How the Tennessee Titans shut down the Ravens’ passing attack

In my recap of Sunday’s game, I wrote how the Titans beat the Ravens the way most games in the modern NFL are won: by throwing the ball successfully and stopping the pass. A key element of the success in both the passing offense and passing defense was the protection or lack thereof: the Titans’ offensive line did a good job against the Ravens’ pressure players, while the Titans’ defensive line moved Joe Flacco off his spot and sacked him three times.

This week, I’ll be focusing on how that happens, and today I’ll take a look at the defense. So, what were the Titans able to do against the Ravens they weren’t against the Jaguars?

Cover downfield.
Ok, the reason the Titans didn’t cover downfield against the Jaguars is because the Jaguars really didn’t try to throw the ball downfield at all. Flacco had many opportunities to scan the field and look at his first or even a second read, but rarely threw the ball. The Titans did a very good job of taking that first read away from him. It’s difficult from TV coverage to single out particular players for credit, but this had to have been a team effort.

Limit Ray Rice.
Flacco for much of his NFL career has been a first-read and then checkdown quarterback. Part of the appeal of the checkdown has been Ray Rice tends to be a very productive checkdown option. He had a couple damaging receptions, but his biggest play was a designed screen, not a checkdown, and the checkdowns were less productive than normal.

Take advantage of your opponent’s limitations.
The Ravens were playing without regular left guard Ben Grubbs, who’s one of the NFL’s better interior linemen. Instead the Ravens played Mark LeVoir, a mediocre veteran making his third career start. Another liability was left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who’s probably still too heavy and is vulnerable to the outside rush.

Go back to the old tricks-wide-9 and E-T stunts.
Back a couple years ago when the Titans defense was good, the defensive ends lined up in a wide-9 technique outside the tight ends and used the outside rush.  New defensive coordinator Jerry Gray recognized that it had worked in the past, and brought it back for the Ravens game. It worked again, in a way that the zone blitzes the Titans ran did not.  The Titans under Jim Schwartz also used things like Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch running stunts.  That was another way Karl Klug at right defensive tackle and Dave Ball at right defensive end were able to get pressure against LeVoir and McKinnie.

Derrick Morgan
Working pretty much exclusively from the left defensive end spot against right tackle Michael Oher, I saw more pass rushing productivity from him than I thought I saw from William Hayes.  I’d like to have also listed Jason Jones in this spot, but just didn’t see enough from him.

If you want my play-by-play notes regarding pass pressure, they’re available here.

The key question is, can the Titans repeat this next week against Denver? Left tackle Ryan Clady is a better, smoother athlete than McKinnie, so the wide-9 may not be as effective. Do the Broncos have their own “Mark LeVoir” the Titans can exploit? That’s one of the things I’ll be addressing in our Q&A this week, and one of the things I’ll be looking for one I watch last week’s Broncos game.

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