The Tennessee Titans are a team in transition.
Just one year removed from the removal of longtime head coach Jeff Fisher and beginning the season with a new quarterback under center, the Titans have the opportunity to use their first game against the defending AFC champion New England Patriots as a measuring stick to see where they stand in the league.
While many Titans fans would be satisfied with a close contest where the team looks good, the Titans will need a number of things to go their way if they hope to start off the season 1-0 and set the tone for a season in which they hope to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
If the Titans are to win, the following five things will need to happen:
1. Pressure Tom Brady
Throughout the preseason, the Patriots offensive line showed a good deal of vulnerability, allowing Tom Brady to get sacked multiple times, fumbling twice in very limited playing time.
After a season in which the Titans struggled to get to the quarterback, Tennessee's first-team defensive ends and tackles were able to get up the field and pressure the quarterback on a consistent basis.
By limiting his time in the pocket, the Titans may be able to make Tom Brady look like a human being, forcing him to rush his decision-making and giving the defense a chance to make a few big plays throughout the course of the game.
2. Establish Chris Johnson Early
The Patriots defense has faced heavy criticism over the years, and those question marks remain as they move towards the regular season.
With a new center in Fernando Velasco as well as a new left guard in Steve Hutchinson, the Titans hope to rebuild a running game that really fell apart after Chris Johnson's holdout last season.
The Titans will need to control the clock, set up Jake Locker in favorable situations and limit the amount of opportunities Tom Brady and the Patriots offense has if they hope to win this game. Having success running the football on first and second downs will be the key.
3. Limiting Jake Locker's Mistakes
As with nearly every rookie quarterback, it is impossible to expect Jake Locker to make all of the correct decisions in his first regular season start.
With that said, the key to a successful game will come in Locker's ability to avoid turning the ball over, knowing when to tuck and run and taking shots down field when the opportunities present themselves.
Jake Locker has great athletic ability, knows how to take control in the huddle and has a solid supporting cast around him. It will be up to him to take advantage of the situation and help the team control the clock throughout the game.
4. Covering New England's Tight Ends
The production of the Patriots tight end duo has been incredibly well-documented over the last season.
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are two of the most physically gifted tight ends the game has to offer and when combined with a quarterback that knows where to place the football, it makes for an almost lethal combination that very few teams have had success limiting.
Early indications are that Michael Griffin will be asked to spend a good amount of time manning up in coverage against the tight ends, which leaves a combination of Robert Johnson, Jordan Babineaux and the linebackers to attempt to take the other one out of the game.
5. Titans Receivers Take Advantage of a Questionable Patriots Secondary
Even with Kenny Britt serving a one-game suspension, the Titans receivers can present a challenge to a Patriots secondary that finished 31st in the league in passing yards allowed last season.
Throughout the preseason, Jake Locker and Kendall Wright demonstrated impressive chemistry and as the team's No. 2 receiver in this game, Wright will need to showcase his ability to gain separation on the outside to take some of the pressure off of Nate Washington, Jared Cook and the running game.
Locker has a big arm and a strong pass-blocking offensive line in front of him. It will be up to the receivers to provide him with the opportunities to beat the Patriots through the air and free up the box for Chris Johnson if the Titans are to outscore one of the most potent offenses in football.
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