Lessons from Ravens' loss to Titans last season remain ever present originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
As the Ravens emptied their lockers less than 12 hours after they walked off the field at M&T Bank Stadium in a 28-12 loss to the Titans last January, optimism still reigned supreme.
The majority of the Ravens’ roster was set to come back. They had still finished the regular season 14-2 with a record-breaking offense despite the disappointing loss. Expectations for the 2020 season were, to put it lightly, sky high.
Baltimore added defensive ends Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe in the offseason through a trade and free agency. They drafted inside linebacker Patrick Queen with their first choice in April’s draft. All moves were made, assuredly, with some thoughts of how Derrick Henry and the Titans ran through the Ravens in last year’s AFC Divisional round.
Sunday, though, any feelings of revenge are suppressed. The Ravens are 6-3 and may need to win out to have a chance at winning their third-straight AFC North title. The offense is sputtering and has been all year long due to an inconsistent passing attack. The defense, especially the front, is injured. Simply, the Ravens have bigger fish to fry than to focus on getting the Titans back.
“It’s not a revenge game,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said Wednesday. “The game is over with. It was last year. We just fell short. We can’t do anything about it. We’re just going into this game trying to be 7-3 – that’s all. We’re not looking into it like a revenge game.”
The Ravens, though, would surely love nothing more than to be able to focus on revenge.
Last year at home, they were handed an unexpected and embarrassing loss to a Titans team that, essentially, had no passing game to speak of. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed just seven passes all game.
Instead, the Titans offense revolved around Henry and his 195 yards on the ground. The Ravens’ front seven couldn’t stop him as the Titans marched out to a 28-6 lead.
In the offseason, the Ravens added Campbell and Wolfe, drafted two defensive linemen (Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington) and retained Justin Ellis. It was clear Henry’s 195 yard outburst was something the organization didn’t want to happen again.
But Campbell likely won’t be available on Sunday due to a calf injury, and the same goes for defensive tackle Brandon Williams due to an ankle injury. For as much as the Ravens upgraded their front in the offseason after the Titans’ loss, the depth will be tested Sunday.
“Lou Holtz always used to tell us this: ‘90 percent of the people in the world don’t care about your problems. The other 10% are glad you have them,’” defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said. “And that’s the way this league is. I think the way we drafted, the free agents we signed, and everything else, that they need to step up, and play their role, and what’s expected of them.”
Last season’s loss wasn’t just on the defense, though. The league-best offense scored just 12 points and committed costly mistake after costly mistake. Jackson made a horrendous throw on an out route to Miles Boykin in Titans territory, which was intercepted. He didn’t feel pressure coming from behind and fumbled while being sacked. He made outstanding plays, sure, but he wasn’t was MVP self.
The Ravens, as a whole, weren’t able to stretch the ball down the field in the loss with the exception of one or two plays. So Jackson spent the entire offseason working on throws outside the numbers, improving his play as a pocket passer.
The offense was plagued by drops all game, miscues that either directly led to turnovers or took big plays away from the Ravens. So they drafted Devin Duvernay and James Proche, two of the surest-handed wideouts in the draft.
The running game hit a wall with Mark Ingram hampered, which left Jackson on his own to handle the offense basically by himself. So the Ravens drafted running back J.K. Dobbins in the second round and have relied more heavily on Gus Edwards this season.
Last year’s loss to the Titans may not be on the minds of the Ravens as they head into Sunday, but it certainly had an impact on the way the roster was constructed.
“We watched film from last year and just watched film on what ‘22’ can do, and the way the O-line blocks and all that stuff,” Madubuike said. “It’s going to come down to a very physical football game. We have respect for what ‘22’ can do, but at the end of the day, it’s about us.”
And in a more practical sense, the Ravens are fighting for their playoff lives, something no one thought possible just a few weeks or months ago.
At 6-3, they’ll face one of the AFC’s six 6-3 teams in the Titans. Then, the Ravens will have a short week before a Thanksgiving night tango with the Steelers. A loss to the Steelers would almost mathematically end the Ravens’ chances of winning the division.
In order to beat the banged up Titans, and more importantly put the team back on track, the Ravens will need their defensive front to step up. They’ll need the offense to rally together with a reshaped offensive line. They’ll need to stop Henry, a task few teams have done this year.
Revenge? Sure, that’d be a nice benefit to a win on Sunday for the Ravens. But right now, they have more pressing matters at hand.