Divisional Playoff Preview: Ravens @ Titans
In a rematch of the 2000 AFC Divisional Playoff Game, the Ravens travel to Tennessee to take on the #1 seed Titans. There are enough similarities, even 8 years later, to give many Ravens and Titans fans a strong case of deja vu. Jeff Fisher is still the man in charge for the “Flaming Thumbtacks” (credit: TMQ), and 8 players from that game will again be on the field Saturday, although some of them have changed sides. For the Titans, LB Keith Bullock, DE Jevon Kearse, and P Craig Hentrich all played for the losing side on January 7, 2000, while the Ravens return Ray Lewis and Matt Stover from their championship team. The three Titans-turned-Ravens from that day are Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle, and Lorenzo Neal. Other changes of note include John Harbaugh replacing Brian Billick, and “LP Field” taking the place of “Adelphia Coliseum.”
It’s also a rematch of the Week 5 contest, won 13-10 by the Titans.
The Titans have not played a meaningful game since Week 16, when they locked up the #1 seed with a victory over Pittsburgh. Add in the Playoff bye, and it’s been 3 weeks now since the Titans played a snap that mattered. The Ravens, meanwhile, have been fighting for their lives every game this season, and with the premature Week 2 bye, that’s now 16 consecutive weeks of full-tilt football. A Titans fan would paint that with the “fresher team has the advantage” brush, but for Ravens fans, we’ll take the team riding the wave of intensity over the one who has to basically re-start their engines (especially after witnessing, first-hand, a Wild Card team come to our house and beat our “rested” #2 seeded team 2 years ago).
We dedicated the entire previous post to the running games of these two teams, which are their bread-n-butter on offense. With these defenses though, this one will likely come down to which quarterback is able to put his team in good positions, while avoiding costly turnovers. Holding onto the football has been a staple this year of both Joe Flacco’s and Kerry Collins’ game. Joe Cool is averaging just 1 turnover every 2 games over his past 12 (5 INT, 1 fum), while Collins has turned it over only 5 times since throwing 2 picks in Baltimore on October 5. Collins, despite his 36-years, still has a strong arm, and the Ravens won’t be able to pack everything inside the numbers like they did against Chadwick and his rag arm. Tennessee relies heavily on their tight ends, Bo Scaife (58-561-2) and Alge Crumpler (24-257-1), but WR Justin Gage, who missed the Week 5 matchup, averages 19 yards per catch, and had 6 scores.
Flacco just missed on several deep throws last Week in Miami, so expect the Ravens to continue to try to take some shots. The Titans have a talented secondary, and the Cortland Finnegan – Derrick Mason battle, which got a bit chippy the last go round, will be critical. Mason is Flacco’s favorite target, but Finnegan, 24, had 17 passes defended and 5 picks this season. Safeties Chris Hope and Michael Griffin round out a group that picked off quarterbacks 18 times.
The Titans can bring plenty of pressure on Joe Cool, especially with the return of both DE Kyle Vanden Bosch and DT Albert Haynesworth. Jevon Kearse, who by name alone may strike a bit of fear into the hearts of Ravens fans, is not what he once was – Kearse has registered exactly 3.5 sacks in each of the past 3 seasons. The Titans have great depth on the DL too, though, as evidenced by the rotation of no-names that played a huge part in beating Pittsburgh. They protected superbly last week against the Dolphins, but this week the Ravens OL won’t be able to focus too much on any one rusher, and Flacco will need to continue to show his improved pocket presence, stepping up and releasing the ball quickly.
Titans’ return man Chris Carr is solid, averaging 28.1 on kickoffs and 10.1 on punts, and the Ravens will need to contain him to win what will likely be a game-long field position battle. Yamon Figurs is a forgotten man for the Ravens, as Tom Zbikowski has taken over on kickoffs and Jim Leonhard on punts. Neither has breakaway speed, but both do a great job running north-and-south, and protect the football well, both things that Figurs seemingly forgot how to do in his sophomore slump. Unfortunately, Al Del Greco (remember his day in 2000?) has been replaced by Rob Bironas, who was 29/33 this year.
Life hasn’t always been a string of wins and cheering fans for Collins, who completed rehab for alcoholism after public embarrassments in the late 1990s such as a driving-under-the-influence arrest and a bar scuffle with a teammate.
Although his personal life is now as solid as this season’s won-loss record, he mines those dark days to find creative inspiration.For instance, the song I Don’t Need the Whiskey Anymore, about a man who trades his alcohol addiction for an addiction to a woman, contains his favorite line that he’s written: “I still get intoxicated but my head ain’t quite as sore.”
BMoreBirdsNest.com Disclaimer: Alcoholism isn’t funny. But Kerry Collins is.
We’ll see how sore his head is Saturday night, when his new addiction is apparently throwing passes to Ed Reed.
For the most part, this will be a slow, plodding-defensive affair. However, it being a bit higher scoring than most are predicting, due to a couple big plays by each side. Flacco-to-Clayton will
moonshine outshine Collins-to-Gage though, as the Ravens once again give Nashville plenty of inspiration for more depressing country music.
Ravens 20 Titans 13