Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky and John Clayton
We're pleased to have special guest John Clayton join us at the AFC South blog to engage in a dialogue/debate focused on Saturday's Ravens-Titans playoff game in Nashville.
So without further ado ...
Who's most likely to find a big play?
Paul Kuharsky: Well, JC, it's hard to steer away from Ed Reed on this question, but because I think that's exactly what Kerry Collins is going to do, I'll go a different direction. In the regular-season matchup, receiver Brandon Jones managed a 26-yard catch for the game's long play. This time around I think the Titans will remain dedicated to the run long enough that rookie running back Chris Johnson will break off something significant somewhere along the way. The one thing -- besides the Ravens' stifling run defense, of course -- that could work against the fastest player in this game is a wet track and there is the potential for rain or snow flurries at the conclusion of a wet week in Nashville.
John Clayton: You're in Nashville so you can better monitor the track than me, but the early forecasts are for the temperature to be around 32 degrees and the sun to be out. Naturally, when you mention big play, Reed registers on pop-up screens and in everyone's minds. But I will offer one big-play guy whom you've been touting all season -- Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan. He was among the best interceptors at cornerback this season with five. As it did in the first Titans-Ravens game, the Titans' defensive line will try to force Joe Flacco out of the pocket and get him to throw on the run. The two picks in the first Titans-Ravens game hurt the Ravens. Finnegan could be the big-play man for the Titans.
How much will home field matter?
JC: The Titans have one of the best home-field advantages in the league, but home field in the divisional round has been a 50-50 proposition. From 2005 through 2007, home teams in the divisional round are 6-6. The problem isn't the home field. The problem is the bye week. Playoff teams coming off the bye week aren't used to the speed of the divisional games in the first quarters. Titans safety Chris Hope has been warning the Titans about that for two weeks. He saw it happen in Pittsburgh when he was on that Steelers 15-1 team in 2004. Bye weeks are great for getting teams healthy, but these wild-card teams are talented and dangerous. The Ravens showed how dangerous they are in Miami last week and might be able to do the same Saturday. As you know, the Ravens-Titans series is a good one. The teams don't like each other. The Titans went to Baltimore and pulled out a close victory. It wouldn't surprise me if the Ravens give the Titans plenty of problems.
PK: It's also true that while the field formerly known as Adelphia Coliseum was an absolutely raucous venue back in 1999 and 2000, it's overrated as a tough place to play these days, at least in terms of noise and crowd impact. Back on Dec. 21 in a huge game against Pittsburgh with the AFC's No. 1 seed on the line, 10 to 15 percent of the 69,143 ticketholders at the Titans' home field either switched allegiances or sold their tickets to people dressed in gold and black and waving Terrible Towels. If the Titans start well, they'll certainly get an energy boost. But Collins has been a slow starter this season and Nashville is nervous about this game -- how could it not be when it ponders the eerie similarity between this and the divisional-round game on Jan. 7, 2001, when the No. 1-seeded Titans won virtually every statistical category, but watched the Ravens make the big plays and roll to a stunning 24-10 win? If these Ravens make a big play early and quiet the crowd, they could enjoy a significant edge.
Will Collins' experience trump Flacco's inexperience?
PK: Although Collins has a lot of detractors, he is the easy answer here. He shook off a poor start -- he had a 13.5 first-half passer rating -- in the Titans' regular-season win in Baltimore, and although all his postseason experience hasn't been good experience, he's got an awful lot more than Flacco. This season, Collins has been willing to check down or throw the ball away on a bad play and quickly turn to the next one. Titans fans shouldn't bemoan any balls he slings out of bounds, because holding on to it an extra second could produce a big-play sack or trying to thread the needle could result in Reed winding his way to the end zone with a pick return. Both quarterbacks will try to be careful, but I suspect Flacco will be the more likely to make the big mistake.
JC: Flacco looked like a rookie in the first meeting against the Titans. He doesn't look like a rookie now. Unflappable seems to be the word that is associated with him. No team runs the ball more than the Ravens. They averaged 37 carries a game during the regular season. He reminds me of Ben R
oethlisberger during Big Ben's rookie season. I'm not going write him off as the one who will make the mistakes. The key for him is not being flushed out of the pocket. If he's flushed out to the right, I bet you he'll throw a pick. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron won't let him do that. You have to admit that both quarterbacks had some of the best coaching in the league. Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger made all the right moves with Collins. As good as the Titans' defense is, I think the Ravens have the better chance of taking away the run, and if that happens, it might give Collins more opportunities to make mistakes than Flacco.