravens’ number

But can they make it 3 in a row?

Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill has plenty of weapons on offense and will need them all to make up for a porous defense against the Ravens in the round of the playoffs Sunday. - Photo by Matt Patterson | AP

The Ringo Starr classic “It Don’t Come Easy” might be a fitting theme song to the Tennessee Titans’ 2020 season.

How else can you explain a team that has a 2,000-yard rusher in Derrick Henry, a 1,000-yard receiver in A.J. Brown and a quarterback in Ryan Tannehill with more than 3,800 yards passing needing a last-second field goal from a practice squad kicker to sew up its first division title in 12 years?

The Titans end the regular season 11-5, their best finish since their 13-3 2008 campaign. Despite the ups and downs of a regular season fraught with defensive deficiencies, the Titans are getting ready to host the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the AFC playoffs Sunday at noon at Nissan Stadium.

“There is a lot to fix and correct, but we’re not going to apologize for winning 11 games in the National Football League,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel says.

Actually, for a defense that managed just 19 sacks this season, allowed opponents to convert 51.8% of third down tries and allowed the opposition to hold the ball for nearly 32 minutes per game on average (despite having a 2,000-yard rusher in Henry to control the clock), the Ravens might be the best possible first-round matchup the Titans could find.

The Titans already know they can beat Baltimore, having done so twice on the road in the last calendar year. Tennessee went to Baltimore and derailed the Ravens’ Super Bowl plans last year as a six seed, upsetting a No. 1. Then, this year, coming off an unimpressive loss at home to the Indianapolis Colts, they somehow gathered themselves and won in Baltimore again just two months ago.

It’s similar to when Jeff Fisher took his 1999 team to Jacksonville for a third meeting with the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game. Many thought the Titans could not defeat Jacksonville a third time, but Fisher used that notion of the first two wins brilliantly by explaining to his team that the Titans already knew they could beat the Jaguars. The Jags didn’t know if they could defeat the Titans.

Fisher was correct, as his Titans were definitely in the Jaguars’ heads.

The same just might work in the Titans’ favor when it comes to dealing with Lamar Jackson. Jackson, no doubt, will come to Nashville for Sunday’s early game seeking to atone for two consecutive lackluster performances.

For whatever reason, the Titan defense, with its lack of a pass rush and its spotty secondary play, has risen to the challenge of being able to keep Jackson relatively in check. Sure, he threw for 365 yards in the playoff game, but by throwing 59 times – and committing two turnovers – Jackson played right into the Titans’ hands.

The Titans caught Jackson and the Ravens when they were not quite hitting on all cylinders back on Nov. 22. The Titans limited Lamar to 51 yards rushing and 186 yards passing, making him look out of sync.

There is no doubting that the Ravens are playing much better now than they were when the Titans visited them in November. But Jackson still must prove himself against the Titans and in the playoffs. For all his regular-season dazzling, he has yet to win a postseason game.

The Titans have employed different approaches in those two wins against the Ravens.

In the playoff game last year, Tennessee stunned Baltimore by jumping to a quick 14-0 lead and letting Derrick Henry run roughshod over the Ravens’ defense on their way to a convincing 28-12 victory.

This season, the Titans were not in a good place early on, trailing by 11 points in the third quarter before rallying and taking a 30-24 overtime victory when Henry ripped a 29-yard touchdown run in the extra time.

For all the talk about how this Titans might not be able to overcome its defensive woes to duplicate or exceed last year’s surprise playoff run, the truth is this year’s playoff push at least starts in a familiar spot against a familiar foe, and that’s not the worst place to start.