RAVENS // TITANS OVERVIEW
This game brings together two teams with similar 2018 backgrounds, with the Titans posting impressive wins against the Jaguars and Eagles in Weeks 3 and 4, but also carrying losses on the year against Miami and Buffalo, and with the Ravens notching a road win at the Steelers in Week 4 before losing to the Browns in Week 5. The Titans are tied with the Jaguars for first in their division, while Baltimore sits one game behind the Bengals in the AFC North.
Each team has been willing to “win ugly” this year, and outside of a 22-34 loss against the Bengals, Baltimore has yet to allow more than 14 points in a game this season. Tennessee has been given a low (but possibly generous) Vegas-implied total of 19.0 to open the week, with point totals under their belts so far this year of 20, 20, nine, 26, and 12. Buffalo is the only team with fewer passing touchdowns than Tennessee. The Titans have only six offensive touchdowns on the year, through five games.
Baltimore has played aggressively to open the year, ranking third in pace of play and 11th in passing play percentage. The Titans have approached each game in the exact opposite manner, ranking 28th in pace and 32nd in passing play percentage. Baltimore has run the most plays per game to open the year, though they should finish below their typical rate this week. Early in this game, the Titans should try to slow things down as much as they possibly can. Once Baltimore stops them a few times and posts some points, things should open up a bit.
RAVENS PASS OFFENSE
Last year, with Dick LeBeau keeping an extra safety in the box as often as any team in the league, the way to attack Tennessee was through the air; they were one of the most difficult teams to run on, and one of the easiest teams to pass on — and as such, they faced the sixth-fewest rush attempts in the NFL, and the most pass attempts in the league. This year with Mike Vrabel taking over as head coach and Dean Pees stepping in as defensive coordinator, the Titans have played a primarily opponent-specific defense — but for the most part, they have been comfortable putting extra emphasis on the pass, while inviting teams to run. This has led to a flip-flop from last year, with Tennessee facing the fourth-fewest pass attempts per game, but facing the fourth-most rush attempts in the league. Baltimore prefers to attack through the air, and the Titans will want to shorten this game as much as they can, so look for Tennessee to once again focus on taking away the pass, attempting to funnel the Ravens to the ground.
The Titans play sticky coverage that has led to average numbers in both aDOT and catch rate allowed, paired with the second-best YAC per reception numbers in the league. So far this year, Joe Flacco has pass attempt numbers of 34, 55, 40, 42, and 56. With game flow unlikely to tilt pass-heavy, and with Baltimore likely to run fewer plays than normal compared to their league-leading pace, we are likeliest to see him land on the lower end of that range, at around 35 to 42 attempts.
The Titans have allowed the fewest pass plays in the NFL of 20+ yards, which bodes poorly for John Brown and his league-leading aDOT of 20.1. He does have 45.9% of the Ravens’ air yards — second in the NFL to only Julio Jones — so the targets will be there, keeping his upside intact; though his chances of hitting on these deep opportunities are lower than normal. Over the last four weeks, Brown has target counts of 10, nine, seven, and 14 — though he has hauled in only 16 of those 40 targets. Similar inefficiency should be a concern here, making him boom/bust on those looks, but he does see enough downfield looks that “week-winning upside” is in his range, in the same way it only took three catches last week for guys like Robby Anderson and Tre’Quan Smith to top 100 yards and post a pair of touchdowns.
Behind Brown, Michael Crabtree (10, 10, eight, and 12 targets the last four weeks) and Willie Snead (eight, five, seven, and seven targets) continue to soak up short-area looks, running overlapping route trees on possession-type usage, with Snead mostly running out of the slot and Crabtree mostly running outside. Snead has been far more efficient on his looks, catching 19 of those 27 targets, compared to 21 of 40 for Crabtree. Crabtree is tied with John Brown and Alex Collins for the most red zone targets on the team (five).
RAVENS RUN OFFENSE
The Titans have been attackable in the run game, ranking 22nd in fewest yards allowed per carry, while giving up the seventh-most rushing yards per game. They do have the personnel to tighten up near the end zone, however, as they have allowed only one rushing touchdown on the year, and they have allowed the lowest red zone touchdown rate in the league — leading to Tennessee ranking third in the NFL in points allowed per game. (The Ravens rank first.)
Alex Collins has seen the bulk of the work between the 20s — but given his fumbling issues, he has started to be removed at the goal line in favor of Javorius Allen, who has five carries inside the five-yard-line (compared to three for Collins). Allen has punched in three touchdowns on those carries, and there is no reason to expect the Ravens to move away from this split anytime soon. Since Collins sees very little pass game work (2.8 targets per game), he’ll need a lot of things to go right in order to hit for ceiling.
Allen, meanwhile, has touch counts on the year of nine, 11, nine, 12, and 14 — with 4.2 receptions per game and four touchdowns on the season. He should be in line for similar usage in this spot — as the Ravens should run fewer plays this week, but should lean on the running backs more. Touchdown upside will be tough to come by — but if he hits for another score, he should post another solid game.
TITANS PASS OFFENSE
Baltimore has been one of the toughest matchups in the league this year for opposing passing attacks, with the lowest catch rate allowed in the NFL, and with the lowest yards per target allowed. Because Baltimore plays at such a fast pace and has jumped out to a few big leads, they have faced the sixth most pass attempts in the NFL to begin the year — and even with that, they have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. The Titans — as a run-dominant team that likes to slow down the pace — will post fewer pass attempts vs Baltimore than most teams have.
After taking a step forward in Week 4, this pass offense once again jumped backward last week — and for the third time in their last four games, they threw fewer than 27 passes. In these lower-volume games, Corey Davis has seen target counts of seven, four, and six, and he enters one of the toughest matchups in the league this week. Behind Davis, Taywan Taylor continued to see work last week with five targets. He’s a big play threat every time he touches the ball, though his chances of hitting are lowered substantially against this stingy Baltimore D. Tajae Sharpe has yet to top four targets in a game. Jonnu Smith has yet to top three looks.
TITANS RUN OFFENSE
Only five teams have faced fewer rush attempts per game than Baltimore, though this has been dictated more by game flow than by matchup, as Baltimore is obviously not a defense that teams want to go out of their way to attack through the air. For as long as they are able to do so this week, the Titans should stick to their run-heavy approach — hoping to squeeze out the sort of ugly, 9-6 win they had over the Jaguars in Week 3.
While that’s good news from a “volume” perspective, everything after that is bad news, as Tennessee entered last week ranked 23rd in adjusted line yards, and only six teams have averaged fewer yards per carry to begin the year. Baltimore plays close to the line of scrimmage and is aggressive at the point of attack — a poor setup for an offense that likes to throw short when passing, and likes to lean on the run as often as possible.
Through five games, Derrick Henry has yet to top 60 rushing yards, and he has five total targets across these five games. He’ll need a couple long runs or a multi-touchdown game to be worth a roster spot.
Dion Lewis has touch counts on the year of 21, 15, 12, 13, and 15 — giving him a much higher touch floor than most would assume. Twenty-one of these 76 touches have come through the air, giving him a solid floor on PPR sites. Lewis also has the Titans’ only running back carry inside the five-yard-line this year — though this speaks to how low scoring opportunities have been for this team. The Titans rank 28th in red zone touchdown offense. The Ravens rank ninth in red zone scoring defense.
I don’t imagine I’ll have any pieces of this game, and I’ll peg this game with a good 70% chance of finishing under its early-week Over/Under of 41.0. It will be extremely difficult for this game to turn into a shootout — which effectively caps the upside on all players.
If rostering players in this game, my interest would flow to the downfield upside of John Brown and the sneaky floor of guys like Javorius Allen and Dion Lewis. While we can harvest some solid floors from these running backs, however, ceiling will be a slim proposition.
Tennessee’s quick-out passing attack has also led to them taking only nine sacks through five games. I’ll likely leave the Ravens alone on DST as well, as a solid but road-traveling unit going against a Titans team that does its best to limit negative plays.