The Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens are known for having two of the highest-scoring offenses in the NFL. Both are looking to play to that identity again on Sunday when they meet in a key AFC battle in Baltimore.
Each comes in with a 6-3 record, but neither has been at its best of late. Tennessee’s 34-17 loss to Indianapolis on Nov. 12 was its third in four games, dropping it completely out of the seven-team AFC playoff field for now.
The Ravens’ 23-17 Sunday night loss at New England snapped a league-record 31-game streak in which they scored at least 20 points, but also served to highlight the biggest problem for their sputtering offense — a sudden inability to create big plays.
In going 14-2 last year and earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC, Baltimore averaged 6.1 yards per play and 11.6 yards per completion, good for third and 13th in the NFL, respectively. This year, those numbers are down to 5.5 and 11.2, respectively.
“We want more big plays for sure,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “We want catch-and-run plays. We took numerous opportunities to try to throw the ball deep in that game, and none of them really happened in terms of the deep throws.
“So you just have to keep working on it and try to make it happen. If we could make some big plays in the passing game, that would be huge for us.”
Quarterback Lamar Jackson isn’t experiencing that big of a drop-off from last year. His current numbers are on pace to be just slightly down from an MVP season. But Jackson has already turned the ball over as much this year as he did last year.
Opponents have also been able to take away deep threat Marquise Brown, who in his last three games has just six catches for 55 yards. Brown was averaging 14.5 yards per catch before that stretch.
The Titans might be the team that could fix that issue. They have experienced problems most of the season against the pass, and veteran quarterback Philip Rivers exploited it last week. With an anemic pass rush managing just one sack on 39 attempts, Rivers threw for 308 yards.
But with other issues plaguing Tennessee — a banged-up offensive line and special teams problems — coach Mike Vrabel is more worried about the macro than the micro.
“We’re just trying to win a game,” he said. “A lot of teams are bunched up just like last year. We’re trying to put our head down and focusing on continuing to improve at this point in the season, knowing teams are going in different directions.”
Vrabel surprised more than a few pundits when he opted to stick with Stephen Gostkowski for placements and Trevor Daniel on punts in place of the injured Brett Kern. Gostkowski is just 12 of 20 on field goals, while Daniel shanked a 17-yarder and had a punt blocked to fuel the Colts’ 21-0 second-half surge.
Former Raiders kicker Giorgio Tavecchio is on the Titans’ practice squad, but Vrabel, a former teammate of Gostkowski’s in New England, reiterated on Monday that he’s the team’s kicker.
Lost in both teams’ need to win is the fact this is a rematch of an AFC divisional round game last January in Baltimore, when Tennessee got 195 yards rushing from Derrick Henry in a 28-12 upset. Jackson’s 508 total yards — 365 passing, 143 rushing — amounted to nothing more than a fourth-quarter touchdown pass after the game was decided.