Calais Campbell remembers his first telephone conversation with Head Coach John Harbaugh after being traded to the Ravens.
They discussed what Campbell would add to Baltimore's defense. Stopping opponents from running the football was a main topic of conversation.
"He pretty much told me that we're going to play a lot of teams that do a lot of this zone stuff and just play downhill football," Campbell said. "From watching my tape and studying me, he knows I do that well."
No running back in the NFL today runs downhill with more force than Derrick Henry, who will lead the Tennessee Titans into Sunday's playoff game against the Ravens. This year, Henry became just the eighth player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.
Campbell is a prideful six-time Pro Bowler, and this will be the 34-year-old defensive end's first chance to face Henry this season. Campbell was out with a calf injury on Nov. 22 when Henry had 133 yards on 28 carries, scoring the game-winning 29-yard touchdown run in Tennessee's 30-24 overtime victory. Starting nose tackle Brandon Williams was also out for that game, and the Titans appeared to wear down Baltimore's defense as the game progressed.
Campbell plans for a different result Sunday. He's relishing the opportunity to tangle with a premier running back who he respects, but who he plans to contain.
"Derrick Henry is one of the best running backs to ever play this game," Campbell said. "He's in a zone right now. I take pride in the challenge of lining up and trying to shut him down."
After Henry amassed 195 yards on 30 carries during Baltimore's 28-12 playoff loss to Tennessee last season, the Ravens addressed their front seven in the offseason. They added two veterans to its defensive line, Campbell and Derek Wolfe, and drafted linemen Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington, along with inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison.
In November, the Ravens faced Tennessee without Campbell and Williams, two key pieces to their run defense. But they're both back, and Sunday's playoff game is the kind of battle that Campbell was brought to Baltimore for.
Head Coach John Harbaugh knows that Campbell is a unique player who can be a difference-maker, and he looked healthy in Sunday's 38-3 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
"It looks like's physically he's back," Harbaugh said. "He's a very strong, very agile big man. He can move laterally, he can extend, he can get off blocks, of course he takes up a lot of space. He's a very athletic guy for a man his size and he knows how to play. He knows how to play the schemes, plays very hard. So he's definitely a factor, a big factor."
For Campbell, now in his 13th season, there isn't time to waste. In 2008-2009, Campbell went to the Super Bowl as a rookie with the Arizona Cardinals, who lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. But he hasn't been back since, and this is only the sixth time in Campbell's career that he has been to the playoffs.
Some teams don't like to talk about their Super Bowl aspirations out loud, but the Ravens have been straightforward about their goal from the beginning of the season. Campbell likes that approach, and he's at the stage of his career where few other goals matter.
"I think you have to have confidence," Campbell said. "It's going to be hard work, it's not going to be easy. There's a quote hanging up on the wall, 'We have what it takes, and it's going to take all we have.' We have all the pieces in place to be successful, from being able to run the ball, play physical, talented defense.
"In the playoffs, especially on the road in the playoffs, you have to be able to run the ball, play great defense, bring your special teams. That's kind of been the formula throughout history."
What the Ravens haven't shown in their two most recent games against Tennessee, however, is a formula to control Henry. That's a major reason why Campbell is with the Ravens, and in his mind, what has happened in the past will be different than what happens Sunday.
"We know we can handle any of the tough circumstances that we face," Campbell said. "It's been quite a journey. But I feel like we're battle-tested. We've been through tough times and we came out the other side. I feel like we can start playing our best football.
"For me, not being able to play in that first game, and not being able to play in a bunch of games, the benefit is that I feel really good right now. I feel really healthy in the sense that I can out there and make some plays. I'm looking forward to it. I can't wait to go out there and play some good football."