Three keys for the Titans-Ravens game.
The Titans surprised but didn't shock the football world when they upset the New England Patriots last Saturday night. The Patriots were good with the best defense in football but the Titans are on of the hottest teams in the NFL and have the NFL's rushing champion in Derrick Henry. Now they face the best team in football, the Baltimore Ravens are 14-2 and haven't lost since week four. Here are three keys to the game for both teams
1. Running game: As mentioned above, Derrick Henry was the top rusher this season. The Ravens have the best rushing attack we've seen in a while, possibly ever rushing for over 3000 yards this season. Lamar Jackson broke Michael Vick's quarterback rushing record with 1206 rushing yards. Both Ravens and Titans are in the top three in rushing yards per game and both teams are in the top four of highest run percentages in the NFL.
That's enough of the stats. Bottom line, expect both teams to run the ball and run a lot. As a key to the game, it should be stated that not only will the team that has a better rushing attack will win but the team that owns time of possession and creates manageable third downs with their running attack will win on Saturday night. Both teams not only need to run effectively, but should avoid getting into obvious passing downs.
2. Shaking those early jitters: The Ravens have had three weeks off. In most ways this helps them as they get back stars that wouldn't have been able to play without the rest and the team can be well prepared for the game. This can also hurt as they may be rusted from too much dead time. The last team we saw take "three weeks off" was the Dallas Cowboys in 2016 as they rested their stars in week 17 and then got the bye week, they lost in the divisional round to the Packers. The Ravens shouldn't get behind early and can't play lethargically. If they start the game off hot, they can take the Titans out early.
The Titans have an opposite problem. They came off a stunning victory in New England and are riding high off the upset. They now face the best team in the league. The Titans have to put that victory behind them if they want to beat Baltimore, moreover they can't afford to fall behind early to the Ravens. The Ravens specialize in taking teams out of games early, the Titans must come out hot.
3. Special teams: This seems like an odd factor in deciding a playoff game. Special teams could decide this game with both teams having strong units overall.
While the Titans have gone through numerous place-kickers this season, they have no problem at punter. Brett Kern is one of the best punters in the NFL and last week he constantly was able to pin the Patriots and win the field position battle. In a game like this one, field position could be the deciding factor and the difference between the Ravens starting a drive at the 20 yard-line compared to a drive starting at the 5 yard-line is of the upmost importance.
One thing the Ravens don't have to worry about in a game like this is scoring, especially if they are in enemy territory. Justin Tucker is considered by many the best kicker in the NFL and might even be in the Hall of Fame at the end of his career. If the Ravens need a clutch kick, they can rely on Justin Tucker. If the game becomes a defensive struggle, those field goals will add up.
It's also noteworthy to mention that John Harbaugh is a former special teams coach. Don't be surprised if there's a trick play, fake punt, or surprise onside-kick in store for today's game. The Ravens appear to have the advantage when it comes to special teams and in a divisional round playoff game, that will help them if this game becomes close.