Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens aiming to find 2019 form in AFC clash
Last season, the Ravens were the best regular-season side, but they were beaten by a ferocious Titans team in the playoffs.
Baltimore were the hottest team in the entire league for most of 2019, rattling off 12 straight wins to end the year at 14-2.
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Meanwhile, after Ryan Tannehill started his first game in Week Seven, Tennessee won six of their first seven games.
After fighting their way into the postseason with a final-day win over rivals Houston, they shocked the New England Patriots in Foxborough before Derrick Henry ran all over the No 1 seed Ravens on the road.
While the Ravens fell flat in their divisional-round loss, and Tennessee were comfortably beaten by eventual champs Kansas City, both teams looked the part of formidable foes.
This season, they are both starting to show cracks. Baltimore’s offensive output has dropped drastically and they have fallen to defeat in two of their last three outings. The Titans have lost three of their last four.
With both facing tough competition from streaking AFC teams as we edge ever closer to the playoffs, what is going wrong for these teams?
Lamar Jackson at centre of Baltimore Ravens woes
Ravens 2019 vs 2020 offense
If you just glanced at the passing and rushing numbers, it doesn’t look too dissimilar, or even too bad. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not – the Ravens are still 6-3 and very likely a playoff team.
However, what is clear is that quarterback Lamar Jackson’s efficiency – and therefore the rest of the offence’s efficiency – has dropped considerably.
As a passer, his touchdown rate has fallen (9.0 per cent to 5.7), interception rate has risen (1.5 to 2.0) and quarterback rating is way down (113.3 to 95.6).
Last year’s MVP was slashing teams on the ground in 2019, but is averaging over a yard less per carry (down from 6.9 to 5.8) and over 20 yards less per game (from 80.4 to 58.2).
While running back Mark Ingram reached 1,000 yards on the ground last season, this year’s committee approach (and Ingram missing time with an ankle injury) has failed to produce as well.
This offense only gave the ball away 15 times all of last season, but they’ve already coughed it up 11 times this year.
Last week Jackson even said last week that opposing defences are calling out Baltimore’s plays before they run them, so are they simply too predictable?
In that loss to the Titans in the playoffs, Tennessee held Baltimore to just 12 points, their lowest points total in the entire Jackson starting era.
If they want to avoid falling further behind in the AFC playoff race, they need a fix, and fast.
Titans consistently unpredictable
Tennessee have finished with a 9-7 regular-season record for the last four seasons straight. Four in a row!
It’s easy to get used to them alternating between wins and losses. What comes next? Nobody knows.
This season, they were aided by facing three dreadful teams early and coming away with wins (Denver, Jacksonville and Minnesota), but they still comfortably proved their worth by hanging 42 points on the Bills and Texans in Weeks Four and Five to move to 5-0.
Since then? They’ve fallen back down to earth.
There’s no shame in losing to Pittsburgh, but they were surprised by the Bengals and handily beaten by division rivals Indianapolis last week.
Can they afford to fall behind this year?
Current AFC playoff picture
There is plenty of football to be played, but even with the extra playoff seeding this season, a loss on Sunday could be very harmful for Tennessee’s playoff chances down the line.
Their defense was in the middle of the pack last season, and is slightly worse this year. Just like Jackson, Titans’ QB Ryan Tannehill has seen a dip in efficiency (completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating) but nothing drastic.
All-Pro running back Derrick Henry has been just as good this season as last, but the team will really need to rely on him again down the stretch. In the win over Baltimore, he ran 30 times for 195 yards! Mike Vrabel needs to get his team back to their late 2019 form.
A playoff-altering game
Baltimore are already three games behind AFC North division leaders Pittsburgh and can’t allow themselves to fall further.
A 9-7 record has been good enough for the Titans to reach the playoffs in two of the last four seasons, but in those others, they had to watch from home. They might not be able to afford to leave it late this year.
As we edge ever closer to the NFL playoffs, this game on Sunday could potentially have huge ramifications for both teams and the rest of the conference.
Watch Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at 6pm on Sky Sports NFL.
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