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All-22 Review: Breaking down the Titans masterful defensive performance against the Ravens

Dean Pees solved the Lamar Jackson riddle (at least for one game).

Divisional Round - Tennessee Titans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The All-22 Review is a recurring feature here at Music City Miracles breaking down the tape from the previous week’s Titans game. The focus will vary depending on where the action on the field takes us, but the idea is to bring insights that may have been missed on the TV broadcast.

The Bills couldn’t do it. The Rams couldn't do it. The 49ers couldn’t do it. The Patriots couldn’t do it. The Steelers couldn’t even do it against the Ravens backups.

Nobody in the NFL could stop Lamar Jackson and the Ravens record setting offense all season. They scored at least 20 points in all 16 regular season games, scored at least 30 in half their games, topped 40 in 5 games, and broke 50 once. The Baltimore offense was almost universally hailed as one of the best scoring machines ever built.

Dean Pees and the Titans defense held them to 12 points in Baltimore. Twelve. Despite being on the field for 92 snaps.

To say that Tennessee had unprecedented success against the Ravens offense is somehow selling this performance short. No other defense came close to doing this to Baltimore in 2019.

Blaming rust or Mark Ingram’s tight calf is lazy analysis. The Ravens got out-coached and out-played for 60 minutes at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday night. The tape shows a Titans team that was too physical up front and too opportunistic in the secondary for the regular season’s best squad. Let’s take a look at some of the key plays and how they came about during the Titans 28-12 win.

The Titans forced seven turnovers if you count the fourth down stops

This was really the key to the entire game and it skewed a lot of the other numbers that have come out of this game. The Titans were outgained 530 yards to 300 yards, the biggest deficit in NFL playoff history for a winning team, and the Ravens ran 92 offensive plays compared to the Titans 53.

Those stats can be traced back to the turnovers and the Titans gameplan. Tennessee started three of their ten offensive drives (not counting the end of game kneel downs) in Baltimore territory and all three of those resulted in touchdowns. The Ravens best starting field position of the night was their own 26 yard line.

The Titans plan was clear. They wanted to force Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense to drive long fields in 5 to 10 yard chunks all game, taking away the explosive plays that Baltimore led the league in during the regular season.

This was the ultimate bend-but-don’t-break game for the Titans defense. The Ravens had seven drives of ten plays or more, but they didn’t get the big chunks and the Titans won all the big moments in this game.

So let’s look at the turnovers and the plays that the Titans made to force those mistakes.

The first was the tone setter for the entire game and it’s appropriate that it came from the Titans star safety, Kevin Byard. His 17 interceptions since becoming a full time starter in 2017 is tops in the NFL by far, with the next closest defenders checking with 13. This was his first postseason interception and it was the product of being in the right place at the right time and making a play when given the opportunity. When you’re in the right place 18 times over three seasons, it’s not an accident. Byard is the NFL’s best ballhawk.

However, the guy who really makes this play happen, in my opinion, is rookie defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons. The Titans 2019 first round pick splits the double team from Bradley Bozeman and Patrick Mekari with a great pass rush move and helps force Jackson’s throw to sail high and off the fingertips of Mark Andrews.

NFL Game Pass

The next turnover was a fourth down stop on the Ravens next offensive drive. As you’ve probably heard by now, Baltimore was 8 for 8 coming into this game on 4th and 1 tries in 2019. It looks to me like this run was designed to go further outside, but Jackson thinks he sees a pocket and turns up field. The Titans get great work up front from DaQuan Jones anchoring against a double team at the point of attack, but the play is really made by rookie linebacker David Long, who shoots a gap and tangles himself around Jackson’s legs, stopping any hope the Ravens had of pushing the pile.

NFL Game Pass

The third turnover comes on the first drive of the second half and it’s another 4th and 1 stop. This time the Ravens look like they want to go for just a straightforward QB sneak, but watch the entire Titans defensive line push Baltimore backwards at the snap. Jackson can’t simply fall forward so he tries to sneak around the right side. Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard sniffs it out and turns him back, allowing Harold Landry to close in from the backside and make the stop. Fantastic team defense.

NFL Game Pass

The Titans followed that stop with another touchdown to make the score 21-6 in the third quarter. Then the very next play, Jurrell Casey broke through, missed Jackson once, and then doubled back to get the strip sack and set the offense up for another short touchdown drive to effectively put the game away.

Casey is playing his best football of the season at the right time. Here, he gets chipped by Mark Ingram off the line, but manages to change his rush plan on the fly and work through the inside shoulder of All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley. After missing Lamar on the first pass, he keeps hustling and earns the opportunity to knock the ball out as Jackson tries to make the throw.

Two other players deserve credit on this snap in addition to Casey. First, is Rashaan Evans. The Titans inside linebacker is initially blitzing, but after he gets picked up, he follows Jackson’s eyes and gets in the passing lane, forcing Lamar to double clutch and giving Casey the chance to get home. This play doesn’t happen without Evans making a heads up play.

Jeffery Simmons also deserves big credit here. This was 1st and 10, so while a sack would have been nice, it still would have been 2nd and 11 if Stanley had managed to recover the ball for Baltimore. Instead, Simmons rips the ball away from Stanley in the scrum and puts his offense on the doorstep of another score.

NFL Game Pass

The next Ravens drive ended with a Kenny Vaccaro interception. Baltimore’s first eight possessions of the game, including this one, went:

  1. Interception
  2. Turnover on downs
  3. Punt
  4. Field goal
  5. Field goal
  6. Turnover on downs
  7. Fumble
  8. Interception

The Titans safety does a great job of understanding the responsibilities of the coverage that he’s in here. The Ravens are in a quad look with four receivers to the right side of the field and nobody in the backfield. Vaccaro is the curl-flat defender, but with just one receiver to his side of the field, he’s free to aggressively undercut the speed out which is exactly what he does here.

NFL Game Pass

It was a great read by Vaccaro, but it was an even better catch. Full extension and he catches the back half of the ball here. Just a phenomenal play.

NFL Game Pass

The final two turnovers were fourth down attempts with the Ravens in desperation mode late. The first is simply great coverage by backup safety Dane Cruikshank. The second year safety got 26 snaps on defense in this game, the most of his young career. Tennessee used a page out of the Chargers playbook for stopping Lamar Jackson in this game, sometimes putting seven defensive backs on the field to counteract the speed of the Ravens offense.

Here, Cruikshank is in man coverage against star tight end Mark Andrews and you really can’t ask for a better coverage rep than this. He gets hands on Andrews at the line of scrimmage, sticks tight out of the break, and then closes with perfect technique to reach that inside arm around to knock the ball down. This is coaching clinic stuff from Cruikshank.

NFL Game Pass

Finally, we have the last stop by the Titans with less than a minute left. It’s 4th and 11 and Jackson struggles to find his primary options open. DaQuan Jones does a nice job with a secondary rush move to speed up Jackson’s delivery, forcing an inaccurate pass that Miles Boykin can’t come up with.

NFL Game Pass

These seven plays were the story of the football game to me and they came from all levels of the Titans defense. This was a total team effort and when it mattered the most, Tennessee came up big every time.

Playing disciplined, assignment football

Lamar Jackson is a unique challenge for opposing defenses. He’s dynamic and tough to tackle in open space. When he gets headed north and south, he’s got the speed to erase angles and make game changing plays. The Titans did a great job of making Lamar run side to side in this game and that was intentional. Just take a look at these quotes from Logan Ryan in Albert Breer’s MMQB article this week:

“It’s funny, because a lot of people don’t fully understand football at the level Dean Pees does,” corner Logan Ryan told me postgame. “Everyone’s like, ‘Well, how you gonna spy [Jackson]?’ Well, he can outrun almost every spy. So our whole thing was, we wanted to give him loaded boxes, pack the paint, play the receivers inside-out and make him throw field comebacks, have eight, nine in the box, play quarters coverage, man coverage, play cat coverage, where we say, ‘You have this cat, I have this cat.’

“It was a lot of what Buffalo did to them, where we have rules, real strict option football rules, with an eight-man, nine-man box, and corners on their own. Buffalo played them like that. Buffalo played them really well. It’s just, Buffalo’s offense didn’t score touchdowns.”

You can see it in action here. The Titans load the box, do a great job in coverage, and then rally to the ball after he tries to escape on the backside of the play.

A few guys that deserve some credit here. First, let’s start with David Long. I saw this play in the Ravens tape all season and that underneath crosser was almost always there for Jackson if the deep crosser wasn’t. Long makes his run read, but as soon as he sees Hayden Hurst flash in front of him, he disrupts the route and then gets on his hip. Absolutely perfect play by the rookie linebacker.

While we’re looking at coverage, credit to Kevin Byard for taking away the deep cross to Willie Snead. Byard reads it all the way and is closing fast enough to scare Lamar off that option.

Then we have the contain defenders. Kamalei Correa does a nice job of staying home and preventing Jackson from gaining the edge on the boot. When Lamar winds back to the backside, Harold Landry and Rashaan Evans do an outstanding job of not just hustling to the ball, but taking good angles and filling lanes. Evans, in particular, really showed out in this game (for the second straight week). He didn’t get to participate in the combine due to injury so we don’t have an official 40 time on him, but he’s got some real play speed. He roamed sideline to sideline with Lamar all night long.

NFL Game Pass

Here’s more good stuff from Evans. He beats the block of Bozeman in the hole and then makes the stop on Ingram. Evans is another guy who is playing his best football in these playoffs.

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Nick Boyle is one of the best blocking tight ends in football, but Evans olés him and stops Jackson in the hole.

NFL Game Pass

More good discipline from Correa. He resists taking the cheese on the dive action and does enough to force Jackson to take a wide path. Sometimes making a great defensive play is not about making the actual tackle, it’s about forcing the ballcarrier to change his path or slow down enough to let your teammates rally to the ball. Correa’s effort forces Jackson right into Logan Ryan’s path and makes Willie Snead’ blocking angle all wrong.

NFL Game Pass

The Titans consistently forced Jackson to run east and west, using the sidelines as an extra defender and keeping him from being able to use his speed to erase angles. Nobody tried to play outside of themselves or make hero plays. The defense played like they trusted the gameplan and trusted each other to execute it.

Contributions from the rookies

We’ve already seen a couple plays from Jeffery Simmons and David Long, but those guys really had tremendous games and need to be highlighted here.

Long and Woodyard combined to fill in for the injured Jayon Brown and it was really impressive to see how well those guys performed. Long saw 46 snaps in this game, 18 more than his previous career high, and he made them count. He showed up frequently on tape.

Long is undersized at 5’-11” and 225 pounds, but he sure doesn’t play like it. Here, he KO’s the 6’-4”, 270-pound Nick Boyle in the hole, forcing Ingram to slow down just enough for Jurrell Casey to make the tackle.

NFL Game Pass

Here’s a tremendous read and tackle by the rookie. The Titans have to be feeling great about the trio of Evans, Brown, and Long at inside linebacker moving forward.

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The Titans first round pick was fantastic in this game as well. We saw him split a double team on Lamar’s first interception above. Here, he beats 8-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda with a nasty club-swim combo. Yanda gets away with a hold here — and a dangerous one when you look at how Simmons goes down — as he’s left with no option but to try and pull the rookie down by his britches.

NFL Game Pass

Simmons has tremendous power and it was on full display throughout this game. Here, he’s one-on-one against the Ravens enormous right tackle Orlando Brown. Brown is listed at 6’-8” and 345 pounds, but Simmons stones him at the line of scrimmage and then discards him with ease to make the tackle when Jackson tries to sneak out the backside.

NFL Game Pass

Simmons and the Titans defensive line were borderline immovable all game. Just look at the lack of movement up front by Baltimore’s offensive line. Simmons is matched up on Stanley in an unbalanced front here and he makes easy work of stacking and shedding the All-Pro to help make the stop.

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This rookie class already looks tremendous. All five of their active 2019 draft picks — excluding only the injured D’Andre Walker — logged at least 27 snaps in this game on offense or defense.

Jurrell Casey is playing his best football at the right time

We already saw the strip sack — Casey’s biggest play of the game — but the Titans four time Pro Bowl defensive lineman made several great plays Saturday night. Here, he stuffs both 300-pound full back Patrick Ricard and pulling guard Marshal Yanda at the point of attack, allowing Landry to make the stop.

NFL Game Pass

Casey had two sacks in the game and both were incredibly impressive pass rush reps. Here, he works across the center before executing a beautifully timed spin back into Jackson’s lap.

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Casey nearly had a third as he destroyed Bozeman with this club-swim, but misses Jackson in the backfield. The pressure does force the quarterback off rhythm and eventually leads to a short gain.

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Casey had dealt with some injuries earlier this year that limited his effectiveness and he missed the Chiefs game in Week 10 altogether. Now, he’s playing his best football and making a huge difference for the Titans front.

Tramaine Brock and Adoree’ Jackson were outstanding

The Titans gameplan to “pack the paint” and force Jackson to make throws outside the numbers relied on outside corners Adoree’ Jackson and Tramaine Brock to be able to hold up on an island against the Ravens receivers. They both played extremely well in this game.

Brock has really played well in recent weeks after being picked up as a midseason waiver claim from the Cardinals. He made a couple really nice plays in this game. First, is this stop short of the first down marker on a 3rd down pass to Seth Roberts. Brock’s close to push the receiver out of bounds short of the sticks was huge. It set up the Titans first 4th and 1 stop that led to the Kalif Raymond touchdown two plays later. If Brock is even a beat later in coverage, that 4th and 1 never comes up.

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Here, Brock makes an outstanding break on a deep out to close and break the pass up on the sidelines. He also got an assist from a nice pass rush by DaQuan Jones.

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The Titans best corner was Adoree’ Jackson though. He was nothing short of spectacular in this game. Jackson was targeted 9 times and allowed just 4 completions. Here is one of his three pass breakups in the game. The athleticism to break and cut off the angle against Marquise Brown is impressive.

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The replay angles showed that Jackson nearly came up with an incredible interception here.

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Even on the longest pass play of the game, Jackson had really good coverage. This bomb to Brown was an inch-perfect throw from Lamar and a fantastic catch. There is nothing wrong with the coverage here though.

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Jackson’s best play was this acrobatic deflection of a pass intended for Miles Boykin. The Titans corner manages to stay in Boykin’s back pocket all the way across the field on the deep over route before jumping over the receiver — without making enough contact to draw a penalty — and knocking the ball down.

NFL Game Pass

Adoree’s return to the lineup has been huge for the Titans defense. Jackson, Ryan, and Brock have all been outstanding in the postseason. Opposing teams targeting those three players have gone just 19 of 44 (43.2%) for 233 yards (5.3 YPA), 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception in the last two weeks.

Jackson has gotten his hands on as many catches as opposing receivers in passes into his coverage. He’s batted down 5 throws while allowing just 5 catches on 13 targets (38.5%).

The Titans will need more of the same against a dynamic Chiefs passing attack filled with weapons, but this group is playing at a very high level right now.