Who: No. 6 seed Tennessee Titans (10-7) at No. 1 seed Baltimore Ravens (14-2)
Where: M&T Bank Stadium
When: Saturday, Jan. 11, 8:15 p.m. EST
The Ravens host their playoff opener Jan. 11 when the AFC’s top-seeded team welcomes the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans to M&T Bank Stadium. The Titans, winners of eight of their last 11 games after a 2-4 start, reached the playoffs as the AFC’s second wild-card team and then advanced via a 20-13 win at New England Jan. 4.
Each day this week we will offer one key matchup and relevant statistics, leading up to a final prediction on the eve of the game.
Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman vs. Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees
Roman and Pees were on the Ravens’ staff together in 2017, when Pees was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator and Roman had just joined the Ravens as the tight ends coach and senior offensive assistant. But they crossed paths before as opponents, most notably in Super Bowl XLVII, when Roman was directing the San Francisco 49ers’ offense and Pees was coordinating the Ravens’ defense. The Ravens outlasted the 49ers, 34-31.
The coaches also faced off last season when the Ravens went to Tennessee and rolled to a 21-0 win, but Roman was not yet the Ravens’ coordinator, and Lamar Jackson had not yet succeeded Joe Flacco as the Ravens’ starting quarterback, so the Ravens’ offense that Pees prepared to face that day bears little resemblance to what he will see this weekend.
The Ravens’ offense this year under Roman’s direction, touted as “revolutionary” before the season by head coach John Harbaugh, has indeed done things never seen before in the NFL’s 100-year history.
Jackson set an NFL record for rushing yardage by a quarterback (1,206), the Ravens set the record for rushing yardage in a season (3,296) and they became the first team in NFL history to average 200 rushing yards and 200 passing yards in a game throughout an entire season.
The Titans come into this game ranked 21st in total defense and 12th against the run, allowing 104.5 yards a game on the ground.
Like other coordinators who have faced the Ravens this year, Pees will have to come up with a plan to contain Jackson and the running game while not leaving the Titans susceptible through the air.
“If you go small to play the pass, they’re going to run the ball,” Pees told Tennessee media at his weekly news conference. “If you try to go big to stop the run, they’ll throw the ball. Greg’s doing a great job not only scheme-wise but doing a lot with a lot of different personnel groups.”
Pees has seen plenty of schemes in his 12 years as a defensive coordinator at the NFL level, and he has game-planned against Roman before, but Jackson brings his own skill-set, and both Roman and Pees discounted the relevance of past matchups given the roster turnover on both sides of the ball.
“The most relevant games are right now, 2019 and 2020,” Roman said. “So that’s really what we’re focusing on.”
“It’s more about what you see on the tape. Everybody evolves,” Roman added. “Dean is a very good coach, and he’s been around for a long time. They’re not doing exactly what they did when he was here, so you have to trust the tape. Trust your eyes.”
For his part, Pees said he remains close to Harbaugh and several coaches on the Ravens staff, but added, “If you go out to play golf, I’d rather beat my brother at golf than I would somebody I don’t know.”
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox