Previewing Week 9: Ravens at Titans
After a lopsided 40-0 dominating performance over the Miami Dolphins and some extra rest due to the mini bye, the Ravens will be heading into Tennessee with hopes of finishing up the first half of their schedule on a high note. The biggest question for the Ravens of course will be the health of QB Joe Flacco after he took a violent shot to the head as he slid down after a scramble last Thursday night. Flacco was immediately removed from the game and diagnosed with a concussion in short order.
John Harbaugh stated Monday that Flacco has been at the team facility every day and has a good chance to play on Sunday, but he is still in the concussion protocol and will need to pass a battery of tests before being cleared to play. Tennessee has had some injury problems of their own at QB, as 3rd year signal caller Marcus Mariota has missed time with a hamstring injury and star RB DeMarco Murray has also been sidetracked with a hamstring and shoulder injury. However, the Titans are coming off their bye week and all accounts indicate that both Mariota and Murray will be ready to go for their match-up with the Ravens.
Anyone who has watched the Ravens play throughout this season is familiar with the team’s Jekyll and Hyde performances. One week they look like world beaters and the next they look like one of the worst teams in the NFL. The analysts over at Football Outsiders (FBO) have a measurement for this called Variance, and to no one’s surprise the Ravens are rated as one of the highest Variance teams in the league. Interestingly, the Titans are also an extremely high variance team meaning it could be anyone’s guess who might win this coming match-up.
We might be able to get a better idea of how the game will progress if we take a close look at some of the important match-ups within the game. For instance, the Ravens found some early success against the Dolphins by passing against their vulnerable secondary. The Titans also have a lackluster pass defense, and their defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, is someone whom Joe Flacco and the Ravens are highly familiar. The Ravens passing attack will clearly depend on the health of Flacco, but if he can play there may be an opportunity for the offense to build on their performance on Thursday night. The Titans do have a top 10 run defense, but Alex Collins looks like a potential game-changer for the Ravens at RB. He has the patience and quickness to make even a small opening into a positive gain. This is a game where the Ravens should be able to move the ball, but a lot will depend on Flacco’s availability.
The Ravens defense also took a big step forward last Thursday, shutting out the Dolphins and returning two interceptions for TDs to put the game away in the 2nd half. The much maligned Ravens run defense finally had a strong showing, completely shutting down the Dolphins after Jay Ajayi had one big run early in the game. Dean Pees also seemed to call a more aggressive defense both against and the run pass, and his players responded with a dominant performance. Tennessee should be a good test to see if the Ravens run defense is truly back on track as the Titans are top 10 in rushing YPG, YPA and rushing DVOA (FBO). The Titans have two highly talented RBs in Murray and 2nd year player Derrick Henry, and Mariota is also an explosive playmaker when healthy. The threat of a running QB is something the Ravens have not really had to deal with so far this season, so it will be interesting to see how they handle Mariota and the Titans rushing attack.
The Titans passing attack has been decidedly worse than their rushing offense, but Mariota is a talented QB who has a big arm and is very capable of making plays outside the pocket. WRs Rishard Matthews and Eric Decker are both solid players who are more than capable of making plays downfield, and the Titans could also be getting back 1st round pick Corey Davis this week. I would also not expect much of a pass-rush from the Ravens in this game as the Titans often go with extra blockers and have one of the better OLs in the league. This is a game where Dean Pees will likely try to win with coverage and a few well disguised blitzes in opportune moments. Keeping Mariota contained will be of critical importance.
I expect this to be a close, hard fought game, but in the end I have a feeling the Ravens will come out with a victory on the road against the long-time rival Titans. If Joe Flacco can’t play the Ravens will be in a tough spot, but if he is available I see them pulling out the win 23-20.