Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pregame Thoughts: Ravens vs. Titans

OKAY, so in the wake of last night's tragedy we at Around the Harbor have somewhat neglected today's game for the Baltimore Ravens against the Tennessee Titans. In the spirit of trying to write up this pregame before the game actually kicks off, I'll present a few thoughts that I have regarding this matchup.

-Make no mistake, the Ravens' run defense will be seriously tested today against the Titans. Often in Baltimore we take our stout run stuffers for granted, but Tennessee has an elite 1-2 tandem in Chris Johnson and LenDale White. You might question my use of elite, but all you have to do is look at the production of these two backs and how well they complement each other to see that they fit this bill. Chris Johnson was the fastest rookie at the combine and the ability of the Ravens' 'backers to contain the perimeter will be the key to holding him down.

-Don't sleep on the Titans' receivers. No, they're not very good, and no, they don't have an elite quarterback throwing to them; but that's what makes them dangerous. If the secondary for the Ravens slouch in this game, the Titans will take advantage because Collins is a smart enough veteran with a big enough arm to make them pay. With excellence often comes cockiness, and the Ravens have to make sure that they don't fall prey to fatal hubris.

-Joe Flacco is, and as long as he is the starting quarterback will be, the biggest storyline to watch on this offense. He had an admirable performance at Heinz field, but he still made a couple of key mistakes and failed to spread the ball around effectively. Now that Flacco is back at home, everyone in Baltimore will be looking to him to reassure the fan base that he'll continue to build on experience. Flacco-mania has encompassed Baltimore, and all Ravens fans are hoping to avoid a letdown. The biggest point of improvement that I will be looking for in this game will be the ability for Flacco to connect on the deep ball, because they have been consistently open this season but he has missed.

-While Joe Flacco is the story, the offensive line is the key on the field. This unit will face a tougher front than the Pittsburgh Steelers provided (and that is saying alot) in the Titans' front four. Considering that the Steelers accumulated five sacks against Flacco and held down the running game for the most part, the offensive line will have to make a quantum leap to set the tempo against arguably the best front four in the NFL.

-Let's see if the 'hydra' running game can get going and keep McGahee fresh and healthy for the stretch run. McGahee has been hurting, but he will play and is determined to make it through a full game. Ray Rice has seen few snaps since his early fumble problems, and how much playing time he receives will be an interesting storyline to watch. As for McClain, just look for him to continue what he's been doing, which is establishing himself (in my opinion) as the best up-and-coming pure power back in the league.

-I'm looking for a revival of certain players on offense and special teams. In particular Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, and Todd Heap on the offense and Yamon Figurs on defense. Mark Clayton has fantastic hands and runs some of the crispest routes on the team, and Demetrius Williams by all accounts is fully healthy and has been geting open down the field. Todd Heap has been a nonfactor this year despite traditionally being the finest receiving threat on this team by far. Flacco has to find these guys and get them involved not only for this game but for the long-term outlook for this offense. Yamon Figurs on special teams had an uncharacteristically lackluster game against Pittsburgh; he can ben an electric return man when he's on his game.

So! I'll cut it at that to get this out in time. The Baltimore defense will look to take control of this game, but the result will hinge on the offensive line. My guess? Ravens exploit Kerry Collins a la 2000 Super Bowl, and take a big win. Ravens, 16-10

No comments: