Baltimore (10-6) has won the last five games in the series against this former AFC Central rival, including a 24-10 victory in an AFC divisional playoff in Nashville three years ago that helped propel the Ravens toward their Super Bowl title. That game was highlighted by former Baltimore safety Anthony Mitchell returning a blocked Al Del Greco field-goal attempt for a 90-yard touchdown. "It's been a great rivalry with Tennessee," Ravens director of personnel Phil Savage said. "When they split the Central Division up and we parted ways with us going to the North and they went to the AFC South, we were hoping we would wind up in the same division with them.
Both sides will be looking forward to what should be a great game." Tennessee (12-4) finished second in the AFC South behind the Indianapolis Colts. These Titans are still led by All-Pro quarterback Steve McNair, who has battled through injuries to lead the NFL with a 100.4 quarterback rating. He has passed for 3,215 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions. McNair sat out of the Titans' 33-13 win Sunday over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers with veteran Neil O'Donnell under center.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher opted to sit McNair to not risk further aggravating his strained right calf, sprained left ankle and a cracked bone spur. McNair played a week ago against the Houston Texans, but hasn't practiced for three straight weeks. His favorite target is receiver Derrick Mason, but he tends to spread the football around to Justin McCareins, among others. "I think they've changed a little bit on offense," Savage said. "Without studying the film, they used to run to set up their passes. Now, it's probably the opposite."
Running back Eddie George, who bobbled a McNair pass for an interception that All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis returned for a 50-yard score in the playoff win three years ago, is no longer the focal point of the Titans' offense. "I think Eddie George isn't as much of a workhorse as he used to be," Savage said of the 6-foot-3, 240-pound 1,000-yard rusher. "He's still a good, very capable back and somebody who just passed 10,000 yards."
One potential edge Savage noted about the Titans is their playoff experience. The Ravens are one of the youngest teams in the league. And the Titans feature older, accomplished players like former University of Maryland tight end Frank Wycheck, offensive tackle Brad Hopkins, kicker Gary Anderson and O'Donnell. "They are a very experienced team," Savage said. "I think that will be at least one advantage they might have on us. They have been in so many playoff games and big games over the past few years. That helps them a lot."
Defensively, the Titans sport a Pro Bowl linebacker in Keith Bulluck, a former first-round pick from Syracuse who emerged as a commodity in the NFL draft for his versatility and speed as a former safety. "I think he's very talented," Savage said. "We've been pretty set at linebacker, but we liked him a lot coming out of college. "He's a four-down player. He can play the run. He can play the pass. And he can cover kicks on special teams."
In front of Bulluck, the Titans have an aggressive front four headlined by defensive ends Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter. The tandem has combined for 15 sacks. "Definitely, protecting the passer is always a premium against them," Savage said. "They are usually pretty solid on defense. They have somewhat of a tradition on defense sort of similar to us. "It doesn't seem to matter who's playing, just that they're wearing their uniform." And the Titans surely haven't forgotten how Baltimore scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to advance to the AFC title game against the Oakland Raiders before dominating the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. "The Titans know us and we know them," Savage said. "It should be a tough football game."
Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.