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Six matchups to watch during Titans-Ravens

Tennessee needs to bounce back against an old rival in Week 6.

Eddie George #27

Titans-Ravens was once one of the greatest rivalries in all of football. The matchup has lost some of its mystique now that Eddie George and Ray Lewis aren’t colliding in the middle of the field play after play, but there is still some bad blood here, especially with Titans fans.

Since the Ravens came into existence in 1996, these two teams have met 19 times in the regular season with the Titans holding a slim 10-9 advantage. However, the real drama has come from the playoff matchups. The Ravens have a 2-1 advantage there and have ended the seasons of (arguably) the two best Titans teams of the Tennessee era. The 2000 and 2008 Titans both finished 13-3 and entered the playoffs as the AFC’s 1 seed. Both teams lost in the Divisional Round to the Ravens at home. Baltimore is the only team to win a road playoff game in Nashville and they’ve done it twice.

Both those losses still sting worse to me than any game that didn’t involve Kevin Dyson getting tackled at the 1-yard line, so there is always just a little more juice for these games even though it’s no longer a divisional rivalry. Here are the six matchups I’m most looking forward to in the next installment of Titans-Ravens.

Adoree’ Jackson vs John Brown

After a terrible season from Joe Flacco in 2017, the Ravens completely overhauled their passing game targets this past offseason in an effort to jumpstart their air attack. Baltimore added wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead in free agency and then drafted tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews. Brown has surprisingly been the most productive of that group, racking up 396 yards on just 19 catches with 3 touchdowns.

The Ravens move their wide receivers around a good bit, but Brown gets most of his snaps out wide on the right side of the formation. That will put him in Adoree’ Jackson’s coverage for most of the day and that will be a strength on strength matchup. Jackson is currently PFF’s 13th highest rated cornerback. He’s been targeted 31 times, but has given up just 16 catches for 164 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions. His speed and easy movement skills make him an ideal fit for covering the speedy Brown. This will be a battle to watch all game.

Jurrell Casey vs Alex Lewis and Marshal Yanda

Jurrell Casey has been borderline unblockable in 2018, in part, because he’s been freed up to move around the defensive line instead of sticking on one side of the field. That keeps Casey in a 3-technique alignment between the guard and tackle most plays and makes him tough to double team. He’s also moved all over the field on pass rush downs, lining up both inside and outside as well as flipping to either side of the field.

This week he’ll draw matchups with Ravens left guard Alex Lewis and right guard Marshal Yanda most of the game. The difference between those two is pretty stark. Yanda has 140 career starts under his belt and had been to six straight Pro Bowls before a fractured ankle cost him the majority of the 2017 season. He’s off to another good start this year with a PFF grade of 74.9 through 5 games, good for 8th highest among guards. Yanda versus Casey will make for some must-see battles in the trenches.

On the left side, Casey may find more success. Alex Lewis will be making just his 14th career start and currently ranks as PFF’s 55th ranked guard. Look for Casey to test Lewis early on, especially on big 3rd downs.

Kevin Byard vs Joe Flacco

Last season, Byard picked off Flacco twice, once on a deep ball that Logan Ryan deflected up in to the air and then a second time on an ill-advised throw down the sideline. He very nearly got a third on a throw into the endzone when he and Adoree’ Jackson collided while going for the pick in the air. Byard has yet to get his first interception this season after tying Darius Slay for most in the NFL with 8 in 2017.

Flacco, coming off the worst season of his 10 year career, has rebounded with some help from the new targets mentioned above. He’s on pace to set a career high in passing yards and a career low in interception rate. However, Week 5 in Cleveland was easily Flacco’s worst game of the season. Will he bounce back against a talented Titans defense or will continue to regress back towards last year’s form? The answer to that question will have a lot to do with whether he can keep the ball out of Kevin Byard’s hands.

Taylor Lewan vs Terrell Suggs

This is another strength versus strength matchup as the Titans best offensive lineman will regularly matchup against the Ravens best pass rusher. Suggs leads Baltimore with 3.5 sacks through 5 games as he continues to be one of the league’s best sackmasters in his 16th NFL season.

Lewan has missed a game and a half with a concussion earlier in the season and left last week’s game against Buffalo with a foot injury that cost him the entire second half and part of the first. He missed practice on Wednesday, but then turned in two straight full participation designations on Thursday and Friday. He’s going to be ready to go, but it remains to be seen how much that foot might bother him. When he’s been out there Lewan has been good in 2018, allowing just 1 sack, 0 QB hits, and 3 hurries per PFF charting. The drop off from him to Tyler Marz was a big factor in the offenses struggles last week. Lewan will need to keep Suggs quiet on Sunday.

Corey Davis vs Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens are stacked with talent in the secondary. Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, and Tavon Young are all talented corners and they’re backed by one of the best safety tandems in the league in Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson. How they choose to deploy their corners is yet to be seen. Baltimore has frequently shadowed receivers with specific corners, but last week — Jimmy Smith’s first appearance after returning from a four game suspension — saw the Ravens leave Smith on the offense’s left side of the field and Humphrey on the offense’s right. If they choose to stick with that usage for a second straight week, that would leave Corey Davis primarily squaring off with Humphrey in a battle of 2017 first round picks.

Davis is off to a great start in his second NFL season with 26 catches for 361 yards and a touchdown through 5 games despite an offense that hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders.

Humphrey has been up and down in his second season out of Alabama. On 33 targets, he’s allowed 18 catches for 171 yards and 3 touchdowns. If the Ravens choose to shadow, it would make a lot of sense for them to match the 6’-2”, 210 pound Smith on Davis to get someone who can physically matchup with the Titans WR1. One of the advantages of using Davis primarily as the Z receiver in Matt LaFleur’s offense is that they can often use motion to keep corners from getting a press on him which will neutralize one of the biggest tools in both Smith and Humphrey’s games.

Titans Run Defense vs Alex Collins

Most of the matchups above are strength on strength, but this one is more “stoppable force meets movable object”. Baltimore ranks 30th with just 3.4 yards per carry on the ground through 5 weeks, while Tennessee’s defense ranks 24th in the NFL with 4.4 yards per carry allowed.

The Titans will have a chance to get Wesley Woodyard back this week which would help a run defense that too often let the Bills rushing attack keep the offense on schedule in their loss to Buffalo last week. Bottling up Collins could give the pass rush a chance to pin their ears back and really attack against the first real stationary quarterback they’ve faced in 2018.