Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale is not a man who minces words. He knows the what's looming with Derrick Henry.
"It's the greatest challenge every play. Let's make no mistake about it – he's the best running back in football," Martindale said. "We know it. He knows it."
Henry became the eighth player in NFL history to ever rush for 2,000 yards in a season. He's barreled over the Ravens in their last two meetings – 133 yards and the game-winning touchdown earlier this season, and 195 yards in last year's playoffs.
The Titans have a lot of offensive weapons, but everybody knows it starts with Henry.
"Stopping guys like Derrick Henry … I love this game of football, and it's a great challenge," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "Derrick Henry is one of the best running backs to ever play this game, and he's in the zone right now. So, yes – I take pride in the challenge of lining up and trying to shut him down."
Campbell and defensive tackle Brandon Williams were both injured and not able to play the last time the Ravens faced the Titans this season.
"He's a hard runner. Obviously, he's a strong runner – he's his own blocker. He definitely has a lot of things in a great running back, and we're prepared to try to get to him as much as we possibly can," Williams said. "There are two juggernauts there that are coming back that weren't there the last time."
While Henry will have a tough time running over Campbell or Williams, the Ravens need to make sure he doesn't get to the edge either. Much of Henry's damage is done outside the tackles, and he has embarrassed numerous defensive backs with his vicious stiff-arm.
An indelible image from last year's playoff loss was Henry turning former Ravens safety Earl Thomas III into his lead blocker. Asked how to avoid being "posterized" by Henry, cornerback Marcus Peters chuckled.
"It's football. You approach it the same way; you have to get him on the ground," Peters said. "It doesn't matter how ugly it is, how beautiful it is, but you have to get him on the ground. That's the biggest thing – we get him on the ground, we slow him down, we fight for the next play."
Play-Action Passing Makes Ryan Tannehill So Dangerous
When Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill turns to hand the ball off to Henry, don't be too overjoyed when he instead keeps it himself.
Tannehill was the NFL's best play-action passer this year and play-action passers are one of the most difficult plays to defend – especially when contending with the threat of Henry.
Tannehill's 143.6 passer rating with play action was tops in the league this year. His adjusted yards per attempt of 14.1 was also first and completion percentage of 76.5 was third.
Tannehill flamed out as the starting quarterback of the Miami Dolphins, but he has revived his career in Tennessee.
"It's the play-action pass," Martindale said. "He's in a rhythm now, and the years slowed the game down for him. He's mastered this offense, and he's playing really confident. I'd play confident, too, with the skillset he has around him – that's the difference that I see with it."
Tannehill is also a threat to run himself if he doesn't find an open receiver. He rushed for 266 yards this season and his seven rushing touchdowns were among the top 20 players in the NFL. That adds another element to their red-zone offense.
"This is one of the best red zone teams, offensively, that we've faced, and that's because of Ryan Tannehill and what he brings to that offense," Martindale said. "You're talking about a quarterback that [has] guys that can play, probably, three different positions on offense. He's a talent, and he's athletic."
Ravens Expect Sam Koch to Be Ready
Punter Sam Koch is still on the Ravens' Reserve/COVID-19 list, but Baltimore expects him to come off in time for Sunday's game and be ready to resume his duties as usual.
Koch, who went on the list on Dec. 30, might not have time to practice with the team, but Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton said he would not have any concern if that's the case.
"Not at all," Horton said. "We're talking about a 15-year vet here. We're talking about a guy that knows how to prepare for a game when called upon.
"We're just hopeful that he can make it back. If he does then great. If not, I thought Johnny [Townsend] punted well for us."
Horton said he hasn't been in contact with Koch but wouldn't be surprised if he was punting on his own to keep his leg ready.
"Sam can't sit down," Horton said. "Sam is one of the truest pros I've been around."
Willie Snead IV Returns to Practice Thursday
Wide receiver Willie Snead IV (ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday, his first time practicing since injuring his ankle against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 16.
Snead finished third on the team in receptions (33) and receiving yards (432). He's a trusted chain-mover and key blocker in the rushing attack.
Offensive tackle D.J. Fluker (knee) is the only Raven not practicing because of an injury.
Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (knee/hand) and cornerback Adoree Jackson (knee) went from limited participants Wednesday to out on Thursday. Starting tackle Dennis Kelly (knee) and guard Rodger Saffold (knee) didn't practice for the second straight day, though Saffold told reporters he "absolutely" will play.
Peters Laughs at Lamar Jackson's Critics
Peters has gone to the playoffs in all six of his NFL seasons. He's seen a lot of great quarterbacks (and intercepted a bunch of them, too).
So when Peters sees criticism of Jackson after an 0-2 start to the playoffs, he said, "I just laugh at it."
"They try to criticize him and then they also compare him to the greats. Peyton Manning didn't win a playoff game – he was 0-3 at first," Peters said.
"My whole thing is just watch this young man grow. Watch this young man continue to lead this team, continue to lead this offense and be the wonderful person he is off the field. How he holds himself on a day-to-day manner is awesome. It's out of this world."