Well, here we are again. As if 2020 couldn’t have sparked enough deja-vu moments with endless Groundhog Day-like routines, we’re awarded with yet another one. The Baltimore Ravens will take on the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs.
But are things actually different this time around? Is 2021 a time for change and surprises we’re actually looking forward to?
Baltimore is arguably one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now. The Ravens are riding a five-game winning streak in which the offense has found its footing and the defense has started to get healthier. Baltimore appears to be on a resolute mission — not just an unexpected tear — to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
Yet once again, the Titans stand in their way. Can the Ravens learn from last year’s mistakes and move past this game, earning their first playoff win in the Lamar Jackson era? Let’s take a look at our keys to making that result happen.
Ravens offense: Hit on big plays
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In the playoff loss to the Titans last year, the Ravens found themselves in a hole early and were not able to dig themselves out of it. This year, Tennessee's defense is nowhere near as good. While the Titans will want to pound the rock and dominate, Baltimore finding ways to pull off chunk plays on the ground -- but especially through the air -- could force quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Tennessee's offense out of their comfort zone. -- Neil Dutton
Ravens offense: Get a lead early and force Tennessee to look away from Derrick Henry
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If the Ravens build a lead early, Tennessee will look to throw the ball, taking the Titans' best player out of the game. Henry led the NFL with 2,027 rushing yards in the regular season. He was also the difference in Tennessee’s victory over the Ravens in Week 11 rushing for 133 yards including the 29-yard touchdown run in overtime to seal the win. Henry also gashed the Ravens in the Divisional Round of the 2019 NFL Playoffs rushing for 195-yards and throwing a 3-yard touchdown. If Baltimore wants to win this game they will need to do score points efficiently and keep Henry cold. P.S.: The Ravens signed Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe in the offseason for this exact matchup. -- Robert Sobus
Ravens offense: Convert in the red zone
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In the earlier matchup between the two teams in the regular season, Baltimore went up by two scores early in the third quarter and then scored three points for the rest of the game. A big reason for that was because the Ravens only converted on one of four red-zone attempts, leaving a heap of points on the board. If they can be more efficient inside the red zone, they'll have a much better shot to win the game.
Ravens defense: Play consistent football for 60 minutes
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The Ravens have struggled to play a good 60 minutes of football, especially on defense. It's been an issue that's been identified by players, coaches, media members, and fans alike. In the playoffs, a defense taking their foot off the pedal can come back to bite them later in the game. Baltimore needs to come out with energy and play like the score is 0-0 for the whole contest
Ravens offense: Receivers have to make plays
AP Photo/Nick Wass
Derrick Henry is the Titans' most threatening weapon on either side of the ball. The Ravens will need to put points on the board quickly to force Tennessee to abandon Henry on the ground, making them more one-dimensional. This is where the wide receiver corps must step up. Receivers need to make crisp cuts and show off their speed to create separation and give quarterback Lamar Jackson bigger windows to throw into. Balls can't hit a guy in the hands and then fall to the turf. If Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Willie Snead, and Dez Bryant can consistently get open and make tough catches, the Ravens should be able to get an early lead and rely on the legs of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards to finish things off. -- Robert Sobus
Ravens defense: Get off the field on 3rd downs
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The defense is obviously going to focus on stopping running back Derrick Henry, especially on early downs. But if they want to get off the field and have the best shot of winning this game, the Ravens will need to force incompletions on third downs. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill is seriously underrated, especially when it comes to staring down pressure and still making great throws. While Tennessee rightfully puts the game into Henry's hands, Tannehill has come through clutch for the Titans over the last two years because he's harder to fluster and is efficient when throwing the ball. Getting consistent pressure on Tannehill with a four-man rush will help them accomplish that, but the real work comes down to the secondary doing its job. Cornerbacks need to press at the line of scrimmage to force plays to take longer to develop and give Tannehill smaller windows to throw into. Linebackers need to read the play quickly as to not get caught up in play-action while also sticking to the hip of their man in coverage. The safeties have to show better range than they have in recent weeks, covering a lot of ground to not only help the cornerbacks and linebackers out with any lapses in coverage but to also take away the deep game and force the Titans to have to drive down the field rather than eat up yards in chunks. It's a lot to accomplish and one player slipping up can open a throwing lane and give Tennessee a first down. But if done well and consistently, the Ravens' defense will be able to get off the field on first downs, limit the points the Titans can put up, and likely create some turnovers the offense can capitalize on. -- Matthew Stevens
Ravens offense: Don't get cute
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The Ravens have been playing outstanding football as of late, and look to be returning to their 2019 form. The key is that they've stopped trying to force things (I'm looking mostly at you Lamar Jackson), stuck to their game plan, and hit the big plays when they're available. And maybe most importantly, they look like they're having fun again. At the beginning of the season, the onus seemed to be on turning this offense into a pass-happy version similar to what we've seen in Kansas City, something these Ravens are decidedly not. And when the chips got down early on, either as a result of playing a hard-nosed, tough opponent or giving up a few scores off-key mistakes, Baltimore suddenly seemed to get in its own head and changed things up out of the blue, with mostly disastrous results. If the Ravens can rely on their running game early while offering a healthy dose of the zone-read looks that confuse even the best defenses, the passing game will open up and the bigger plays will appear. Tennessee's defense is far from elite and should have a hard enough time containing the legs of Jackson and Dobbins. Once the Titans sell out to stop the run game, the opportunities to do serious damage will be there and the game could turn into a blowout quickly. Stick to the game plan and don't get cute by over-thinking the offense. If the offense does that, this one should fall right into Baltimore's hands, leading to another big win and advancement to the next round. -- Alex Bente