OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Standing in the way of the Baltimore Ravens‘ first playoff victory in six years and some postseason revenge is a running back whom their defense was built to stop.
After watching Derrick Henry run over them for 195 yards in the 2019 playoffs, the Ravens revamped their front seven this offseason, trading for defensive end Calais Campbell, signing defensive end Derek Wolfe in free agency and drafting middle linebacker Patrick Queen in the first round. A year later, Baltimore will line up once again against the Tennessee Titans with no question about the defense’s prime objective in Sunday’s wild-card game.
When defenses give up 100 yards to Henry, the Titans are 16-2 (.889) over the past two seasons, including the playoffs. When teams hold him under that mark, Tennessee is 6-10 (.375) during that span.
History says bringing down the powerful 247-pound running back is Baltimore’s best chance at beating Tennessee, but getting Henry to the ground is easier said than done (remember the stiff-arms unleashed on former Ravens safety Earl Thomas). Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said going against Henry presents “the greatest challenge every play.”
“Let’s make no mistake about it, he’s the best running back in football,” Martindale said. “We know it; he knows it.”
The inability to contain Henry led to Baltimore getting upset by Tennessee in the playoffs, as well as again in November. A banged-up Ravens defense contained Henry for three quarters before he totaled 133 yards rushing and scored the winning 29-yard touchdown run in overtime on Nov. 22.
Baltimore has a long tradition of stopping the run, from Ray Lewis to C.J. Mosley and from Tony Siragusa to Haloti Ngata. The only time the Ravens have allowed 100 yards rushing to a running back in three consecutive meetings was in 1996-97, when Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis did it.
“Derrick Henry is one of the best running backs to ever play this game, and he’s in the zone right now,” Campbell said. “So, yes — I take pride in the challenge of lining up and trying to shut him down.”
Baltimore has the No. 8 run defense despite not being at full strength for most of the season. Due to COVID-19 and injuries, Campbell and nose tackle Brandon Williams have played in just nine games in which they each played 20 or more snaps. In those nine games, Baltimore is 8-1 and has limited teams to 101.1 yards rushing.
“We’ve got different warriors who are coming back in this time,” Williams said. “And it’s going to be a whole different team, whole different defense. We’re worried about what we have right now and what we’re going to do right now. So that’s what we’re going to go forward with.”