Yardbarker’s Michael Nania analyzes the biggest positional mismatches during the NFL playoffs.
DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average): A method of evaluating teams, units or players in a comparative fashion. It takes every play during the NFL season and compares each to a league-average baseline based on situation.
EPA (Estimated Points Added): The measure of a play’s impact on the score of the game. It represents the difference between a team’s “expected points value” (the net point value a team can expect given a particular combination of down, distance and field position) before and after a play.
Ravens red zone offense vs. Titans red zone defense
Why Baltimore has the edge: The Ravens led the NFL in points per drive (2.95), thanks in part to their No. 2-ranked red zone offense that scored a touchdown 67.2 percent of trips inside the 20. Impending MVP Lamar Jackson was unstoppable, leading the NFL with 26 passing touchdowns (zero interceptions) and a 116.4 passer rating in the red zone. The Ravens achieved a first down or touchdown on a league-leading 45.2 percent of their red zone passing plays.
Why Tennessee will struggle: The Titans’ offense was the only one better than Baltimore’s in the red zone (75.6 percent). Perhaps the experience of beating up on a bad red zone defense in practice helped it. The Titans’ defense ranked 31st in the red zone, giving up a touchdown on 68.1 percent of trips. On the plus side, Tennessee held the Patriots to one touchdown on three red zone trips in the wild-card round.
Run defense powered the Titans’ clutch goal-line stands in New England, but stopping the pass is their primary weakness in the red zone, making them a major mismatch for the Ravens’ elite red zone aerial attack. The Titans allowed a first down or touchdown on 43.1 percent of red zone passing plays, second worst in the NFL. Things were especially bad on the road, where the Titans allowed a whopping 59 percent conversion rate through the air, 10.6 percent worse than any other team.
How Baltimore does it: Baltimore’s offense consistently proved it is capable of punching the ball in from anywhere in the red zone, as Jackson threw 11 of his 26 red zone touchdowns from 10 to 20 yards out. The Ravens’ greatest strengths coalesced to create that threat, as demonstrated on this 18-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to tight end Mark Andrews. It all starts with Baltimore’s dominant offensive line, which obliterates this Houston four-man rush to give Jackson a pristine pocket and a crystal-clear throwing lane down the middle. From the right slot, Andrews beats his man to the inside, showcasing the route-running ability that makes him one of the league’s most dangerous pass-catching tight ends. Jackson fires a perfect bullet, and the Ravens find pay dirt on a second-and 17 play from the 18-yard line.