2 teams, 2 'D's

Baltimore, Tennessee put up similar defensive statistics, but Ravens vary their routine while Titans stick to tried, true

January 09, 2009|By Bill Ordine | Bill Ordine,bill.ordine@baltsun.com

Nashville, Tenn. - The results the Ravens' and Titans' defenses have achieved are similarly impressive.

The Ravens are ranked No. 2 in the NFL in overall defense, which is based on yardage allowed, while Tennessee is No. 7. In points against, the Titans are No. 2 and the Ravens No. 3. In turnovers, the AFC South champions are plus-14 and the wild-card Ravens plus-13.

But the ways the two stout defenses get those results are strikingly different.

In arriving at tomorrow's AFC divisional playoff at LP Field, the Ravens' opportunistic defense has used an endless assortment of alignments and blitzes in which on any given play a nickel back might rush the passer and a player who appeared to line up at defensive end could be in pass coverage.

In contrast, the Titans get the majority of their quarterback pressure the old-fashioned way - from their front four. Of Tennessee's 44 sacks (fifth in the NFL), 39 1/2 have come from defensive linemen.

"We put guys on the edge, and we have guys who are athletic, who can run," said Titans left defensive end Jevon Kearse, who is back with the team he started his career with after four seasons in Philadelphia.

"And then we have guys in the middle like Albert [Haynesworth] and Tony Brown, who are athletic as well as strong, who can get a good push up the middle. ... What we're doing is pass rushing right into the run."

Among the things that characterize the Titans' defensive line is that the ends line up wider than on most teams and they are thinking pass rush on every down.

"We're always trying to rush the passer, on first, second and third down," said defensive end Jacob Ford, who is second on the team with seven sacks despite starting just three games. "Most teams, they designate third down as a pass-rush down, but we try to rush the passer on first down, so I think that really helps us."

All week, questions have swirled around the physical readiness of defensive tackle Haynesworth (knee), who leads the team with 8 1/2 sacks, and two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (groin). Both have been practicing and say they're ready to play.

It will be an interesting matchup when the Ravens go to their tackle-eligible formation that positions offensive lineman Adam Terry where a tight end would normally line up. While the Titans' defensive ends are quick and agile, they are not particularly big.

Vanden Bosch is listed at 278 pounds, Kearse at 260 and Ford, who could fill in for Vanden Bosch at right defensive end, is 256. Terry, when he is in as a tackle eligible, represents a 330-pound tight end, and the two starting tackles, Jared Gaither (330) and Willie Anderson (340), are similarly sized.

"It actually gives their offense another running gap," Vanden Bosch said of the tackle-eligible formation, "and also, just like a Wildcat offense, it gives you something else to prepare for, and that takes time away from other things."

"Their philosophy is to get a big body on you and have that running back get up a full head of steam," Vanden Bosch continued. "So you're not going to be making any arm tackles."

However, the Titans have obviously managed quite well with their smaller, quicker defensive ends and their big-push interior defensive linemen, and that's because they have active linebackers and defensive backs. Tennessee has 20 interceptions, just a handful fewer than the league-leading Ravens, who have 26.

"We've been fortunate to get really good pressure with a four-man rush," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "But a number of the sacks came as a result of really fine coverage, so it goes hand in hand."

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