Patriots vs. Titans: 5 Key Players for New England Against Tennessee
Everyone associated with these two teams remembers the last time they met: 2009, in the snow, with Brady throwing for 380 yards and a career-high six touchdowns en route to a 59-0 demolition of the Titans.
In fact, the Pats haven't lost to the Titans since 2002 (via NFL.com).
Tennessee has had a productive and impressive preseason and are seemingly full of confidence. Jake Locker will earn his first career start against Brady and the Pats with the idea that if the defense can slow down New England's high-octane offense, Locker will be able to work more effectively against last season's 31st-ranked defense.
New England is still a heavy favorite to win and, while the Pats will ride their usual heroes to victory, here are five Patriots who will make a huge impact on the game that might surprise some fans.
C Ryan Wendell
With starting center Dan Koppen surprisingly cut from the team, all the pressure has fallen to Ryan Wendell to fill the gap in the offensive line.
Wendell has got some big shoes to fill, but the 6' 2", 300-lb center should do more than enough to stuff Tennessee's defense.
According to Nick Underhill of CBSSports.com, Wendell feels like he's spent more than enough time studying under Koppen to adequately fill his shoes.
There might be a shaky start from Wendell, but as the game progresses, he'll settle down and put forth a solid performance.
WR/PR Julian Edelman
Julian Edelman has become somewhat of a cult hero at Foxboro. As the team's third/fourth wide receiver last season, Edelman also helped out on defense in the secondary due to a rash of injuries.
He didn't do too badly, either.
Edelman is one of those guys that doesn't put up huge numbers throughout the season, but every time you see him on the field, you expect him to do something out of the ordinary.
Expect the unexpected from Edelman on Sunday.
RB/KR Danny Woodhead
With second-year running back Shane Vereen listed as "questionable" for Sunday's game, Danny Woodhead will be taking a lot of third-down snaps.
Woodhead is another one of those players that isn't a standout, but performs admirably every time he steps on the field. With another year of experience under his belt, Woodhead looks to serve as the second RB behind Stevan Ridley.
Should Ridley have a bad game, Woodhead will take over the majority of the snaps and will be a major factor in the Pats offense. The guy knows how to break through defenses despite his small stature and will get more than a couple of first downs for the Pats.
DE Chandler Jones
Chandler Jones' performance on Sunday is more necessary than unexpected. If Jones has a good game, then Bill Belichick looks like a hero. If not, then oh well, rookie jitters.
The rookie DE from Syracuse has had an impressive preseason and is now expected to get to the QB quickly, effectively and often.
Chandler Jones has been thrust into this starting Pats defense and looked the part thus far. It will be on him and Rob Ninkovich to make Jake Locker's professional debut miserable.
LB Dont'a Hightower
Dont'a Hightower is another Pats rookie who has tremendous upside and will play a huge part in the Pats secondary for years to come—starting on Sunday.
Hightower will start in a linebacker group that consists only of Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. While both players have done tremendous jobs, the LB position has lacked depth over the past couple of seasons.
Hightower brings youth, speed and another big, physical presence to the linebacker position for the Patriots.
If he has a good game, which he should against a QB who is making his first career NFL start, Hightower will solidify his starting spot beside Mayo and Spikes.