1) Unleash Heap: Through the course of three games, Todd Heap has just three catches. That is an alarming statistic to say the least, especially if one considers how ballyhooed Heap’s role in the offense would be prior to the start of the season.
At some point, Heap has to become a factor in the passing attack. His primary role has been as a blocker, but offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has to find someone else to handle that role.
Whether Heap is motioned, flexed out or sets up next to the tackle, Cameron needs to devise ways for him to get the ball. Against Tennessee, perhaps the best matchup could be on the outside, if Heap flexes out and works against cornerback Nick Harper. Harper is a technically sound player with solid instincts, but he lacks the size and the strength to outmuscle Heap in jump-ball situations.
2) Fake the end-around: One of the strengths of the Titans’ defensive fronts could also prove to be one its flaws. The unit is tremendous at shooting gaps and gaining penetration to stop plays behind the line-of-scrimmage. Ends Jevon Kearse and Kyle Vanden Bosch have quick first steps, and they look to get past the tackles’ outside shoulders on most of their rush moves.
Consequently, if they rush too far up the field or get caught out of position, they leave gaps open for exploitation.
The Ravens should test the duo by using the end-around as the base for their running game on first down. The end-around is a play in which a receiver motions towards the opposite side of the backfield and is in position to grab a handoff from the quarterback, if the quarterback has not initially handed the ball off to the running back beforehand.
The extra misdirection motion can serve to slow down a rush because the moving receiver’s action has to be accounted for off the edge. Depending on who has the ball – the back or the receiver – the defense could flow to the wrong player.
The Ravens did a nice job of utilizing this tactic against the Patriots a year ago to spring tailback Willis McGahee loose on inside counter runs. They also employed a couple of these rushes against Pittsburgh. Against Tennessee, the play should be run frequently to test the Titans’ containment off the perimeter.
3) Wear out the tackles: Much like the Ravens, the Titans have an almost impenetrable run defense. They are often able to stuff the run with just seven defenders. The reason they are so strong up front is due to the play of their interior line. Everyone knows about defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, but his tag team partner, Tony Brown, is also a disruptive force, capable of gaining quick penetration to snuff out a play.
The goal for Cameron’s offense should be to exhaust this duo. Schematically, there are a couple of different ways to accomplish this monumental task.
One, the Ravens should run the hurry-up attack. If they can go with a fast-paced approach on offense, that will force the inside plugs to move quickly from play-to-play without grabbing a breather in-between.
Two, the run attack should be oriented toward the edges, away from the inside sledgehammer. The tackles may be factors on backside pursuit, but they could eventually wear down from chasing the ball laterally.
1) Containment: Just as the Ravens may look to test the perimeter to crack the Tennessee run defense, so too will the Titans. With electric rookie runner Chris Johnson in the backfield, Tennessee has the means to exploit the Ravens on edge rushes.
Johnson is a guy who erases angles. If he can float to a clear lane, he has the ability to run past defenders so quickly that they are unable to use the sidelines as an extra defender.
The outside defenders will need to hug the perimeter and force Johnson back inside; if they over-pursue, Johnson will glide past them.
2) Jack-of-all-trades: This could be the perfect game for safety Ed Reed to return to his ways as an in-between defender. For the past couple of seasons under Rex Ryan’s defensive scheme, Reed has been primarily a centerfielder, patrolling the deep halves of the field. Ryan keeps Reed back there because he needs protection for his corners.
However, in this game, the Ravens could get away with using more numbers in the box to defend the run without getting burned on the back end. Ryan should like his corners’ chances in single coverage against the Tennessee wideouts with one safety behind to protect.
Safety Jim Leonard is not the tackler that Dawan Landry is. He is better in coverage and would hold up well enough in situations where he would need to move from sideline-to-sideline.
With Leonard in a deep support role, Reed could be freed to blitz in the running game. Although he may tackle more cautiously due to the nerve impingement, Reed still has the timing and instincts to stop a play behind the line.
The Baltimore linebackers will need to cover well in the intermediate area. Aside from third-and-long situations, the defense may not be able to use as many nickel looks because they have to be able to defend the Titans’ running game, so the backers will have to cover more ground in the flats and compress the inside passing lanes.