The Ravens face the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round Saturday, a team that features a multi-headed rushing attack of their own to counter the Ravens’ 3-man backfield. Let’s take a look at how the backs compare.
Chris Johnson – My Man Dewey gave Chris Johnson the nickname “Stupid Fast” back in June. Johnson clocked a 4.24 40-yard dash at this year’s rookie combine. He racked up 1228 yards this season and found the end zone 10 times (1 receiving). His worst performance of the year was a 14-carry, 8-yard showing against Chicago in Week 10, and his best was the 168 yards he gained on 18 rushes against Kansas City in Week 7. The last time he saw the field was in Week 16 against Pittsburgh’s #2 rush defense, and he played well, averaging 4.3 ypc on 16 carries. The Ravens held Johnson in check in Week 5, as he ran for only 44 yards on 18 attempts, and caught 2 passes for a measly 4 yards.
Chris Johnson had a strong rookie season, and will be a force in this league for a good while, but this is his first taste of the postseason. One thing he has going for him this week is that he has already seen the Ravens defense, so he knows what he is in for. Knowing about it and doing something about it are two totally different things though. Could Ray Lewis have Johnson hearing footsteps and alligator-arming passes by the end of this one like he did to Eddie George 8 years ago? Ya damn right.
LenDale White – If Chris Johnson is “Stupid Fast,” then White is “Stupid Fat” (although he is forever cool in my book). White is the Titans’ short yardage bruiser, used most often near the goal line. White was very effective in that role, scoring 15 TDs this season. He also had some big yardage games though – he had 99 yards or more 3 times, and even broke an 80-yarder against KC. Against the Ravens, White was even less of a factor than Johnson, carrying 3 times for 4 yards (on one of those runs, Lewis hit him almost as hard as White hits the post-game buffet table. HEYYYOOO!!!)
There isn’t much chance LenDale White has a big day Saturday. With “Stupid Fat” though, if the Titans get down near the goal line, the Ravens may be hard-pressed to repeat the kind of stand they managed against Miami in the first quarter last week.
White had this to say regarding the matchup with the Ravens’ #3 rushing defense:
“I’m 240 pounds for a reason” – um…the reason being you can’t stop eating?
“I welcome anything at any given time” – “as long as it’s covered in barbecue sauce”
Le’Ron McClain – McClain was still playing second fiddle to Willis McGahee back in Week 5, but still had a big hand in helping the Ravens control the ball for nearly 10 minutes more than Tennessee. He carried 11 times for 51 yards, scored the Ravens’ lone TD, and also added 12 yards on 2 receptions. Now, he is the feature back in Cam Cameron’s offense, having carried 18 or more times in 7 straight games, and has racked up 977 yards and 11 TDs. Although the Titans have a good bit of film on him by now, they won’t know what hit them when the “Pain Train” pulls into Nashville at 4:30 Saturday afternoon.
Willis McGahee – McGahee carried 22 times for 64 yards in the first meeting with the Titans, but hasn’t had more than 11 carries since Week 10. He has benefitted from McClain wearing down defenses lately though, and had critical late-game long runs against Dallas and Miami. Willis is averaging over 10 ypc over his last 3 games (19 carries). With Ray Rice out since early December, McGahee has served mainly as the Ravens 3rd-down back.
Ray Rice – Rice is expected to return to action this week, after being out since the Washington game with a shin bruise. He was dressed and available last week, but with the Ravens holding a comfortable lead for most of the game, the coaching staff decided to give Rice another week of rest. A comfortable lead would be a welcome surprise this week though, and Rice will likely be needed. He is the best receiver of the Ravens’ 3 backs, with 273 yards on 33 receptions. He had turned himself into a first-down machine before getting hurt, displaying an uncanny ability to move the chains on even the longest of 3rd downs. Not playing since Week 14 could be a blessing or a curse for Rice – he will definitely have the freshest legs, but he may also be a bit rusty. A Divisional Playoff game is no time to try to shake off rust, especially for a rookie, so it will be interesting to see how much action Rice gets.
The other variable in all this is, of course, the defenses. The Ravens allowed 81.4 rushing yards per game in the regular season and just 52 to Miami in the Wild Card game. Tennessee was 6th in the league, giving up 93.9 ypg, and are getting DT Albert “Curb Stomp” Haynesworth back this week.
It seems that neither team has much of an advantage on the ground in this one. It’s easy enough to predict that whichever team is better able to run the ball will likely win; however, in Week 5, the Ravens outgained TEN 132-47 on the ground, and had a TOP advantage of 34:28-25:32 – and we all know how that ended.
Still, to dominate like that and lose is pretty damn fluky. The “run the ball, stop the run” formula is pretty reliable, especially in January. Based on the Ravens’ demonstrated ability to contain the Titans’ backs, as well as to move the ball with their own, we give the purple and black the ground nod heading into Saturday.