Fearless Titans Do the Impossible, Stop Lamar Jackson to Dominate Ravens

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 12, 2020

Lamar Jackson was stripped of the ball on this play, resulting in one of his three turnovers Saturday.
Lamar Jackson was stripped of the ball on this play, resulting in one of his three turnovers Saturday.Julio Cortez/Associated Press

You could talk about Titans running back Derrick Henry and how he bullied yet another team, bulldozing the Ravens for 195 yards on 30 carries while also throwing a touchdown pass.

You could talk about Ryan Tannehill's two precision touchdown throws and the sensation catches of those throws by Jonnu Smith and Kalif Raymond.

You could talk about Tennessee's tenacity and guts and adventurism. You could rave about a lot with the Titans, and all the enthusiasm would be valid.

But you must, you have to, it's impossible not to, focus on one thing: how the Titans shut down one of the greatest offensive weapons in recent NFL history. That is the biggest story from Tennessee's 28-12 upset at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium in the divisional round Saturday. The Titans, next week, will play at the winner of Sunday's Texans and Chiefs game for a trip to the Super Bowl.

Coming into Saturday's playoff, the Ravens were 14-2, had the No. 1 rushing offense and boasted a quarterback people were calling a positional upgrade, like he was a new iPhone. 

Tennessee's defensive game plan against Lamar Jackson, the sure league MVP, should be framed, put into the Hall of Fame, the Smithsonian, a presidential library, and beamed into space so aliens can see how you shut down a living Death Star without a bunch of Bothans dying.

This was one of the most brilliant pieces of playoff coaching and execution we have ever seen. The Titans had to stop Jackson, and they did it. They actually did it.

Jackson still had some spicy moments, and his numbers will look impressive. He had 365 passing yards and 143 rushing yards.

But he accounted for just one touchdown, a fourth-quarter pass to Hayden Hurst.

How did the Titans slow Jackson? With the perfect blend of everything.

Tennessee's defensive front is one of the most underrated units in the league. It was in Jackson's face constantly, and when Jackson scrambled, the line collapsed in on him immediately.

The Titans also occasionally used a spy on Jackson. Sometimes it was linebacker Rashaan Evans. On several occasions, a defensive lineman would rush and then suddenly drop back. Once, the Titans used 6'4", 322-pound lineman DaQuan Jones. He chased after Jackson and fell trying to do it, but the message was sent:

We are going to do anything and everything to stop you, Lamar.

Sometimes, what the Titans did was dirty. Once, after Jackson was down on the ground, tackled, one of the Tennessee players forearmed Jackson in the back of the head. No penalty was called.

But there was something else the Titans did. They were fearless.

When Jackson gets running, defenses normally get scared. They hesitate. They wait for Jackson to make a move instead of making the first one instead.

The Titans showed no hesitation, no waiting, no nervousness. They shot at his legs immediately when he began scrambling. It worked. Every run was challenged, and every pass tightly contested.

Things that were usually automatic and easy for Jackson were suddenly unavailable and frustrating.

"We thought the key to the game was to force them to kick field goals," said Titans coach Mike Vrabel after the win. "If they were kicking field goals, that meant Jackson wasn't celebrating in the end zone.

And when the Ravens, down 14-6, had a chance to kick a field goal on 4th-and-1 from the Titans' 18 early in the third quarter, they tried for a first down. Jackson found nowhere to run. Titans ball.

This Titans defense has allowed just 25 points (two touchdowns) in the postseason.

It's hard to imagine Vrabel didn't channel his inner Bill Belichick in preparing for Jackson. Vrabel played eight years for Belichick and saw up close how his former coach designed intricate game plans to stop quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Donovan McNabb. 

Belichick has a history of taking away an offense's best player. That's what Vrabel and the Titans did.

The last player to win the MVP award and a Super Bowl in the same season was Kurt Warner in 1999. That's two decades. That's an eternity in the NFL. The night before the Super Bowl, Jackson will be named MVP, but it's Tennessee that has a chance to play the next day, Feb 2.

That unfortunate MVP streak will continue because the Titans did something teams rarely did this year...they shut down Lamar Jackson. 

They did it.

They did the impossible.

       

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL. 

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