Flying with the Flock: Ravens vs. Titans Preview
FLYING WITH THE FLOCK: RAVENS VS. TITANS PREVIEW — After suffering one of the worst losses in recent memory, the Ravens hope a trip abroad will give them a chance to reset. The London games are an exciting opportunity for global exposure, but they pose a great challenge as well. Six years ago this franchise suffered a disastrous 44-17 shellacking under the shadow of Big Ben.
We cannot know for certain whether jetlag played a role in that. But Harbaugh’s decision to make the 3,600-mile trek on Monday rather than later in the week indicates he wants to take that possibility out of the equation. The Titans, on the other hand, plan on departing on Thursday, a mistake the Buffalo Bills made last week en route to an upset by the Jaguars.
Get Back Game
Whether Harbaugh’s strategy is the right one or not, Baltimore must play a cleaner game than they did versus Pittsburgh. The seven drops were not just unacceptable, but uncharacteristic of a receiving corps that appeared to be a bright spot for the team. There’s always some tomfoolery at work when the Ravens play the Steelers, but last week’s loss delivered record highs.
Baltimore’s pass catchers will have to bounce back to expose a Tennessee defense that ranks 27th in yards per pass play allowed. If the Ravens can’t get the air attack going, the ground game will likely struggle against Tennessee’s ninth-ranked rushing defense. Baltimore’s offense has failed to string together consistent domination.
At times they’ve looked like world-beaters, but they’re yet to score more than 27 points in a game this season. And it isn’t likely this trend will be bucked against a stout Titans defense. Their front four led by Pro Bowler Jeffery Simmons may not generate pressure at an astounding rate — 17.9 percent, 28th in the league — but they’re well-coached and disciplined.
Ravens fans’ negative association with London is nothing compared to the nauseousness conjured by the name Derrick Henry. Four years ago, the future Hall of Famer derailed the most special season I’ve ever witnessed as a Ravens fan. It was a nightmare watching him rip off one huge gain after another en route to a historic 195-yard rushing performance.
Henry might not be the unstoppable freight train he once was, but he’s still among the league’s best runners. This rivalry is personal, and the last matchup ended with Baltimore’s defense celebrating on the Titans’ midfield logo as they booted them from the postseason. Don’t think the Titans have forgotten that.
Let Tuck Cook
The Ravens have been horrendous on fourth down this season, converting just 25 percent of their attempts. Over-aggressiveness got them into trouble against Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. Harbaugh must realize that against good defenses, like the one they’ll face on Sunday, it’s okay to take three points.
It’s only right that the greatest kicker in NFL history puts on a show for the UK fans who have a unique appreciation for the oft-overlooked third phase of the game.
Not ready yet?
It was hardly a triumphant return to action for many of the Ravens who made it off the injury report last week. Marlon Humphrey in particular struggled, allowing multiple huge gains against George Pickens, including the game-winning touchdown. Ronnie Stanley also had a key mishap, getting beat around the edge by Alex Highsmith, who stripped Jackson of the football and effectively ended the game.
Hopefully another week removed from injury will benefit both of these franchise cornerstones.
Losing this game would be devastating. The Ravens elected not to have their bye week directly following the London game, and instead will travel back and face an extremely physical Lions team next week. If Baltimore fails to handle business on Sunday, the possibility of falling below .500 becomes very real.
Given these teams’ recent history and season trajectory, it’ll likely be another slugfest. But I trust the Ravens will take care of business in a game that suddenly feels like it is “must win.”
Prediction: Ravens 24, Titans 20