OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After weeks of preparing for a hated adversary they know almost as well as they know themselves, the Ravens turn their attention to the new-look Tennessee Titans for a Week 2 matchup in Nashville on Sunday.
With a new head coach and a new starting quarterback, the Titans find themselves climbing out of the shadows of a mostly-successful 16-year run under former coach Jeff Fisher and trying to right themselves after a disappointing 16-14 loss to the Jaguars in Week 1. New quarterback Matt Hasselbeck managed to throw for 263 yards, but the Titans surrendered 163 yards on the ground to Jacksonville.
On paper, the Ravens are the clear favorites, but preparing for a team with a new coaching staff and only a small amount of tape to view weighs on the Ravens’ minds in trying to get off to a 2-0 start for the fifth time in franchise history. As challenging as it is to take on Pittsburgh, the preparation is largely about minor details when you know an opponent so well. The Ravens haven’t faced Tennessee since Baltimore’s playoff victory in Nashville on Jan. 10, 2009 — when the Titans had a noticeably different personality aside from running back Chris Johnson.
“It’s a young, aggressive football team, but they’ve got a number of veteran players,” coach John Harbaugh. “Playmakers on offense are probably the first thing that sticks out. A defense that flies around — always an aggressive front that gets after you up front, an uneven defense. They’ve tweaked it just a little bit.”
Stopping Johnson will be the Ravens’ top priority despite the star running back being held to just 24 yards on nine carries. After holding out during training camp before agreeing to a new deal on Sept. 1, the 25-year-old back with blinding speed has tried to back into football shape quickly but did not fare well against the Jacksonville defense.
However, linebacker Ray Lewis knows exactly who offensive coordinator Chris Palmer — the former Cleveland Browns coach — will be trying to center his game plan around on Sunday. The Ravens held Pittsburgh to 66 yards on 16 attempts as the Steelers largely abandoned the running game in the second half.
“He is what they call that home-run hitter,” Lewis said. “He is their offense. He’s their heartbeat. You’ve got to know that he’s definitely going to touch the football a lot this week. We’re prepared for it; it should be a great test for us. When you talk about skill and talent, he’s a special, special talent.”
Chuck Pagano’s defense must also key on tall, speedy receiver Kenny Britt, who caught a pair of touchdown passes from Hasselbeck in the loss to Jacksonville. Britt’s speed was on display in the third quarter on a busted play when Hasselbeck flipped him the ball, and the 6-foot-3 receiver streaked 80 yards for the Titans’ first touchdown. He later caught a 2-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to make it a one-possession game.
With cornerback Jimmy Smith out with a high ankle sprain, third-year corner Cary Williams will likely draw the responsibility of matching up with Britt as he often did last Sunday against Pittsburgh receiver Mike Wallace.
And for veterans such as Lewis and linebacker Terrell Suggs, the memories of Hasselbeck’s past success against the Ravens while a member of the Seattle Seahawks will not be forgotten. Hasselbeck threw for five touchdown passes in the Ravens’ historic 44-41 comeback victory in Baltimore in 2003 and tossed two more in a 27-6 victory in Seattle in 2007. However, after only signing with Tennessee at the start of training camp, Hasselbeck is still getting acclimated to Palmer’s system and his new teammates.
“He’s had some success against us,” said Suggs, who was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday after his three-sack performance against Pittsburgh. “I think we definitely have got to take a look at that and try to correct some things before we face them on Sunday.”
Defensively, the Ravens will put Pittsburgh’s 3-4 scheme behind them and focus on the 4-3 alignment of new Tennessee defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. According to Harbaugh, the Titans now rely more heavily on their linebackers and use their defensive line to control the offensive line.
With the Titans allowing Maurice Jones-Drew and Deji Karim to run for a combined 130 yards on 38 carries as the Jaguars tried to limit the opportunites of new starting quarterback Luke McCown and control the clock. Considering the success the Ravens had on the ground against Pittsburgh, this Sunday figures to be a busy day for Ray Rice and Ricky Williams.
“You have to trust what you’ve seen on film,” Flacco said. “It might not be a lot, but you have to go with it. If you get out there and things change or he runs some new things, you’ve got to be able to adjust on the fly. I think, for us, it’s really just trusting what we saw and just going out there and being confident in it.”
With the Ravens coming off an emotional, dominating performance against their hated rivals, the possibility of an emotional letdown was posed several times by the media on Wednesday, a notion numerous players dismissed emphatically. Tennessee fans have no warm feelings for the Ravens with Baltimore having knocked the Titans out of the playoffs when they were the No. 1 seed in both 2000 and 2008 — both postseason contests taking place in Nashville.
“Regardless of what happened last week, we know that we’re going into hostile territory,” said running back Ray Rice, who expects the Tennessee defense to key on him heavily. “We know we have to be prepared to play.”
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from John Harbaugh, Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed, Michael Oher, Matt Birk, and David Reed prior to Wednesday’s practice.