The Titans’ rushing tandem of speedy rookie Chris "Dash" Johnson and burly LenDale "Smash" White, who was called plump by Ravens inside linebacker Bart Scott prior to the first meeting this season that Tennessee won 13-10, ranks seventh in the NFL with an average of 137.4 rushing yards per contest.
Baltimore counters with the league’s third-ranked rushing defense, surrendering just 81.3 yards per game and not allowing an opposing rusher to eclipse 100 yards in an NFL-best 35 consecutive games.
"Chris Johnson is the speedy guy," Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said of Johnson, who runs the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.24 seconds. "LenDale White is the guy that likes to run inside. Both of them have their own little flavor, things they like to do.
"All the credit really, a lot of it, goes to the offensive line. They have a nice core, which is one of the reasons why they can run the ball so well. We’re going to have our hands full."
Johnson made the Pro Bowl in his first season after being drafted out of East Carolina, rushing for 1,228 yards as White led the Titans with 15 touchdowns.
"We know they’re an outstanding running team, they’ve got the two-headed monster there: Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "We respect them, but we respect ourselves. We think we can match up with anybody in the league and we’ll find out who’s better."
Johnson ranked eighth in the NFL in rushing during the regular season, including four runs of 33 yards or higher. He also ranked second on the team with 43 receptions for 260 yards.
"They’ve made a bunch of plays on the perimeter with him," coach John Harbaugh said of Johnson. "Obviously, he was a candidate for Rookie of the Year and he’s a big challenge. He’s a big-play threat every time he touches the ball."
Added cornerback Samari Rolle: "We’ve just got to keep him boxed in and try to keep his explosiveness contained. He’s a better outside runner than inside, but he’s a great player and he deserves to get the football."
Plus, the Titans are expected to be without seven-time Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae due to a right elbow injury.
He played in the first game when Baltimore shut down the Titans as they gained just 47 yards on the ground and 210 yards of total offense.
Johnson gained only 44 yards on 18 carries. White did even worse, rushing for four yards on three attempts.
"That’s fine, I mean they’re going to have a center there," Ryan said. "Mawae is an outstanding player, but we’ve faced them before. This is one of the best running teams in the NFL, and I think we’re one of the best at stopping the run. That will be a great battle to watch."
KOKINIS UPDATE: With former New York Jets coach Eric Mangini scheduled to be introduced as the Cleveland Browns’ new head coach this morning, Ravens director of pro personnel George Kokinis remains the heavy favorite to become the Browns’ next general manager.
During his interview with Browns team owner Randy Lerner, Mangini emphasized that Kokinis was his top choice to replace fired former Baltimore executive Phil Savage. Kokinis and Mangini are close friends and came up through the ranks in Cleveland under New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.
The Ravens aren’t granting permission for any coaches, executives or scouts to interview until Sunday at the earliest. Ryan is expected to meet with the St. Louis Rams as soon as Sunday.
TRAINING ROOM: Tight end Todd Heap (back, flu) didn’t practice Wednesday, but said he’ll be ready for Saturday’s game.
"I’m OK," he said. "I’m good to go."
Meanwhile, reserve linebacker Antwan Barnes (strained pectoral muscle) was ruled out. Harbaugh had previously said that Barnes was on track to play, but he was held out of the Ravens’ 27-9 wild-card victory over the Miami Dolphins.
Wide receiver Derrick Mason (dislocated left shoulder) and free safety Ed Reed (knee) were held out of practice.
Mason is resigned to the fact that his shoulder will hurt until the season is over when he might contemplate having surgery to repair the damage.
"This has been an injury that is going to continue to hinder me in some ways, meaning that it’s always going to hurt until we’re done playing in February," he said. "I’ll deal with that then. For this team, you’re not thinking about next year. You’re thinking about the next play. I’d better be able to put the pain aside for five minutes and finish out the game.
"Hopefully, I won’t have to have surgery. I think I’m truly blessed that it hasn’t gotten any worse than it has. It’s not the shoulder now, it’s more so the muscles. Actually, the shoulder is fine. I’m not having any trouble with the shoulder."
Defensive tackle Justin Bannan (foot), linebacker Jarret Johnson (calf), Rolle (hamstring), and kicker Matt Stover (sprained right ankle) were limited in practice.
For the Titans, Mawae (right elbow) and defensive end Dave Ball (back) didn’t practice.
Cornerback Nick Harper (groin), defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (knee), defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (groin) and linebacker David Thornton (hip) participated fully in practice.
QUICK HITS: Ryan doled out high praise for Reed when asked about the star free safety. "Him and Ray, I think, both are once-in-a-lifetime players," he said. "I’m fortunate to have them on the same team. If you don’t give Ed the due respect, he’s going to make you pay for it. It’s just like a great receiver, you better know where he’s at all times. I think opponents are fearful of Ed. But he’s such a great player, he still makes plays. He’s an amazing guy." … Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron believes the Ravens would thrive in potentially inclement weather Saturday in Nashville, Tenn. "We’re built for that," he said. "You plan for all conditions. The players that we play with are guys that are comfortable playing in any kind of conditions." … Cameron laughed when told that rookie quarterback Joe Flacco characterized his two interceptions earlier this year against the Titans as ‘boneheaded’ throws. "Boy, he took the words right out of my mouth," Cameron joked. … Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg is impressed with rookie safety Tom Zbikowski’s hard-nosed approach to returning kickoffs. Zbikowski had a 31-yard kickoff return against the Dolphins last week, and averaged 24 yards on two returns during the regular season. It doesn’t sound like return specialist Yamon Figurs will be getting his job back from Zbikowski or safety/punt returner Jim Leonhard anytime soon. "First of all, he’s hung onto the ball," Rosburg said. "We appreciate that. He’s a guy that I like his style. I like the way he runs north and south. As you’ve probably seen from his college days, he has some skills when he has the ball in his hands. He’s a tough guy, and we like that about him."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.