Titans vs Patriots: How Should New England Attack Tennessee?
Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE
It's been a long time since that game.
The Tennessee Titans that take the field against the New England Patriots in Week 1 are not the same lost, frustrated group that got waxed 59-0 in 2009 in one of the worst beat-downs in modern football history.
Take heart, Titans fans. There will be no Vince Young or Kerry Collins taking the field for you. Yes, Tom Brady is still lacing 'em up for the Patriots, but the Titans are a much better team than they were then.
Still, the Patriots are the Patriots so it's natural to think back to that day when everything that could go wrong for Tennessee went wrong. It has no bearing on what will happen in Nashville this week, but it does frame the monumental task ahead for the Titans.
They are about to come under attack from one of the glamor squads of the NFL. Here's what they should prepare for.
Titans on Offense
Job one for New England is going to be shutting down the Titans' run game. Tennessee actually transitioned into being a pass-first offense in 2011, but if there was ever a game that called for a grind-it-out strategy, it is this one. The Pats were third in the NFL in points per drive last year, so the Titans know they need to limit touches for Tom Brady and company.
That starts with Chris Johnson getting good yardage in early downs. The Patriots spent most of the offseason reworking their defense, which was one of the worst in the league against both run and pass last season.
The Pats are running more a 4-3 this year, and have added two talented rookies to their front seven. Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones both earned starting spots as the defense got a much needed infusion of youth and talent.
With Kenny Britt sidelined, the Titans lack the over-the-top weapon they need to keep the Patriots honest. New England will stack the box against Johnson and play soft against Nate Washington and Kendall Wright.
There's no point in bringing a big rush against Jake Locker risking him breaking the pocket. He still needs to prove he can consistently make accurate passes to sustain drives. The Pats know that if they can stop the run, they can force the Titans into long-yardage situations. Conservative play from there will lead to punts.
Titans on Defense
Tom Brady is very much a rhythm passer. He wants to hit quick passes in stride to receivers, letting them do the run after the catch work to create big-yardage plays.
Obviously, the Patriots' dual tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, are a matchup nightmare for any team, and Colin McCarthy and the safeties will be tested severely.
The Patriots run immaculate combination routes that spring receivers wide open for huge gains, making them a brutal matchup. The Titans have had the advantage of prepping for them all preseason, so they should avoid the mix-ups that burn most teams.
Honestly, the Titans' best hope of stopping the Patriots lies solely with the pass-rush. If Tom Brady has time to throw, the Patriots will strike at will, marching up and down the field. New England has struggled to protect Brady in the preseason behind a rebuilt line, so watch for extra protection against Tennessee.
The Pats are going to focus on keeping Kamerion Wimbley in check. They know that if he doesn't generate the pass rush, the Titans will likely have to blitz heavily, and that could spell big plays in the passing game.
The Patriots will run enough to keep the Titans honest, but even though they run very effectively, they use the ground game as more of a counter-punch than a primary thrust.
Both teams feature strong units, but the Patriots are fueled mostly by their kickers. It's the Titans that have the actual advantage in coverage and return teams.
There's no huge advantage here, as both teams were in the top five last year, but if I had to bet on one team making a difference-making play in the third phase of the game, I would lean toward the Titans.
It's going to be difficult, but not impossible, for the Titans to pull out a win in this game. New England has vulnerabilities. They aren't the invincible juggernaut some people claim them to be.
The Titans are going to have show the Pats to be soft if they want to win the opener. They have to bludgeon the Patriots upfront on offense and defense.
New England will score points. Even a good defensive effort will still result in 24 points for the Pats. If the Titans can string together enough big plays and control the tempo of the game, they can hope to get the ball last.
Look for the Pats to cling to a 24-16 lead late in the game. Jake Locker will need a little bit of magic to push them to the wire.
At least it won't be 59-0.
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