Mailbag: What's the Plan for Slowing the Titans Offense?

010621-Mailbag
Left: Titans QB Ryan Tannehill; Right: Titans RB Derrick Henry

Mink: The biggest question of the week is what the Ravens will do to slow down Derrick Henry, the NFL's latest 2,000-yard rusher. I'm not an Xs and Os guy. If you're looking for that, watch the Billick Breakdown this week.

My layman's take on this is the return of Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams to the lineup (neither were on the field when the Ravens faced the Titans earlier this season) will make a huge difference. The Ravens traded for Campbell, signed Derek Wolfe and drafted Patrick Queen, in part, because they had visions of Henry in their head from last year's playoff loss.

Second, the Ravens have to play especially well on first and second down. Of course, that's easier said than done when you've got Henry running at you on at least one of those downs, but if Baltimore can get the Titans to third-and-6 or longer, Henry comes off the field.

Lastly, the job will get easier with help from the Ravens offense. If Baltimore can jump out to a double-digit lead and maintain it into the second half, which the Ravens are often so good at doing, Henry will see fewer touches. That's huge because he often does a lot of his damage late in games when the defense is tired of tackling the 247-pound bruiser.

To the other questions, I do think the threat of Tennessee's passing game gets overshadowed by Henry. The Titans have two very legit wide receivers in A.J. Brown (1,075 yards) and Corey Davis (984 yards). Ryan Tannehill had the fifth-best quarterback rating in the NFL this season with 33 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. They can put up some numbers. The good news on this front is the Ravens secondary (the strength of the team) is getting healthier with Jimmy Smith having a good chance to return. As is the case with Henry, Baltimore must tackle well because Brown and Davis are both big, physical receivers who gash teams with yards after the catch.

Downing: Over the last couple of weeks, there seemed to be momentum building about Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale getting interviews for head coaching opportunities. He interviewed last year for the New York Giants job, and multiple media members reported this year that he would get strong consideration for the open positions. But at this point, it doesn't seem like that has come to fruition. Head Coach John Harbaugh said on Monday that the only interview request the team had received was for Director of Football Research Scott Cohen to interview for the Houston Texans General Manager role (the Texans ultimately hired Nick Caserio from the Patriots).

Something that Martindale has working against him is that he's a defensive coach, and many teams go in the direction of the hot-shot offensive play-callers when trying to find a new head coach. He's already fighting an uphill battle just based on the side of the ball he's coached. But with that said, Martindale is deserving of an opportunity. He's proven himself as one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL – during his three years on the job, the Ravens have allowed the fewest yards in the NFL – and he clearly has the trust and respect of his players. Martindale would win over a locker room quickly and set a strong tone for a franchise. Now it would definitely hurt to lose Martindale, so if he ends up not getting any interviews this time around, the good news for the Ravens is that they get to keep perhaps the game's best defensive coordinator in Baltimore.

Mink: Miles Boykin didn't have the 2020 breakout campaign that many of us watching training camp predicted, finishing the regular season with 19 catches for 266 yards and four touchdowns. But, yes, I do believe Boykin will be a key part of the Ravens' plans next season and will not transition to tight end.

I know it doesn't get fans excited, but Boykin does play a big part in the blocking for the Ravens running game. Keep an eye on outside runs and long runs and you'll often see Boykin out there helping to clear the path. He's improved as a wide receiver, as his three touchdowns over the past five games speak to. Boykin is still a big, fast receiver who can make plays down the field and move the chains. Some receivers just take a little longer to adjust to the NFL game and Boykin was also a late bloomer at Notre Dame. Perhaps it will be the same in the NFL. He's a different type of receiver than Devin Duvernay and James Proche II, two other young wideouts he'll be competing with next year for snaps in the Ravens offense.

Downing: That touchdown to Boykin last week was a thing of beauty. The safety snuck down to defend the pass to Mark Andrews and quarterback Lamar Jackson delivered a dart to Boykin for the score. That type of play has been, and will continue to be a staple in the Ravens offense. Andrews rightfully attracts so much attention from the defense, especially near the goal-line, and that can create opportunities for other pass catchers. I don't expect that to change.

A point that's worth making, however, is that there's a fine line between forcing the ball to one of your best players and trying to get others involved. Andrews has established himself as one of the best tight ends in the game and a reliable target for Jackson, so he should absolutely continue to get targets in critical situations. Using him as a decoy can work to perfection, like it did on that Boykin touchdown, but throwing a contested ball in his direction on third down isn't a bad option either.

Mink: The short answer is the Ravens believe Chris Moore is a more valuable special teamer than Proche. Proche did a solid job as the Ravens' punt returner this year and was an improvement on recent years' returners. But Duvernay has been a better punt returner in his limited opportunities and Moore offers more (no pun intended) on special teams coverage units. Moore isn't an offensive factor anymore, but Proche wasn't getting many snaps either. The rookie was targeted by three passes this season; two of them went for pick-sixes the other way – both times against the Steelers. I like Proche and think he could be an offensive weapon next year, but he isn't this season.

Mink: For those who don't know, this is the board drill. Call me crazy, but I think Gus might win this. It seems a lot of Henry's power comes from his vicious stiff-arm and upper body. Edwards is thicker in his legs and may have more power in a phone booth. "The Bus" is nine pounds lighter (247 vs. 238), but two inches shorter. So inch-for-inch, he may have more force, and owns better leverage.

It's also for that reason (and many more) that I have to (against my desire) take myself to stomp on Downing in this drill. He's tall, gangly and athletically challenged. Plus, he's too nice and clean cut. I am a 6-foot powerhouse just looking to scrap and will stop at nothing to win. I guess we should let Garrett chime in on this …

Downing: First of all, Mink isn't 6-feet-tall, or a powerhouse. False on both accounts. Plus, here's what Mink is leaving out … He hasn't worked out since having kids four years ago. I don't think the guy would know how to find a gym if his life depended on it. Strength matters in this drill, and while I'll give Mink the edge in scrappiness (he's one of those annoying guys who plays a pickup hoops game like it's Game 7 of the NBA Finals), he's still just too weak to stand a chance.

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