The Tennessee Titans face a familiar playoff opponent when the Baltimore Ravens come calling in the Wild Card Playoffs Sunday at Nissan Stadium. The Titans and Ravens renew acquaintances in the postseason for the fifth time in their respective playoff histories with the road teams having won each of the four previous meetings. Here are the keys to a Titans victory to advance to the divisional round.
1. Limit Lamar. The Titans are the team that demonstrated the blueprint for beating Lamar Jackson when they made him a pocket passer in last year's playoff game, a 28-12 Tennessee upset victory. The Titans limited Jackson from being able to make big plays on broken plays and bottled him up in large part on the read option. As crazy as it sounds, the Titans lack of a pass rush actually is helpful. Normally, any reasonabl rush would signal to Jackson to abandon the pocket, find an open lane and break the back of the defense for a big off-schedule gain. But the Titans lack of a rush could keep Jackson in the pocket and force him to throw to secondary receivers, provided the Titans secondary can cover their assignments. In particular, the likes of Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker are important in blanketing tight end Mark Andrews, who is Jackson's favorite target down the seams.
2. Have balance. The Ravens no doubt don't want a repeat of last year when Derrick Henry scorched them for 195 yards. If and when the Ravens sell out to limit Henry, it means that Ryan Tannehill must find receivers A.J. Brown and Corey Davis off play action. That task won't be as easy as it was in their November meeting because the Ravens will have their full defensive line with Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams, both of whom missed that game, won by the Titans in OT. It will be incumbent on the Titans offensive line to hold up long enough to give Tannehill time to throw the ball. Otherwise, it could be a long day for the Tennessee offense.
3. Make a splash early. Playoff games are often decided by splash plays and turnovers. The Titans won those last year in the postseason, getting a Kevin Byard interception off a tipped pass to set up one first-half TD and a fourth-down stop by David Long of Jackson to set up a Tannehill bomb to Kalif Raymond for another score. Those plays dictated tempo and allowed the Titans to play from ahead and do what they wanted on both sides of the ball. The team that makes the big plays early – on either side of the ball – has a chance to control the tempo and perhaps the outcome of this game.