NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- After winning the AFC South title, the Tennessee Titans were "rewarded" with a wild-card matchup against the red-hot Baltimore Ravens -- who are riding a five-game winning streak -- which means being tasked with containing one of the NFL's most dynamic playmakers in quarterback Lamar Jackson.
It's an unenviable assignment, but the Titans managed to slow down Jackson and the fast-break Ravens offense in their past two meetings, holding them to a combined 36 points in two victories. The Titans knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs last year, and more recently, they handed the Ravens a 30-24 loss in Week 11.
Containing them a third time Sunday (1:05 p.m. ET, ESPN) , will be a tall order considering how well the Ravens are running the football. They are No. 1 in the league, averaging 191.9 yards per game. It all starts with Jackson, who is a threat to score from anywhere on the field through the air and when running the ball.
Jackson's electrifying speed forces defenses to use more packages with extra defensive backs to try and match the quarterback's elusiveness. Jackson finished the regular season with 1,005 rushing yards, making him the first quarterback with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
"I'm not sure we have many people that can match up with Lamar Jackson's speed," coach Mike Vrabel said on Monday. "We're going to have to play sound, team defense. He's an unbelievably dynamic player that poses a lot of problems."
In their playoff win over the Ravens last season, Tennessee's defense condensed the field to shrink the space where Jackson could operate. Defensive back Logan Ryan played a key role in their game plan, blitzing off the edge.
The Titans were able to flush Jackson to one side of the field and gain the sideline as an extra defender. Jackson racked up a lot of yards, finishing that game with 365 passing yards and 143 yards on the ground, but he wasn't able to generate any of his signature home run plays to the end zone.
This season, the Titans have started to use Desmond King on more nickel blitzes since acquiring him in a midseason trade with the Los Angeles Chargers. Tennessee has struggled to get to the quarterback this season -- ranking 30th with 19 sacks -- so using King the same way they used Ryan to create pressure could help.
But the way the Ravens have changed the formations they use could make the Titans' job harder. The 2019 Ravens used more three tight end packages with Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle. Andrews is the only remaining tight end after Hurst was traded to the Falcons before the season and Boyle suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 10.
The 13 personnel packages (three TEs) naturally cause the offense to line up closer, which helped teams like the Titans accomplish their goal of restricting Jackson's operating space. Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman has adjusted by using more 11 personnel (one TE/one RB) groupings this season.
Baltimore used 11 personnel on 48% of its plays and ran the ball 43% of the time, which is the highest rate in the NFL per ESPN Stats & Information research. Using this package naturally spreads defenses out, creating more space for Jackson and players such as J.K. Dobbins while taking advantage of speedy options such as receivers Marquise Brown and Devin Duvernay on jet sweeps.
The rushing attack isn't the only way the Ravens thrive. A lot of the misdirection Roman employs can get a defender's attention going one way while the ball is actually going somewhere else. Some of the misdirection comes by using read-option plays, but Roman also uses different shifts and motions before the snap to make a simple concept look more complex.
"Not every play is a read or option type of play, but when it is, you have to be sound and there's going to have to be responsibilities that everyone has to take care of," Vrabel said. "If not, that's when they take advantage of your missed assignment and the quarterback pulls it or the running back has it. You can't jump out of gaps. Everybody is responsible for something."
The Ravens have a potent play-action attack to cause problems when defenses overplay against the run, and Jackson can pull the ball and then hit Andrews -- who is tied for the team lead in receptions (58) -- on quick passes in areas that are opened up from a player getting caught out of position.
Jackson's speed makes him a threat on waggles and bootlegs, which puts stress on edge defenders to keep him from breaking outside contain. The Ravens force defenses to be concerned about every part of the field. Vrabel knows the Titans' defense will have its hands full on Sunday.
"They just attack you a lot of different ways. They get you thinking," Vrabel said. "One time you have someone reading you and not blocking you, the next time they're blocking you. They make everybody think and make everybody execute. They make you really play 11-on-11."