The Ravens have the league's leading rusher in Jamal Lewis, who became the fifth player to crack 2,000 yards in a season. He runs with authority and has a unique blend of power and quickness. The Titans counter with the NFL's top run defense, holding teams to 80.9 yards rushing per game. Although they have surrendered 3.8 yards per carry, they have given up just two runs over 20 yards.
When asked about facing the league's No. 1 run defense, coach Brian Billick said, "We are the No. 1 rushing offense. What do they have to do to stop us from running it down their throats? Put the eight guys in the box, which won't be anything new for us. That is a standard alignment for them, which is why they have been able to be so successful against the run. It is going to be an interesting matchup of strengths."
Unlike the Ravens, Tennessee intends to move the ball through the air. Steve McNair, who has been battling calf and ankle injuries, is the league's top-ranked quarterback. He has completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,215 yards, with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Big plays are his forte with 27 throws of 25 yards or more.
But he will be going against a pass defense that is tops among the remaining AFC playoff teams. In the 16-game regular season, the Ravens recorded 24 interceptions and 47 sacks. "Steve McNair is probably the MVP," Billick said. "He's having a hell of a year and they are explosive." It's a familiar rival for the Ravens, who enter the playoffs on familiar footing.
The Ravens may have gone from one of the most experienced teams in 2001 to the youngest team in the playoffs this season, but their method of winning remains the same. Like their playoff teams in 2000 and 2001, the Ravens have a rushing offense ranked in the NFL's top 11 and a defense among the top 3. They even have the same seed -- No. 4 in the AFC -- that set their path for the Super Bowl title. "Our profile is what it is," Billick said. "We are the youngest team in the playoffs, I don't have a Pro Bowl quarterback, we have one hell of a defense, we are running the ball well, and we are showing the ability to make big plays under the right circumstances."
SERIES HISTORY: 15th meeting. The Ravens lead the series, 8-6, and have won five in a row over Tennessee. Their last postseason meeting was three seasons ago, when the Ravens won in Tennessee, 24-10, on their way to the Super Bowl. Breaking a 10-10 tie in the fourth quarter, Anthony Mitchell raced 90 yards for a touchdown after Keith Washington blocked an Al Del Greco 37-yard field goal attempt. Ray Lewis then sealed the win by intercepting Steve McNair and returning it 50 yards for a touchdown.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--Coach Brian Billick doesn't think that the Ravens' five-game winning streak over the Titans will have any effect on Saturday's game. "We can't count about it carrying over," Billick said. "If it does, it would be great. But how many did six straight wins here in Baltimore do for Pittsburgh? Billick said the trash talking between the teams have been overblown but the intensity of the series has not. "The rivalry is very real," Billick said, "and is to the marrow."
--Billick said his team probably would have been without linebacker Peter Boulware in Sunday's 13-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers even if a playoff berth had been on the line. Boulware, who sat out the game with a knee sprain, is expected to play against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday. "Obviously, this isn't going to be a real physical week for us," Billick said. "He's had treatment, he's had the knee drained. Bill [Tessendorf, trainer] feels very good about where he's at. I bet [Boulware] feels good, so we'll see as we progress during the week, but right now, I'm fairly optimistic."
--Nose tackle Kelly Gregg, who is fourth on the Ravens with 104 tackles, was rewarded with a five-year extension with the Ravens that included a $2 million signing bonus. "It seems like the other day I was in here signing with the practice squad," Gregg said. "I just looked at the guys like Goose [Tony Siragusa], Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary. They said, 'Work hard and good things will happen.' I'm just so thankful to the Ravens organization for giving me a chance and not getting sold on my size."
The Ravens are continuing negotiations with center Mike Flynn on a contract extension. There is a possibility that a deal could be reached before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in March.
--The Ravens set a franchise record with 391 points this season (eighth in the league), averaging 24.4 points a game. The Ravens led the NFL with 140 fourth-quarter points.
--In the 41 games that running back Jamal Lewis and linebacker Ray Lewis (no relation) have played together over the last four years, the Ravens are 28-13.
--The Ravens are 28-13 in games played in November and December, the league's fourth-best winning percentage in those months.
--When leading at halftime, the Ravens are 9-0. When they trail by six or more points at the end of the first quarter, they are 0-4.
--The Ravens have outscored their opponents, 150-65 in the fourth quarter.
--When the Ravens force multiple turnovers, they are 10-1.
--In five seasons under Billick, the Ravens have a 25-6 record when they produce a 100-yard rusher.
BY THE NUMBERS: 14.8 -- Average margin of victory in the Ravens' six-game home winning streak.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You have to have the chin strap buckled because it's going to be a dogfight. Something has got to give. We're not going to change what we do. It's going to be a smash mouth game." -- Guard Edwin Mulitalo on the Ravens' top-ranked rushing attack going against the Titans and the NFL's top-ranked run defense.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Ravens likely will have to go with their backup plan at outside linebacker for the second straight week. They will be without Adalius Thomas for the rest of the season with an elbow injury and probably will be missing Peter Boulware on running situations. Boulware's right knee sprain may limit him to being a rush end on passing situations, where he has the most impact during games. If that's the case, Terrell Suggs and Cornell Brown -- both of whom were backups to begin the season -- would become the starting outside linebackers for the second straight week. Brown is more of a run stopper while Suggs is more athletic.
--LB Peter Boulware (knee) is questionable and the biggest question mark on the team. The best-case scenario is having him for passing downs.
--RG Bennie Anderson (knee) is questionable and is expected to start. If he isn't at full strength, the Ravens may try to save the wear and tear by rotating him with Casey Rabach.
--P Dave Zastudil (broken nose) is expected to play.
--TE John Jones (leg) is questionable and may not play. He is a role player on special teams.
GAME PLAN: The Ravens have run the ball because they're so used to working with eight men in the box while defenses are out of their comfort zone. But the Titans use eight-men fronts as a basic defense, which means the Ravens could have a more balanced attack. When teams play one safety deep, the Ravens like to go over the top and think that's the best way to beat Tennessee.
Defensively, the Ravens are most worried about quarterback Steve McNair breaking containment and throwing deep. The emphasis will be on safeties Ed Reed and Will Demps playing deep and keeping their focus on the receivers instead of McNair scrambling. The Ravens are confident that they can continue their strong run of shutting down running back Eddie George.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister vs. Titans receiver Derrick Mason: McAlister has been one of the top shutdown corners in the league this season, taking the likes of Torry Holt, Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson out of the game. Mason has 95 receptions and 10 touchdowns.
Ravens running back Jamal Lewis vs. Titans run defense: Lewis broke 100 yards in 12 of 16 games and is averaging 129.1 yards rushing per game. The Titans have limited teams to 80.9 yards rushing per game while giving up 3.8 yards per carry.
INJURY IMPACT: RG Bennie Anderson (knee) could share time with Casey Rabach, who is more athletic but lacks power in run blocking. ... LB Peter Boulware (knee) may be limited to pass-rushing duties and could be replaced by Terrell Suggs at linebacker in running situations.