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Some Things Never Change Between Titans, Ravens

Posted Oct 1, 2008

Almost exactly 10 years ago to the day -- Week 5 of the 1998 NFL season -- I worked my first pro game in Baltimore. The Titans were still the Oilers, but the Ravens were already the Ravens. Baltimore had a salty defense and a nasty swagger, so it promised to be a slobber knocker of the first order.

It was. This 12-8 Tennessee win was not, is not and never will be shown in the theatre at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

Wow, it was ugly.

Eddie George rushed for 121 yards. Steve McNair had a 40-yard touchdown run. Tennessee had 141 yards in penalties. Rodney Thomas was tackled by Ray Lewis for a safety. There were four field goals.

It was root canal football. I got used to it with Tennessee-Baltimore and actually grew to appreciate it. 

Tennessee’s 16-14 win over Baltimore later in 1998 was like chapter two of the same book. The 14-11 Titans win in early 1999 gave us a trifecta of thrillers.

Some of the games that followed were better, but most stayed in that same pattern. Those Ravens teams could drag Tennessee into the mud, largely because of their great defense. The 2000 Baltimore defense is regarded as one of the five greatest in NFL history and rightly so.

During the 2000 season, my broadcast partner Pat Ryan asked me to go see Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger and ask him what he expected the Ravens defense to do.

Heimerdinger laughed at the question.

“Nothing,” he said with a smile. “They don’t do anything special.” Heimerdinger wasn’t kidding.

Under Marvin Lewis, the Ravens defensive scheme was a simple 4-3. Their personnel was fantastic, as the defense was filled with talented, smart football players. They kept you in front of them. They didn’t make mistakes. And everything that you did against them was very, very hard.

Baltimore’s defense wasn’t about exotic blitzes or wild schemes. They played, and played and played some more. And they waited for you to mess up.

Many forget that the in the Titans’ 2000 playoff loss to Baltimore, Tennessee actually outgained the Ravens, 317-134 and blocked two punts in that game. Yet, the Titans still lost, 24-10.

It was hard to cross the goal-line against those Ravens defenses.

It’s still hard to score on Baltimore today. These Ravens now run a 3-4 defense and can bring people from everywhere. They are about pressure, pressure, pressure. And they are good at it. Baltimore currently has the #1 defense in the NFL, allowing just 187 yards per game. 

The irony is that Tennessee’s defensive style now looks a lot like Baltimore did earlier in the decade. Yes, Jim Schwartz has schemes and blitzes, but with this year’s veteran unit, he often chooses to play people straight up.

The Titans have given up some yards and some plays, but they don’t give up many points. Like the Marvin Lewis defenses in Baltimore, everything is hard against the Titans right now. Opponents have to work and work to score against them. Most have failed because most have eventually made a big mistake.

So Sunday, we’ll do this again in Baltimore. Both teams are good on defense again, even if they have varied their styles a bit. Ten years later, it’s still the same game.

This weekend’s score at M&T Bank Stadium: 12-8? 14-11? 16-14? 13-12? It will probably be something like that.

I can only guarantee one thing: even the broadcasters will take two Excedrin before this game.  

And then two more at halftime.

And then two more on the way to the airport.

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