Roman vs. Pees: A Matchup Dating Back to Super Bowl XLVII

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Neither Greg Roman nor Dean Pees view Saturday's playoff game as a matchup between coordinators. It's a matchup between two teams, the Ravens and Titans, who are determined to get one step closer to the Super Bowl.

However, the confrontation between the Ravens' high-powered offense and Tennessee's defense is one of the subplots. As the play-caller for Baltimore, part of Roman's job as offensive coordinator is to anticipate how Titans Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees will try to defend Lamar Jackson and the NFL's highest-scoring offense.

Pees and Roman matched wits seven seasons ago in Super Bowl XLVII, when Pees was Baltimore's defensive coordinator and Roman was the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. Baltimore won, 34-31, but Roman's offense produced 468 total yards, led by quarterback Colin Kaepernick (302 yards passing, 62 yards rushing). 

Baltimore's coaching staff has looked at tape of that game, Head Coach John Harbaugh said, but it has not been a major point of emphasis this week. Both Roman and Pees have turned the page, focused on what will happen Saturday instead of dwelling on what happened between them seven years ago.

"The most relevant games are right now, 2019 and 2020," Roman said. "So, that's really what we're focusing on."

Pees, who was Baltimore's defensive coordinator for six seasons (2012-17) said the matchup against Roman in Super Bowl XLVII was far from his mind.

"That was how many years ago?," Pees said to reporters at his Wednesday press conference. "I remember watching Kaepernick, he was under center quite a bit. How many times have you seen this guy (Jackson) underneath center? It's a similar system, but it's not all the same. That isn't the same defense. That isn't the same offense. There's elements of both to it, but overall, what happened eight years ago has no relevance to this one."

Relevant to Pees is trying to contain Jackson on Saturday night. Following the Titans' playoff victory against the New England Patriots, Pees was on his computer tablet studying the Ravens' offense on the flight back to Tennessee.

Unlike the rest of the AFC playoff field, the Titans have never faced Jackson as a starting quarterback, and his speed and elusiveness can't fully be appreciated until defenders have seen him live. The Titans are using mobile backup quarterback Marcus Mariota to simulate Jackson in practice, but Pees knows it's not an exact replica.

"I saw him on SportsCenter every week, usually on some kind of highlight," Pees said. "I think he's kind of in a class by himself, to be honest with you, running-wise. He's a phenomenal runner. He's a different type of runner than (Deshaun) Watson and all those guys. He could be a tailback for somebody. I see just a lot more moves and spins.

"He's hard enough to tackle even if we know where he is and where he's going to be. I've seen guys have him defended absolutely perfect and he makes them miss. That's just athlete on athlete and he did a better job than the guy trying to tackle him."

Roman has done a masterful job all season varying the Ravens' offensive game plan from week to week, tailoring it to specific opponents. Every defense has certain tendencies, but Roman knows Pees will have new wrinkles in store for Saturday night.

"Everybody evolves," Roman said. "Dean's a very good coach and he's been around for a long time. They're not doing exactly what they did when he was here. So you got to trust the tape, trust your eyes."

The Ravens have plenty of trust in Jackson and in their offense overall. Statistically, the Ravens have the edge over a Tennessee defense that ranked 21st overall in defense – 12th against the run and 24th against the pass.

Whether the Ravens are running it or throwing it, Pees has seen enough to know that it's tough to stop.

"If you go small to play the pass, they're going to run the ball," Pees said. "If you try to go big to stop the run, they'll throw the ball. Greg's doing a great job not only scheme-wise but doing a lot with a lot of different personal groups."

Roman has enjoyed having two weeks to prepare for this game. Regardless of the opponent, regardless of the defensive coordinator trying to stop his offense, Roman wants the Ravens to be efficient from start to finish Saturday, to perform as they have done so many times during their 12-game winning streak.

Pees is the next defensive coordinator whose mission is to stop Baltimore's offensive. Roman wants to make Pees' job mission impossible. 

"We come up with new, fresh ideas every week," Roman said. "The bye week was definitely a good time to do that. We mainly use 20 percent, roughly, of what we're prepared to call. So, some of those new ideas are actually old ideas. We just haven't run them, yet. So, we've been sharpening up some of those. There are a few new things as well. You have to keep the glass full."

There's nobody else in the league like Lamar Jackson, which has forced coaches to get creative in trying to simulate him in practice.

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