Coming off their bye week, the Tennessee Titans know they have to improve in some critical areas. But they also know they control their fate in regards to earning their first playoff berth since 2008.
Tennessee (4-3) hosts the Baltimore Ravens (4-4) on Sunday in Nissan Stadium, looking to sharpen up its red-zone offense and generate more quarterback sacks. The Titans are 31st in the NFL in red-zone efficiency at 41.2 percent, meaning more than half their trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line have concluded in field goals or no points.
They also have just 11 sacks in seven games, even though they are pressuring quarterbacks more this year than they did at this point in 2016.
“It’s all in our hands,” Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey said. “It has nothing to do with anybody else. We’ve got to take care of our own selves and not rely on other people. That’s important that they understand that, where we’re at right now halfway through.”
The Titans enter Week 9 tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars for first place in the AFC South in spite of some struggles offensively, as well as difficulty stopping opposing passers. Tennessee is 27th on third-down conversions on offense, while its secondary has been torched by the likes of Derek Carr, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson.
The bye week could help Tennessee’s offense. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, who played the team’s previous two games with a hamstring injury, should in theory be more mobile and be able to run when needed. Rookie receiver Corey Davis (hamstring) appears likely to return after missing the past five games.
Time off could also lead to a return of a key man in the Titans’ secondary. Safety Johnathan Cyprien (hamstring) is back on the practice field and might be able to return in a limited role. Cyprien, who has the reputation as a big hitter, hasn’t played since Week 1.
Defense rescued the Titans in a 12-9 overtime win two weeks ago at Cleveland. Safety Kevin Byard intercepted three passes, while Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan teamed up for a critical sack — just their 11th of the year — that led to a field-position advantage for their final possession.
Tennessee managed just enough yardage to position Ryan Succop for a game-winning 47-yard field goal, his 55th consecutive conversion inside 50 yards.
“Personally, I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface,” wide receiver Rishard Matthews said.
Baltimore enters with its own sense of urgency, as it sits two games behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North. The Ravens got back to .500 with a 40-0 rout of the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 26, getting a pair of pick-sixes and running the ball well against one of the league’s top five rushing defenses.
The Ravens also escaped a potential season-altering injury to quarterback Joe Flacco. He was knocked out just before halftime on a dangerous hit by linebacker Kiko Alonso that didn’t draw a flag and bloodied Flacco, who sat out the game’s remainder with a concussion.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh indicated that Flacco passed through the concussion protocol and should be able to play on Sunday.
“The biggest thing is Joe’s fine and he’s healthy and we’re going to have him ready for Sunday,” Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley said.
Baltimore’s offense needs all the help it can get. Even with the emergence of Alex Collins, who is ninth in the NFL with 478 rushing yards, the Ravens rank 27th in total offense. Their passing game is dead last at only 1,223 yards, although injuries to the offensive line, receivers and Flacco offer at least some excuse.
Tight end Nick Boyle (toe), who has 18 catches for 138 yards, didn’t practice on Wednesday, and his status for Sunday wasn’t known. If Boyle can’t play, it would leave Baltimore thin at a position where it doesn’t have much depth at this stage.
The big key for the Ravens, though, will be how well their front seven stands up against the Titans’ power running game. Even though Baltimore has two shutouts this year and leads the NFL in takeaways, the Ravens are ranked only 22nd in total defense and have at times been susceptible to the running game.
“Our focus needs to be on one thing — one 3 1/2-hour block of time on Sunday afternoon down in Nashville,” Harbaugh said. “This is what we have to focus on. We have to get ready for that. All other considerations or conversations are really irrelevant to what we are trying to accomplish.”Let's