Low-flying air attack of Ravens somehow rises vs. stingy Titans

Ravens threw for 250 in both games

`we're able to match up well'

Ravens Vs. Titans

January 04, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

The Tennessee Titans allowed the fewest passing yards in the NFL this season. The Ravens ranked 22nd out of the 31 teams in passing yardage, so it's a given that Baltimore has to follow Jamal Lewis and the ground game in Sunday's divisional playoff game at Adelphia Coliseum.

Not so fast.

The Titans have a roster of Pro Bowl players and a resume that reads 151.5 yards allowed through the air per game. That figure, however, was aided by lousy conditions and lame competition in Tennessee's last three games, when Cincinnati, Cleveland and Dallas combined for 183 passing yards. If it's numbers you want, try these: The Ravens passed for 255 yards on the Titans at PSINet Stadium, and threw for 258 more at Adelphia Coliseum.

No one else went as far against the only NFL team to win 13 games in the regular season, and wide receiver Qadry Ismail isn't exactly sure why the Ravens found a comfort zone against the Titans.

"For whatever reason, we seem to have a perception that's not reality," Ismail said. "We're able to match up well with them. The perception is that we don't, but the reality is that we do match up with them. We're able to take advantage of some of the things our offense does that their defense has a hard time defending. They're aggressive in their defensive looks, and we've been able to manufacture some big plays against them."

For 118 minutes this season, all Ravens' fans could do was bemoan big plays by the Titans' pass defense.

Linebacker Randall Godfrey intercepted Tony Banks on the Ravens' first play of the second half and brought it back 24 yards for a touchdown in the Titans' 14-6 win at PSINet Stadium Oct. 22. Trent Dilfer promptly became the Baltimore quarterback, and he too had a pick returned for a score by the Titans, as his telegraphed pass to Patrick Johnson was brought back 87 yards by Perry Phenix at Tennessee Nov. 12.

That frustrating play gave the Titans a short-lived 23-17 lead. Dilfer rebounded with a 70-yard, game-winning drive. The key play was an impromptu 36-yard connection to Shannon Sharpe, and while the tight end combined for 16 receptions in the regular season against Tennessee, the Ravens' wide receivers also came up big.

Johnson caught the winning touchdown pass at Tennessee on a short out. The Ravens began their scoring that day with a 46-yard pass from Dilfer to Ismail.

Both Ismail and Johnson know that they have to deliver again against the Titans, who typically bring up safety Blaine Bishop to put eight men in the box and leave Samari Rolle and Denard Walker to fend for themselves on the corners.

"Based on their coverages and the style of defense they play, there's a lot of one-on-one coverage," Johnson said. "We should have some opportunities to make some plays."

Rolle is an All-Pro. Bishop is going to his fourth Pro Bowl. It's a secondary that should own the Ravens, but that's not been the case.

"I don't know how to explain it," Ismail said. "In the NFL, there are certain teams you play differently, and it's weird. Up until this year, you could say that Tennessee had Jacksonville's number, Jacksonville had our number and we had Tennessee's number. It was that carousel. ...

"That's just the way the NFL goes. Whatever the reason, I can't quantify it. I don't care to analyze it."

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