Divisional-Round Breakdown: Ravens at Titans
Who Has The Edge At...
Kerry Collins stepped in for Vince Young and led the Titans to the league's best record (13-3). While the 14-year veteran didn't compile spectacular numbers (58.3 completion percentage, 2,676 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions), his poise, leadership and big arm were a perfect complement to the Titans' powerful running game. Joe Flacco was outstanding in leading the Ravens to nine victories in 11 games down the stretch, but was so-so in his postseason debut against the Dolphins (9-of-23 for 131 yards).
Running Back: Titans
LenDale White and Chris Johnson, also known as "Smash and Dash," combined for over 2,000 rushing yards while leading the Titans' seventh-ranked attack. Johnson, a speedster with outstanding big- play ability, finished as the AFC's second-leading rusher with 1,228 rushing yards. White tallied 15 rushing touchdowns while serving as the team's short yardage specialist.
The Ravens' powerful ground attack averaged over 148 yards during the regular season behind a talented trio of runners (Le'Ron McClain, Willis McGahee and Ray Rice). The running back-by-committee approach resulted in the Ravens finishing the season as the only team to have rushers gain over 900 (McClain), 650 (McGahee), and 400 (Rice) rushing yards. Against the Dolphins, McGahee and McClain combined for 137 rushing yards and one touchdown on 19 carries.
Derrick Mason led the Ravens in receptions (80) and receiving yards (1,037) despite battling a nagging shoulder injury during the last half of the season. His counterpart, Mark Clayton, averaged 17.0 yards per catch while operating as the Ravens' deep threat. Two-time Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap is still a factor in Baltimore's passing game and must be accounted for in the red zone.
The Titans finished the season with five receivers with over 30 receptions. Tight end Bo Scaife led the Titans in receptions (58) and Justin Gage finished as the team leader in receiving yards (651) and touchdown catches (six).
Offensive Line: Even
The Ravens continue to befuddle opponents by using an unbalanced line that features all of its offensive tackles (Adam Terry, Willie Anderson and Jared Gaither) on the strong side of the formation to create a monstrous wall at the point of attack. As a result, the Ravens had the league's fourth-ranked rushing attack and led the league in time of possession (33:10) during the regular season. Led by Pro Bowlers Michael Roos and Kevin Mawae, the Titans' unheralded offensive line routinely controls the line of scrimmage, opening huge holes for Chris Johnson and LenDale White in the running game. Moreover, the unit only surrendered 12 sacks in pass protection.
Defensive Line: Titans
Pro Bowl defenders Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch are scheduled to return to the lineup this week, fortifying a defense that produced 44 sacks during the regular season, the fifth-highest total in the league. Haloti Ngata anchors the Ravens defensive line, which hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 36 games. With runners finding little room to run, the Ravens have been able to unleash Trevor Pryce as a pass rusher off the edge.
Baltimore's ferocious defense is spearheaded by Pro Bowlers Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis. The duo teams with Bart Scott and Jarret Johnson to daze and confuse opponents off multiple blitzes from the creative mind of defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. As a result of the constant harassment in the pocket, opposing quarterbacks have only generated a 60.6 passer rating against the Ravens. Keith Bulluck leads an oft-overlooked Titans linebacker corps that has helped hold opponents to fewer than 17 points in 13 of 16 games.
Defensive Backs: Ravens
The Ravens' secondary led the league with 26 interceptions during the regular season and added four more in the wild-card win over the Dolphins. Ed Reed has tallied 11 interceptions in 17 games, including two picks last week against the Dolphins. The Titans' secondary doesn't feature any household names but ranks as one of the best units in the game. Feisty first-time Pro Bowler Cortland Finnegan teams with Michael Griffin, Chris Hope and Nick Harper to hold opponents under 200 yards a game through the air. Additionally, the Titans' quartet emerged as top flight ball hawks with Griffin (seven), Finnegan (five), Hope (four) and Harper (two) accounting for 18 of the team's 20 interceptions.
Special Teams: Titans
Tennessee's Rob Bironas connected on 29-of-33 field goal attempts, with 16 from 40 yards and beyond. Teammate Craig Hentrich booted 27 punts inside the 20 and finished with a 36.5 net punting average. Chris Carr finished ranked as the league's fourth-best kickoff returner with a 28.1 yard average. The Ravens also sport a terrific duo in the kicking game with Matt Stover and Sam Koch. Stover connected on 27-of-33 field goal attempts, making 95.6 percent of his attempts inside 40 yards. He connected on both of his field goal attempts during the wild-card victory over the Dolphins. Koch excels at directional punting; he placed a league-best 18 punts inside the 10.
Jeff Fisher ranks fifth among active coaches in wins (133) after guiding the Titans to a league-best 13-3 record this season. He is regarded as one of the league's top tacticians and is at his best when coaching his team in close games, as evidenced by the Titans' 4-1 record in games decided by seven points or fewer this season. John Harbaugh has been outstanding in his first season as the Ravens' top man. He has been supported by two of the best coordinators in the game (Cam Cameron and Rex Ryan). The Ravens' offensive emergence under Cameron has allowed Ryan to call an ultra-aggressive game on defense.
How Tennessee Will Win
The Titans' defense has been overlooked heading into this matchup, but it ranks second in the league in scoring (14.6). The unit has only allowed 25 touchdowns while holding 13 of its 16 opponents to under 17 points. With Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch returning, the Titans can take care of the Ravens' power running game and put the game in the hands of rookie Flacco. He looked shaky at times in the wild-card game, so the Titans will want to force him to make plays under pressure.
How Baltimore Will Win
The Ravens' impenetrable defense is nearly impossible to run against. The unit hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 36 games and held the Titans to 47 rushing yards in their Week 5 matchup, won 13-10 by the Titans. Collins struggled as a passer for three quarters of that game (10-of-20 for 91 yards and two interceptions) before finding his stride. Despite the narrow loss, the Ravens will enter the game confident they can go toe-to-toe with the Titans in a physical battle on the road. That confidence could be the deciding factor in a close game.
This is an evenly matched game between two hard-hitting, smash-mouth football teams. Both sport outstanding defenses and rushing attacks. Though the Titans have the advantage with Collins under center, the Ravens historically have forced the veteran into poor performances with their complex defensive scheme. Additionally, the Ravens' physical ground game will eventually impose its will on the Titans late in the game as Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch tire. Look for the Ravens to win a tight one, 16-13.