Ravens Vs. Titans

Afc Wild-card Game

January 03, 2004|By JAMISON HENSLEY

4:30 P.M. M&T BANK STADIUM, CHS. 2 7





Ravens run offense vs. Titans run defense

Jamal Lewis ran for an NFL-best 129.1 yards rushing per game and became the fifth player in league history to eclipse 2,000 yards in a season. He is averaging one run of 10-plus yards every seven carries. Led by Pro Bowl outside linebacker Keith Bulluck, the Titans have allowed only three running backs to gain more than 80 yards this season. The last running back to break 100 yards in the postseason against the Titans was Jacksonville's Fred Taylor in the 1999 AFC championship game. EDGE: Even

Number to watch: 74.7

Lewis' average rushing yards in four games against the Titans.

Matchup to watch: Ravens fullback Alan Ricard vs. Titans middle linebacker Brad Kassell. Ricard is a big reason why Lewis has averaged 6.5 yards per carry up the middle. Kassell has started the past four games for the injured Rocky Calmus, registering a total of 21 tackles.

Ravens pass offense vs. Titans pass defense

The Ravens set single-season franchise records with fewest completions (217), attempts (415) and yards (2,517). Quarterback Anthony Wright has thrown for more than 200 yards in one of his seven starts, completing 52.8 percent of his passes. The forgotten man in the offense is Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, who has been limited to one catch in four of his last six games. The Titans have struggled against the pass, surrendering 225 yards per game, yet lead the NFL in holding teams on third down (27.7 percent). Tennessee's cornerbacks can be dangerous, with Samari Rolle intercepting six passes and Andre Dyson returning two picks for touchdowns this season. EDGE: Titans

Number to watch: 11

Turnovers committed by Wright in seven starts.

Matchup to watch: Ravens right tackle Orlando Brown vs. Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse. Although Brown has been stout in run blocking, he has given up 8 1/2 sacks this season. Kearse, who plays on the right side, likely will flop away from Jonathan Ogden. Although Kearse has 9 1/2 sacks, he has been shut out for five games.

Titans run offense vs. Ravens run defense

The Ravens' run defense grew stronger as the season wore on. Since Miami's Ricky Williams gained 105 yards against them seven games ago, no running back has gained more than 72 yards. The Ravens give up 3.4 yards per carry, which ranks third-best in the NFL. Rather than set the tone for the Tennessee's offense as in years past, Eddie George is now used to complement the passing game. The 30-year-old back averages 19.5 carries and 64 yards. EDGE: Ravens

Number to watch: 0

Number of times George has cracked a run over 10 yards in the past three games with the Ravens.

Matchup to watch: George vs. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Some of the most memorable collisions in this rivalry have been between these two. In their past eight meetings, Lewis has never allowed George to gain 100 yards and has held him under 64 yards rushing six times.

Titans pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense

The Titans are expected to spread the Ravens out and could go heavy on the four-receiver and empty backfield formations. Tennessee wants to keep the ball in the hands of quarterback Steve McNair, an MVP candidate who led the NFL in passer rating (100.4), yards per pass attempt (8.04) and third-down passer rating (117.7). Big plays could be a pivotal factor. McNair has connected on 27 passes of 25 or more yards; the Ravens have allowed only 17 deep passes. The Ravens' pass defense is becoming more confident and aggressive, racking up 24 interceptions (tied for fourth in the NFL) and 47 sacks (leads the league). Peter Boulware (8 1/2 sacks in last 10 games) is a game-time decision with a sprained right knee. EDGE: Even

Number to watch: Five.

Interceptions by McNair in 233 pass attempts in seven playoff games. For quarterbacks with a minimum of 150 attempts, only Hall of Famer Bart Starr has been better with three interceptions in 213 attempts.

Matchup to watch: Derrick Mason vs. Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister. Mason is the clutch target, topping the AFC with 69 first downs and 35 receptions on third down. McAlister has shut down such premier receivers as Torry Holt, Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson and Jimmy Smith.

Special teams

The field-position battle favors Tennessee if the teams trade punts. Pro Bowl punter Craig Hentrich has an AFC-best 37.8-yard net punting average. The Ravens' Dave Zastudil has struggled lately, netting 30 yards or less for three of the past four weeks. The Ravens have forced teams to start inside the 20-yard line 17 times on kickoffs, which is tops in the NFL. Kickoff returners have averaged only 18.8 yards against the Titans, which also leads the league. As far as the kickers, the Ravens' Matt Stover (33-for-38) and Tennessee's Gary Anderson (27-for-31) are as experienced as they are accurate. EDGE: Titans

Number to watch: 53

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