Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ravens-Titans Preview, Part 1

Well, it is the middle of the week with the Ravens coming up against the Titans on Saturday, which means that from here on out you will have Ravens coverage every day up until and through the game. As I started to write the preview for this week, I tried to be as detailed as possible and quickly realized that this would be more thorough (and long) than any other preview I had written this season. I imagine that would be appropriate, given the magnitude of the game, but I don’t want y’all to have to sift through all of it the day before the game. We have decided instead to break things up, and show a little bit of the preview each day. Our schedule:

Today: What I’m Wondering
Tomorrow: Titans Offense vs. Ravens Defense
Friday: Titans Defense vs. Ravens Offense
Saturday Morning: An Extended Rundown with Prediction

And now, onto the preview, part 1!

What I’m Wondering:

Will Joe Flacco rebound from a poor statistical performance against Miami?
As I wrote on Monday, I was happy with what Flacco did against the Dolphins. He did just enough not to mess up the game and came close to making some big plays. He won’t have the luxury of just coming close against the Titans- he will have to connect. He won’t just have to avoid interceptions, he will have to throw touchdowns. Kyle Vandenbosch and Albert Haynesworth will test the interior of the Ravens offensive line again, and it will be up to Flacco to get the ball out of his hands and avoid drive-killing sacks. In Week 5, in his 4th career start, Flacco went 18-27 for 153 yards and 2 interceptions. That will not cut it in a playoff game. In his defense, he did avoid getting sacked, but that can be credited just as much to the offensive line. He will have to use that time in the pocket to make smarter decisions, and 13 starts later we should expect him to be able to do so. Flacco followed up that performance against Tennessee with a demoralizing debacle against Indianapolis. That will have to change this week for the Ravens to take a lead- the Titans will try to shut down the run. When they do, Flacco has to be ready to connect with his receivers.

Will the running game get started against the Tennessee defensive line?

This is closely related to the first point, but it is no less important. In Week 5, Willis McGahee was still firmly established as the team’s #1 back and he had the carries to prove it. Willis took the ball 22 times for 64 yards, while Le’Ron McClain carried half that number of times for 51 yards. This rushing attack is very different. Since Week 12, McClain has carried the ball an average of 22 times per game himself, while McGahee is averaging less than 10 carries per game in that span. Against a tough, massive defensive line, it will be essential that the Ravens establish an inside presence on the ground. Since the first matchup between these two teams, McClain has taken over the #1 back role and will certainly be featured heavily to bear down on the defense and take control of the game. If McClain can get rolling, it will set up excellent play action opportunities- but that is a very big if.

How will Kerry Collins handle the Ravens defense?
I am certain that this week Kerry Collins is watching a lot of film on Ed Reed. As much as Ravens fans would love to remember 2000 and expect Collins to fold against an aggressive pass rush, one needs to look no further than the 4th quarter comeback to see that the Titans quarterback still has what it takes to win ball games against the Ravens. While he threw 2 interceptions in that Week 5 matchup, he also delivered when it counted and took out the Ravens defense in the same way the Dolphins had success- underneath passing that exposes the gaps left by blitzing linebackers when safeties are playing deep. I don’t think Collins will be scared to pass the football, though he will avoid throwing it anywhere near Ed Reed. I expect the coaching staff to tell Collins not to try to be a hero against the best defensive player in the NFL (I don’t care how the voting went down). Collins will be playing with a chip on his shoulder, looking to exorcise some demons from the Superbowl all those years ago. He will not be easily rattled or intimidated. The Ravens will have to beat him, not just scare him into mistakes.

No comments: