Most NFL teams have a simple blueprint for winning on the road: play solid defense and run the ball effectively.
The Ravens have had moderate success with this concept.
Baltimore has already won two games on the road this season against Cincinnati and Oakland. The Ravens had a plus-five turnover differential in those games. Baltimore also ran for 157 yards against the Bengals and 143 against the Raiders.
Baltimore (4-4) will likely use that strategy Sunday against the Titans, especially with quarterback Joe Flacco coming off a concussion. It’s another critical game for the Ravens, who can move game above .500 with a victory.
The Ravens had their best performance of the season in last week’s 40-0 drubbing of the Dolphins. Flacco hopes that momentum carries over in Nashville.
“That is what happens when you go out there and you can play pretty aggressively early on and you can put a team in a hole and you get them doing things that they don’t necessarily want to do or they aren’t great at,” Flacco said about the lopsided victory. “A couple of things happened, and that is what we have done to ourselves in some of the losses. We have dug ourselves a hole, and then you have to do certain things to make up for it, and it is either hit or miss. You hit some of those things on some of the chances that you make.”
Baltimore needs to get off to a fast start because the offense is not built to play from behind. In two road losses against Jacksonville in London and Minnesota, Baltimore trailed early, had a minus-2 turnover ratio and averaged 94 yards on the ground.
The Ravens’ passing offense is ranked last in the league with 1,223 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. So, ideally, Flacco is not throwing the ball 40 times to try and generate quick scores.
“I have been telling a couple of people that we take pride in the way we work around here, and that is all we can do is put our heads down and continue to try to get better,” Flacco said. “That is what we are doing, and I think we are definitely ready to make that turn but we have to go out there and prove it.”
The X-factor against Tennessee could be Baltimore running back Alex Collins, who has emerged as the top playmaker on offense. Collins, who was signed off the practice squad in late September, is the team’s most explosive player and ranked 9th in the NFL with 478 yards. He has certainly caught the attention of opponents and he could face some tougher fronts.
Secondary Steps Up
While the Ravens’ struggles on offense have been well-documented, the secondary has played at a high level all season. Baltimore’s passing defense is tied with Miami for seventh in the NFL. Cornerback Brandon Carr, who was acquired as a free agent, has three interceptions — tied for third best in the league.
— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) October 30, 2017
Fellow cornerback Jimmy Smith is having one of the best seasons of his career, despite dealing with an Achilles injury. Smith has two defensive touchdowns, three takeaways (two interceptions, one fumble recovery) and has a 33.1 defensive passer rating — the best among all cornerbacks.
“He can be the best corner in football; I think I said that three weeks ago,” Harbaugh said. “He has to keep playing that way. It’s a big challenge again this week. We have all of our DBs going against a great receiving corps, a heck of a quarterback – so, they have their hands full.”
Tennessee is tied for 10th in the league with 872 yards on the ground behind DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. The Ravens struggled against the run in five of the past six games, especially with defensive tackle Brandon Williams out with a foot injury.
Baltimore played much better Thursday against Miami, which had just 45 rushing yards and then traded running back Jay Ajayi to Eagles earlier in the week. The Ravens look to get back to their traditional dominant form stopping the run. That will go a long way in beating Tennessee.
“We’ve got our work cut out for the rest of the year, and with this duo [Murray and Henry], it’s definitely going to test us to see if we got some of the leakage stopped and some of the problems fixed,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “This is going to be a good test for us.”
A test they must ace to keep their playoff hopes alive.