Ravens vs. Titans.
Bama vs. Bama.
Heisman vs. Heisman.
It’s a big playoff weekend in the NFL and it’s an important game for folks in Tuscaloosa as well.
A pair of former Crimson Tide running backs will face off Saturday in the AFC Divisional playoffs when the Tennessee Titans take on the Baltimore Ravens.
Derrick Henry, the NFL’s top rusher for the season with 1,540 yards, leads the Titans into M&T Bank Stadium against the Ravens, led by running back Mark Ingram.
They are the only two Heisman Trophy winners to play at Alabama (Henry 2015, Ingram 2009). They won’t be the only Heisman winners on the field. Ravens quarterbacks Lamar Jackson (2016) and Robert Griffin III (2011) and Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota (2014) will suit up as well.
Ingram has been dealing with a calf injury and returned to practice Thursday. He is expected to play against Tennessee.
“I just talked to Mark,“ Henry said Wednesday. ”I talked to Mark the other day, just catching up.“
Ingram, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, ran for 1,018 yards with 10 touchdowns on 202 carries this season, his first in Baltimore. He was with the New Orleans Saints for nine seasons before coming to Baltimore.
Ingram is also a threat as a receiver, catching 26 passes for 247 yards with five touchdowns.
“He can do almost anything,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said this week. “He can catch out of the backfield. He can run it up the middle, off the sides. He’s a shifty guy. He can run through you. The guy’s a joystick. You can pretty much throw anything at him, and he can take it.”
Henry could easily be considered for the league’s most valuable player if not for numbers Jackson has put up for the Ravens this season.
Along with leading the NFL in rushing Henry is tops attempts per game (20), total carries (303), tied for first with rushing touchdowns (16) and he’s the only player to average more than 100 yards rushing per game (102). His 5.1 yards per gain is second behind Jackson’s 6.9.
Still, Henry’s been the workhorse for the Titans and a big reason why they are one step closer to playing in a Super Bowl.
“They blitz a lot,“ Henry said of Baltimore’s defense. ”There’s guys in different positions, and they’ve been doing a good job this year. That’s why they only have two losses. They do a lot of different things. We’ve just got to trust in what we have installed and go out there and execute.“
He bullied his way past New England last week in the wild-card playoff round with 182 yards and a touchdown.
“Big challenge,” said Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey, a former Alabama teammate of Henry’s. “Seeing him against the Patriots it looked like he was back at Bama when he won the Heisman.
“It’s going to take all 11 (to stop him). He led the league in rushing and he’s just doing his thing. I’m happy for him but I just hope we can get him to the ground this Saturday. I’m going to get in an extra lift in this week and see how that works for me. He can run people over but he also has elite speed. If he gets to the edge he can outrun you.”
The Titans offensive line got a gift from Henry this week, which could give them an extra boost against the Ravens. With Henry winning the NFL rushing title, he rewarded his offensive line unit with Rolex watches.
“Pretty cool, huh?, He took care of us,” said Titans center Ben Jones, a former Bibb County High School player. “It’s special. He told us at the beginning of the year if we got a certain amount of yards and the rushing title, he would hook us up and it happened. He gave it to us and thanked us for how hard we work, but it wouldn’t have been done without him. That guy plays extremely hard and he deserves what he got, and the rushing total. We are happy for him.”
Reach Edwin Stanton at 205-722-0226, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @edwinstantonu2