Tennessee Titans vs. New England Patriots Preview: Key Matchups
Tom Brady tore up the Titans in their most recent meeting in 2009, throwing for 380 yards and six touchdowns in handing the Titans an embarrassing 59-0 loss. Tennessee threw for, no joke, -7 total yards in the Foxborough blizzard and the loss dropped the Titans to 0-6 on the season.
On Sunday, the weather will be the opposite (sunny and high of 78 degrees), and Titans fans hope the outcome will be the opposite as well.
The Titans are a new-look team with second-year player Jake Locker as its quarterback. He gets the defending AFC champions in his first NFL start.
Mike Munchak is going into his second year as head coach of the Titans after leading them to an impressive 9-7 record, one spot out of the playoffs, last season.
The Patriots' continue to have the NFL's most deadly passing attack, having made the playoffs five seasons in a row and the Super Bowl two of the past five. The Pats are 16-6 in the playoffs under Bill Belichick and show no signs of letting up.
In this matchup, these battles will be key.
Chris Johnson vs. Patriots Defensive Line
This preseason, there were glimpses of old CJ, and nothing would help the Titans' young quarterback more than a solid and consistent outing from Chris Johnson.
Last year, the Patriots defense allowed an average of 117.1 yards-per-game on the ground, the 17th most in the NFL. In contrast, Johnson only averaged 65.4 yards-per-game in 2011 after holding out the entire preseason. That was down from 85.3 YPG in 2010 and 125.4 YPG in 2009.
Johnson needs to earn the money the Titans finally gave him last season by hitting the holes with the quickness and the explosiveness everyone knows he's capable of.
Titans Secondary vs. Patriots Pass Attack
Tom Brady averaged 317.8 yards a game through the air in 2011 and totaled a whopping 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns, 17 of which were thrown to tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The Patriots' duel tight-end attack has started a trend in the NFL, but no team uses its tight ends as effectively as the Patriots do Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
The Titans' inner defense will have its hands full with the two big tight ends. The secondary will have to prevent long pass plays if those two get through the interior.
The Patriots also have Wes Welker (122 receptions for 1,569 YDS and nine TDs in 2011), who efficiently runs the slot and is arguably Brady's favorite receiver. They also acquired Brandon Lloyd from the St. Louis Rams and plan to use his athletic ability in the long passing game.
Jason McCourty led the team in passes deflected with 13 in 2011 and had the second-most tackles with 107. He will need to come up big, along with linebacker Colin McCarthy, to keep the game in reach.
Titans Front Four vs. Patriots Offensive Line
A concern for the Patriots this preseason was the protection for Tom Brady in the pocket. He was sacked twice against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Titans can't afford to be blitzing against a three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Brady is too smart for that. Tennessee will have to rely on Wimbley, Derrick Morgan and Sen'Derrick Marks to apply pressure up front and get to Brady before he finds comfort in the pocket.
The best way to contain the Pats' passing attack is by getting to Brady. If Tennessee can apply pressure in front of its home crowd, Brady could get rattled and make mistakes.
Titans Passing Attack vs. Patriots Secondary
Jake Locker can make a name for himself in his first NFL start by shocking the Patriots.
Tom Brady will throw touchdowns in this matchup, but Locker may be able to match him against the second-worst pass defense in the NFL.
The Patriots gave up an average of 293.9 passing yards a game in 2011, the most in the AFC, yet they still made the Super Bowl.
First-round draft pick Kendall Wright has been impressive in the preseason (nine catches for 116 and a TD), and the Locker-to-Wright connection is something the Titans have been missing.
Tennessee will be without Kenny Britt, but have slowly built up a solid receiving corps, with Nate Washington, Lavelle Hawkins, Damian Williams and Wright, capped off with a big tight end of its own in Jared Cook.