BALTIMORE – Containing Lamar Jackson has been virtually impossible for opposing defenses this season, and now the task falls on the Tennessee Titans to find a way to slow down a versatile quarterback who is equally adept at running the ball and throwing downfield.
“Other than try to tie his shoelaces together, not many people have had success,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel acknowledged.
The top-seeded Baltimore Ravens (14-2) bring a 12-game winning streak and the most productive offense in the NFL into today's AFC playoff game against the Titans (10-7), who advanced by beating New England 20-13 last week.
Tennessee's hope of pulling off another upset rests upon keeping Jackson in check. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner has become an unstoppable force in his second NFL season, running for 1,206 yards – most by a quarterback in NFL history – and tossing 36 touchdown passes.
Jackson is the main component on a team that ranked No. 1 with 531 points and set an NFL record with 3,296 yards rushing. Asked if he had ever seen a club run the ball so effectively, Vrabel replied: “Not in this league. It's ridiculous. I just did the math; it took me a while.”
The Titans have solid running game, too. Derrick Henry, the NFL's leading rusher, is a 6-foot-3, 247-pound bruiser who throttled the Patriots for 182 yards on the ground.
“He's like one of those guys that the kids create on Madden. You shouldn't be that big and be able to run like he runs,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale said.
“Obviously, we're going to have to bring our lunch pail, work hat and just go play football with him.”
Baltimore's defense has no intention of backing down.
“Guys didn't seem like they were too interested in tackling him,” Ravens safety Earl Thomas said of the Patriots. “Our mindset is a little different. We're going to tackle him and try to swarm.”
Tennessee's offense has flourished since Ryan Tannehill took over for struggling Marcus Mariota in Week 7. He has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 11 straight starts, and over the final 10 games of the regular season accounted for 26 total touchdowns – 22 through the air and four on the ground. Only Jackson, with 30, had more over that span.
The Ravens are the NFL's No. 3 scoring defense, giving up 17.6 points a game. The Titans finished the regular season 12th, giving up 20.7 points a game under former Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
But in the last two games, including a must-win finale against Houston, Tennessee yielded just 27 points.
Run to glory
Henry has been on quite a run over his past seven games, averaging 154 yards and piling up 1,078 yards. Against New England, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner accounted for 75% of Tennessee's offensive production – including a 22-yard pickup off a screen.
If Henry runs for 180 yards against the Ravens, he would become the first player since 1970 to have at least 180 yards in three straight games in either the regular season or postseason.
Last year, however, he was limited to 21 yards over seven carries in Tennessee's 21-0 loss to Baltimore.