Ravens going to different lengths for AFC playoffs matchup with Derrick Henry

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The anticipation of facing Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry in the AFC divisional round has caused more typing as well more lifting among the Baltimore Ravens.

Toward the end of Henry's 182-yard performance against the New England Patriots on Saturday, a group text circulated between the Ravens' defensive lineman and their position coach Joe Cullen.

"All shared the same sentiment," nose tackle Michael Pierce said. "The Ravens are going to be ready."

The top-seeded Ravens play host to the Titans on Saturday (8:15 p.m. ET, CBS), and Baltimore understands it has to slow down the NFL rushing champion if it wants to advance to the AFC Championship Game.

This isn't an impossible mission. In October 2018, the Ravens held Henry to 21 rushing yards in seven carries. It's the fewest rushing yards by Henry in his past 37 games, including playoffs.

"He's like one of those guys the kids create on Madden," Ravens coach Don "Wink" Martindale said. "You shouldn't be that big and be able to run like he runs. Obviously, we're gonna have to bring our lunch pail, work hat, and just go play football with him."

That blue-collar mentality fits Henry, who is all about brute power. His 684 yards after contact led the NFL this season.

The Ravens' Marlon Humphrey, who often plays more like a linebacker than a cornerback, will get in an extra lift in preparation for trying to bring down the 247-pound bulldozing runner.

"I really think it's going to take all 11 [defenders]," Humphrey said. "He's 6-foot-3, and he has really elite speed also. He can run people over here and there all the time. But, if he gets to the edge, he can really outrun you."

Henry did most of his damage against the Patriots in between the tackles. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry inside.

That certainly caught the attention of Pierce and fellow defensive linemen Brandon Williams, Domata Peko Sr. and Justin Ellis -- all of whom are 325 pounds or heavier.

"Being a nose guard -- seeing we have four -- this is the kind of game you dream about," Pierce said. "Rough, tough, physical."

This is strength against strength because Baltimore doesn't budge much on the interior. The Ravens have given up 318 yards up the middle this season. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have yielded fewer (306 yards).

Why are the Ravens so dominant inside? The day before every game, Martindale goes over everyone's goals. For Williams and Pierce, they're known as "the FSU brothers."

"I can just tell you 'Up' is the last word of that, and neither one of them went to Florida State," Martindale said. "So, you can understand where we're going with that, and that's what they do."

Going against Henry is a battle of attrition. He has 1,073 rushing yards in the second halves of games (including playoffs), according to NFL Research. That's the most second-half rushing yards in a season since 1998, when Atlanta's Jamal Anderson (1,222) and Denver's Terrell Davis (1,074) each had more and led their teams to the Super Bowl.

And the Ravens really haven't faced someone like Henry this season.

"... When you think about it during the week, you're like, 'How am I gonna get him on the ground?'" safety Chuck Clark said. "But when you're out there during the game, there's nothing you can think about. You just gotta go out there and get him on the ground."

The Ravens are the NFL's No. 5 run defense this season, and their excellence in stopping the run goes beyond this season. From Ray Lewis to C.J. Mosley and Haloti Ngata to Williams, here is how Baltimore's run defense has stacked up in the NFL since John Harbaugh took over as coach:

  • Rushing yards: 96.5 (2nd)

  • Yards per carry: 3.82 (1st)

  • Rushing touchdowns: 112 (2nd)

  • Yards after contact: 36.4 (2nd)

"Stopping the run is more important, because that's what [the Titans] do a lot more," Williams said. "For us, on me, on the whole defensive line, that's what we're prepared and ready to do. That's what we hang our hat on day in and day out throughout the whole season, so we're definitely prepared."