By Amy Tennery
(Reuters) – The Baltimore Ravens’ elaborate defensive agenda in Sunday’s Wild Card matchup against the Tennessee Titans could possibly boil down to a singular objective: Stop Derrick Henry.
The leading rusher during the regular season by an enormous margin, the Titans’ ferocious running back earned a spot in the NFL’s “2,000-yard club,” an elite group of just eight running backs to cross that threshold in one season, and presents perhaps the biggest threat to Baltimore’s postseason ambitions.
“It’s the greatest challenge every play. Let’s make no mistake about it – he’s the best running back in football,” Baltimore defensive coordinator Don Martindale told reporters this week. “We know it. He knows it. We’re just getting ready to go for the challenge ahead on Sunday.”
The Titans ended the Baltimore Ravens’ playoff run a year ago in a 28-12 shock AFC Divisional game upset over the heavily favored number-one seed, in which Henry ran for 195 yards and even tossed a three-yard touchdown pass in an inspired bit of red zone trickery.
With a top-10 rushing defense that allowed an average of 18.9 points per game this season, the 11-5 Ravens hope not to repeat history in Tennessee on Sunday, and help their fleet-footed, 2019 league MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson clinch his first-ever playoff win.
“They’re one of the top teams for a reason,” said head coach John Harbaugh, who has heaped praise on Titans’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s play-action abilities as well.
“It’s really important to be able to run the ball in the red zone, and then the ability to extend plays is really critical, which, of course, (Tannehill) can do very well.”
The former Dolphins quarterback is coming off of a prolific, 3,819-yard season – one of his strongest yet – with seven interceptions and 33 touchdowns.
“They do a good job of moving around and getting open on the extended play and scramble. Of course, (Tannehill) keeps the ball a lot of times down inside the 10-yard line,” Harbaugh told reporters. “So, all of those things are why they’re so good. It’s going to be up to us to try to get them stopped.”
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)