NFL Preview - Tennessee (2-6) at Baltimore (5-4)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - In two weeks, the Baltimore Ravens have gone from leading the AFC North to occupying last place in the division.
The Ravens try to get on track and avoid a third straight loss this Sunday as they return home to face the rested Tennessee Titans at M&T Bank Stadium.
A 5-2 start had Baltimore as the slim front-runner in the division before the club lost divisional battles with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. The Steelers lead the AFC North with a 6-3 mark, followed by the 5-2-1 Bengals and 5-3 Cleveland Browns.
After playing four of its previous five on the road, the Ravens look to extend a three-game winning streak at home heading into their bye week. They'll also try to erase the memory of last Sunday's 43-23 stomping at the hands of the Steelers.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw six touchdown passes and the Ravens turned the ball over twice in the setback.
"The turnovers were a big key in the second quarter. We were playing really good defense. We really didn't do much offensively," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "We set them up with two scoring situations. When you put those guys in that part of the field, they are going to have a chance to make some big plays. Turnovers and big plays are probably the biggest thing in the game."
Joe Flacco was 30-of-45 passing for 303 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for Baltimore, with Torrey Smith and Crockett Gillmore making touchdown catches.
Justin Forsett managed 38 yards on just nine carries while adding five receptions for 67 yards. Wide receiver Jacoby Jones took a kickoff 108 yards for a score.
While the Ravens hope to have a short memory, the Titans are coming off a long break, having been on their bye following a 30-16 loss to the visiting Houston Texans on Oct. 26.
The contest marked the first NFL start for quarterback Zach Mettenberger, a 2014 sixth-round pick. He threw for 299 yards and found tight end Delanie Walker and wideout Justin Harper for touchdown passes, but was sacked twice by J.J. Watt, lost a fumble and also was picked off.
"I thought he played okay," Walker said of Mettenberger. "He's going to get better as he gets more comfortable as the starting quarterback."
Tennessee lost its second game in a row and sixth in eight games on the season despite five sacks from five different players.
The Titans will play three of their next four on the road and have split 20 all-time meetings with the Ravens, including playoffs. They have taken four of the past six matchups, including the most recent encounter 26-13 at home on Sept. 18, 2011.
Tennessee is making its first trip to Baltimore since 2008.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
If not for some struggles on the road, the Ravens could easily be leading the division thanks to their excellent play in Baltimore. They have held opponents to 10 points or fewer in three of their four home games this season for an NFL-best 11.5 points per game allowed at home.
Flacco, meanwhile, has completed 69.4 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns with two picks and a 114.4 passer rating in his last three at home.
"(We are) looking forward to playing at home," said Harbaugh. "We love our crowd. It's a tough place for opponents to play. All these stadiums are. It's tough for us to go into other stadiums, and it's tough for people to come into our place. We're going to need our fans behind us. We're going to need our fans there and excited, and we need to play our best."
This figures to be a tough first road start for Mettenberger, but he dismissed the hostile road crowd. After all, the former LSU product has played his fair share of loud games in enemy stadiums.
"Not to disrespect any teams, it's just I don't think 70,000 (fans) can compare to 100,000-110,000 so it's just not the same," Mettenberger said. "But it's still very intimidating some places and you have to be on top of your communication."
With just two wins on the season, the shift to Mettenberger under center over Jack Locker and Charlie Whitehurst signals a long-term philosophy change. Tennessee had four members of its 2014 draft class starting against the Texans, and that doesn't count running back Bishop Sankey, who led the team in rushing attempts and yards.
Mettenberger was joined by inside linebacker Avery Williamson, defensive back Marqueston Huff and left tackle Taylor Lewan, making the first time the Titans started four rookies in a contest since a win over the New York Giants on Nov. 26, 2006 with a lineup that featured quarterback Vince Young, fullback Ahmard Hall, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and defensive end Sean Conover.
Williamson got his first career sack, as did second-year safety Daimion Stafford, while the Titans also set a season high with 290 net passing yards.
One Titan who should be familiar with the M&T Bank Stadium environment is starting tackle Michael Oher, who joined Tennessee this offseason after playing for the Ravens between 2009-13. Baltimore took him 23rd overall in the 2009 draft and he started 80 regular-season games for the team for five seasons.
Oher, of course, was a member of the Super Bowl XLVII championship team and will be looking to slow down pass-rushing linebackers and former teammates Terrell Suggs (3 1/2 sacks) and Elvis Dumervil (8 sacks).
"It's going to be a fun experience, I think," said Oher. "I played a lot of games there. It'll be fun to see what the crowd is like being a visitor."
"What was he here, five years? It speaks for itself," said Flacco. "Michael was a great teammate and a great player, and I'm sure he'll be fired up for this one. No doubt about it."
It might be a blessing that the Ravens have a bye next weekend as they can't afford to look past the weaker Titans team given how tight the AFC North is. With all four teams over .500, even one setback can have a big impact down the schedule.
"We have a chance to go 6-4. It's week-to-week in this league," said Harbaugh. "We need to win this game this week against a big challenge. That's what our focus goes to, and then we move forward from there."
The Titans, meanwhile, are trying to shape their team for the future and should be excited to see how their young players stack up against a good football team.
"I think the tone, how we play, sure that can go a long way. We want to win a game. That's important to us. We're all disappointed with where we are. We're working hard to get better, and the only way you ultimately do that is getting a win. We're working hard to try to get one of those," said Whisenhunt.
The Ravens ability to stop the run -- they rank sixth in the NFL -- and keep teams from scoring will put a lot of pressure on Mettenberger, who should get taught a thing or two this weekend about what it is like to play an NFL road game.
Flacco and the Ravens offense should see plenty of chances to move the ball and put up points against a struggling Titans defense.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Ravens 27, Titans 17
11/09 10:54:35 ET