OWINGS MILLS — Ravens safety Earl Thomas predicted the Titans’ game plan for Saturday nights’ divisional round matchup without mincing words.
“If [Tennessee quarterback Ryan] Tannehill tries to pass on us, I don’t think that will go in their favor,” Thomas said Tuesday. “We know they’re going to try to run the ball. But we just have to stop the run and play sound on the back end.”
Baltimore anticipates a heavy does of Derrick Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher in 2019. In last weekend’s Wild Card win over the New England Patriots, the Titans’ running back ran the ball 34 times for 184 yards.
“I think Tannehill probably threw like 17 times last game for like 75 yards in a playoff game, and they still won. That’s a credit to how hard he is running and their O-line. He’s a cutback runner. He’s very patient. He’ll find creases. And guys didn’t seem like they were too interested in tackling him,” Thomas said. “Our mindset is a little different. I think we’re going to try to tackle him and try to swarm, and we’re going to see how it plays out.”
Tannehill completed eight of 15 passes for 72 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Henry ran for a league-best 1,450 yards this season while also tying for the NFL lead in touchdowns with 16, but Tennessee’s turnaround came when Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota behind center. Tannehill led the Titans to seven wins in their final 11 games.
“They’re a big play-action, boot, a movement team. Ryan Tannehill has done just an excellent job with that,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It starts with the run game, of course. The run game is what makes all that go. The run game has been really, really good. They run most all of the schemes, but they especially base out of the wide-zone scheme, and that’s something that they do exceptionally well. They’ll run inside zone. They’ll run cutback zone. They’ll run counters. They’ll run power. They do a little bit of everything. Obviously, No. 22 [Henry] is about as good as you’ll see coming downhill running the ball.”
Henry does most of his damage between the tackles, meaning Baltimore’s defensive front of Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Domata Peko and Jihad Ward will play critical roles in making sure the Ravens don’t become the second home team in as many weeks the Titans find a way to upset.
“The way he runs behind his pads. The way once he gets started, he’s hard to stop, especially when he has the weapon of a stiff-arm he likes to use a lot,” Williams said. “Stopping the run is more important, because that’s what they do a lot more. For us, on me, on the whole defensive line, that’s what we’re prepared and ready to do. That’s what we hang our hat on day-in and day-out throughout the whole season, so we’re definitely prepared.”
Henry will be one of five Heisman Trophy winners playing in Saturday’s AFC Divisional Round game, having won the prestigious award in 2015. His college teammate at Alabama, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, knows the challenge the Ravens face.
“Big challenge. Derrick, seeing him against the Patriots, it looked like he was back at ‘Bama when he won the Heisman. It’s going to take all 11. He led the league in yards. He’s been doing his thing. I’m happy for what he’s done, I’m just hoping we can get him to the ground on Saturday,” Humphrey said. “I’m going to get an extra lift in this week and see how that works for me. It’s really going to take all 11. He’s 6-3, and he has really elite speed. He can run people over here and there, but he also has the speed that if he gets to the edge, he can really outrun you.”
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