Defensive standouts from Ravens Wildcard win over Titans

The Baltimore Ravens won their first playoff game in six years and dispelled several narratives surrounding the team and reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson with a 20-13 road triumph over Tennessee Titans on Super Wildcard Weekend.

It marked their third matchup with Tennessee within the last 12 months and the second in playoffs during that span.

On defense, the Ravens reset the line of scrimmage with their physicality, dominated the Titans at the point of attack, and held Derrick Henry to 40 yards rushing after he posted 2,000 during the regular season.

Here are some of the defensive standouts from their impressive Wildcard win:

DT Derek Wolfe

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) is sacked by Baltimore Ravens defensive end Derek Wolfe (95) for a 7-yard loss in the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

The veteran defensive tackle tied for the team lead in total tackles with six and recorded the defense’s lone sack of the game. He was instrumental in shutting down Tennessee’s running game between the tackles and played the highest percentage (63) and number (32) of snaps of all of the Ravens defensive linemen.

“We set a goal: let’s try to keep him under 90 [rushing yards], and I think we held him to 40 [rushing yards] or something like that – 2.2 [yards] a carry on like 18 or 19 carries, which is huge.” Wolfe said. “I’ve got a ton of respect for Derrick Henry. He’s the hardest running back I’ve ever had to tackle.”

His sack came midway through the second quarter and ended the Titans’ drive with a seven-yard loss on third-and-5. He looped around to takedown quarterback Ryan Tannehill after the next player on the list occupied two blockers.

It marked yet another strong performance by Wolfe who was the rock in the middle of the Ravens front seven down the stretch while Pro Bowlers Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell were recovering from COVID and their respective ailments.

He is undoubtedly a prime candidate for a contract extension this postseason or sometime before the new league year begins in March.

OLB Pernell McPhee

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) is tackled by Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Pernell McPhee (90) and inside linebacker Malik Harrison (40) during the Tennessee Titans game against the Baltimore Ravens in Nashville on January 10, 2021. Titans Ravens 100

The veteran outside linebacker tied Wolfe for the team lead in total tackles with six and led the team-high five solos. In the same way that Wolfe was instrumental in keeping Henry from getting finding and hitting holes up the middle, McPhee led the charge off the edge that prevented him from getting to the perimeter.

“I took it upon myself, whenever they tried to run it to my side, don’t let it get outside of me, set a great edge, and I’ll hit him,” McPhee said. “I think I did a good job, but it’s on to the next game right now.”

Henry was contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage on 11 of his 18 rushes and more often than not McPhee was among the first to greet the two-time rushing champion in the backfield. He was also active as an interior and edge rusher as well even though it didn’t show up on the stat sheet.

CB Marcus Peters

Peters made the play to essentially seal the game and win for the Ravens when he intercepted Tannehill on the first play coming out of the two-minute warning with the Titans trailing by a touchdown.

It marked his second straight week with an interception since returning from a calf injury that caused him to sit out Weeks 15 and 16.

Tennessee’s wide receiver fell down on the play but even if he hadn’t there was still a chance that Peters would’ve still made a play on the ball and not allow a completed catch.

He finished with four solo tackles and a pass deflection and played well in coverage for most of the game outside of allowing an 18 reception to Titans wide receiver AJ Brown that turned into a 33-yard gain after Wolfe was flagged for roughing the passer.

Peters has brought a play-making element to the Ravens defense that they had been missing for a while and it has been evident since he recorded and returned an interception for a touchdown in his very first game with the team after getting acquired via trade midway through the 2019 season.

“You couldn’t draw up a better defensive back. This guy is unbelievable,” Wolfe said of Peters. “When a big play needs to happen, he makes it. We’ve got a bunch of guys on this defense like that, though. I talked to him the drive before [he made the interception]; I was like, ‘C’mon, make a big play. Close this game out.’ And he did it. That’s a Hall of Fame-type of player right there.”

OLB Matthew Judon

The fifth-year pro playing on an augmented franchise tag was extremely disruptive in this game and was just as dominant on the edge against the run as McPhee. He finished with three solo tackles, including one for a loss, and a quarterback hit.

His best play came on his tackle for loss when he knifed into the backfield to single-handedly drop Henry in the backfield for a loss of three yards. As impressive as the way he was able to get penetrate was, the fact that he was able to bring the 6-foot-3 and 247-pound tank of a running back by himself was the best part of the play.

DE/OLB Jihad Ward

The versatile defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid would likely start on most teams but is excellent in his diverse rotational role in the Ravens defense and continued to prove that against the Titans with another standout performance.

He only played 14 snaps on defense but made the most of his limited opportunities by recording three solo tackles including a tackle for loss that should’ve counted as a pass deflection and a sack after he was able to elevate to bat a pass back into the grasp of Tannehill then proceeded to wrap him up and drop him for a 10-yard loss.

Honorable mentions:

S Deshon Elliott

The third-year safety is one of the most physical tone setters and hands down the hardest hitter on the Ravens defense. Elliott played 100 percent of the defensive snaps in his playoff debut and finished the game with four total tackles, including three solos, and pass breakup.

He delivered one of his signature crushing blows on Titans’ tight end Janu Smith that not only dislodged a potential completion, but the aggressive play came on a crucial third-and-short in the fourth quarter that forced a controversial punt by Tennessee despite being in Ravens territory.

ILB Patrick Queen

The Ravens’ top pick in this past year’s draft gave up a 35-yard catch and run on a Titans drive that ended in a field goal in the first half but made up for in the second with a pair of good plays in succession to force a short attempt.

Tennessee had marched down to the Ravens’ eight-yard line and on second and goal, Queen limited wide receiver AJ Brown to a three-yard gain with a physical tackle and on the next play, he pressured Tannehill who was rolling out to his right into dumping the ball off Henry in the flats where he was dropped for a two-yard loss behind the line of scrimmage by veteran inside linebacker LJ Fort.

The tackle on Brown for minimal yards was especially vindicating for Queen since he was one of the four Ravens defenders that had a shot but couldn’t prevent the big-bodied wideout from bulldozing his way into the endzone for 14 yards to take a late lead in what ended up being a 30-24 loss for Baltimore in overtime.

The rookie played 84 percent of the defensive snaps and finished with two solo tackles and a quarterback hit in his first taste of playoff action.

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