BALTIMORE — Saturdays like what will happen tonight between the Tennessee Titans (9-7) and the Baltimore Ravens (14-2) are what sports fans live for. Playoff football permeates the air.
But how can Tennessee do the unthinkable? How can they cause what would be the biggest upset of the NFL season and stifle the sports best offense in their own house?
The answer may be less complex than you think.
Baltimore has the sixth best turnover differential (+10) and quarterback Lamar Jackson gives them the ability to make plays both through the air and on the ground. But what the second-year pro and inevitable MVP has shown a proclivity to do is force things on the bigger stages. In his final collegiate game, Jackson completed just 13-of-31 pass attempts for 171 yards and threw two touchdowns, but also four interceptions in a 31-27 loss to Mississippi State. Jackson also went 2-of-8 for 17 yards and an interception in the first half with a passer rating of 0.0 in the 2018 Wild Card 23-17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Three total fumbles and one that was lost in that game did not help either.
“Our defensive coaches felt like against this quarterback, it would be good to go small, because [the DBs] can help in coverage and they can help track Lamar,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said after the game. “And it worked. Now, we were prepared to go a different direction if it didn’t work. But for the most part, it worked today.”
Dating back to his college days as a Heisman Trophy-winner at Louisville, Jackson has always been the best athlete on the field. His awareness of his ability coupled with a highly competitive nature often drives him to play “hero ball” in years past. This year’s version of the Ravens’ quarterback is much more refined as a player, but the urge to make the big play can lead to catastrophe.
The Titans must force him into these situations.
“You think Dean (Pees) and I could stop him, huh?” joked coach Mike Vrabel earlier this week. “No, I mean, it’s hard. It’s discipline and ability, a lot of ability, a ton of ability. It’s a great scheme, but with any scheme, it’s never as important as the players executing the scheme. We’re going to try to do what we do every week which is just give our guys as much preparation as we possibly can. Show them, teach them, explain to them, work things on the field, work drills, try to find the guys that they have as go-to players, what their favorite plays are. Then obviously, there’s going to be new plays that show up in the game. Hopefully the things that we’re doing are sound enough to allow our players to go and execute.”
What the Tennessee needs is some hero ball from Jackson. To this point, that will to win backed up against adversity has yet to pan out in his favor.
Featured Image: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports.