Tag Archives: Delanie Walker

Brady, Patriots Manhandle Titans 35-14, Advance To AFC Title Game

Steve Balestrieri
January 13, 2018 at 11:53 pm ET

For the seventh season in a row, the Patriots are going to the conference championship with a chance to go to the Super Bowl. After starting a bit slowly against a physically tough but overmatched Tennessee Titans team, the Patriots caught fire in the second quarter and scored 35 straight points before allowing a garbage time touchdown to win 35-14.

Tom Brady threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns, Danny Amendola had a fantastic game with 11 receptions for 113 yards and Dion Lewis and James White were basically unstoppable in the passing game. While the still much-maligned Patriots defense notched eight sacks of Marcus Mariota. The Titans QB threw for 254 yards but lost 52 of those back with sacks. The Titans gained a net total of 267 yards on the night.

The Patriots will host the winner of the Pittsburgh – Jacksonville game next week. Other observations include:

Brady Has His Way With LeBeau’s Defense Again: After the first two drives stalled without a pass to the running backs, the offense got it figured out and Brady picked apart the Titans defense by targeting the running backs, James White and Dion Lewis in the passing game where Tennessee had no answer.

The Titans were among the worst in the league defending backs in the passing game and it showed. Tennessee is stout against the run allowing an average of just 88 yards per game so Josh McDaniels and Brady eschewed the running game for the most part by throwing the ball short to the backs where they found great success.

While throwing to Dion Lewis out of the backfield, Brady was 9-10 for 79 yards. Overall he was 13-17 for 108 yards targeting the backs. White had a touchdown reception as well as running but also had a couple of drops. One on a wheel route was nearly a huge gainer but it bounced just off his fingertips.

Rob Gronkowski, despite being doubled most of the game caught 6 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.

The Run Defense Put Derrick Henry on a Milk Carton: One of the big matchups entering the game was the Titans running game against the Pats defense which has struggled for much of the year. But like we saw down the stretch, the team has improved against the run and tonight, they shut down Henry who ran wild against KC a week ago.

Henry rushed for 28 yards on 12 carries, his longest run of the day was four yards. He was never a factor in the game and the Tennessee game plan of pounding the ball inside and keeping Brady off the field never materialized. Mariota had some nice, effective scrambles early but once Matt Patricia made his adjustments, the Titans running game was rendered ineffective. Overall they rushed 16 times for 65 yards while the Patriots rushed for 101 yards on 27 carries.

Amendola, Along with White and Lewis Were the “Little Big Men” for the Team:
The offense was clicking with the smaller players producing big-time. Amendola probably benefited the most from having White and Hogan back as with the different players in the lineup, and Tennessee opting to double cover Gronkowski, he had room to work underneath and if he can get his hand on the ball, he’s money.

Amendola is the subject of rumors every spring/summer that he’s on his way out and every year around playoff time, he reminds us all how valuable he is. Tonight was no exception. He made several catches of the difficult variety and is among Brady’s most trusted receivers with the game on the line.

The Patriots Pass Rush Continues to Improve: As the game went on, the pass rush kept getting better and better. The Pats pass rush notched eight sacks with them getting spread around. Deatrich Wise and Geneo Grissom each had two.

Others getting sacks were Trey Flowers, Adam Butler, Ricky Jean-Francois and Marquis Flowers. They were bringing the heat on Mariota and after the first few drives, he wasn’t able to scramble for yardage.

Stephon Gilmore didn’t give up a single catch during the game and had tremendous coverage all night. He made a nice diving pass breakup as well

This win has to be a big confidence builder for the team overall. The defense was supposed to be tested by the ground game of Henry and Mariota and they held up quite well. And to get after Mariota like they did with eight sacks? Off the charts.

Offensively, getting most of their missing pieces back was huge. The offense hasn’t looked this potent in weeks. Brady was cool, calm and collected, laser sharp and had a very impressive outing.

So…. We are on to the Conference Championship.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Titans Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge

Steve Balestrieri
January 12, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

The New England Patriots return from the bye week to take on the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round of the 2017 Playoffs. The game will be played at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, where if the team is successful this week, will be the place for the AFC Championship Game.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Saturday, January 13, at 8:15 p.m. ET and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines... The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (13-3) took care of business in Week 17 beating the Jets to end the season and had a much needed week off to heal up the many injuries that they have suffered this season.

The Titans (10-7) stormed back from a big 21-3 halftime deficit to stun the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round 22-21. The team rushed for 202 yards with Derrick Henry accounting for 156 of them. QB Marcus Mariota completed a TD pass….to himself in one of the crazier plays you’ll see.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Titans are meeting for the 42nd time going back to the old days of the AFL and when the Titans were the Houston Oilers. Overall the Patriots hold a 24-16-1 edge. The Patriots have won the last six meetings including a 2003 season Divisional Playoff win.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Titans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tennessee

The Patriots running game was firing on all cylinders until Rex Burkhead and James White went down with injuries. However, Dion Lewis has been simply outstanding in the second half of the season. Lewis will get the lion’s share of the work in the running game, even if both of those backs return.

The Titans are very stout against the run allowing just 88 yards per game. It starts with the big men in the middle, Sylvester Williams, Jurrell Casey and Austin Johnson. They’re big and physical and will make the going tough.

Look for the Patriots to pass to set up the run. The Patriots have run for more yards in the red zone in 2017 than any other team in the league. When they get down low, they like to run Lewis inside and catch teams in a pass rushing situation.

Patriots WRs vs Titans Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game should get Chris Hogan, James White and maybe ….Burkhead back this week which will be a huge boost for the passing game.

The Titans can get after the passer and have 43 sacks, they also have the biggest ball hawk in All-Pro Safety Kevin Byard, but the two areas that they struggle in are the two are the Patriots strengths, covering running backs in the passing game and covering tight ends. They’re going to have to bring pressure up the middle if they’re going to slow down this passing offense.

Look for the Patriots to target Gronkowski and the backs early and often in this one. With the big men up front, the Patriots may try to keep them in their base look and then go hurry up to wear those big men down. If Brady has his full complement of receivers this week, this offense should easily have its way with Dick LeBeau’s defense.

Next up the Titans offense:

Titans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tennessee

The Titans have the big man, Derrick Henry at running back and Marcus Mariota, who is a dual threat to run or throw. They averaged just over 114 yards per game on the ground. Demarco Murray has already been ruled out of this one with an injury so it will be Henry. He gets better as the game goes on, so if the score is still close late in the game, that’s when he’s at his most effective.

The Patriots run defense has had major issues this season defending the run especially on the edge but they’ll be getting Alan Branch back inside and the addition of James Harrison should really pay dividends. That means Kyle Van Noy, who is also returning from injury can move inside where he’s more effective.

The Titans are a run-first team, but they’ll want to mix things up and keep New England off-balance. But will Henry influence the game enough to tip the scales for the Titans? He’ll get his yards but the Patriots have gotten better against the run down the stretch. Shutting down the Jets and Bills on the ground.

Titans WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

The Titans have 3rd year QB Mariota who had a great 2016 but slipped badly this year throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. Tennessee has a talented group of receivers with Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker and Corey Davis outside and Delanie Walker at tight end. Walker led the team with 74 catches for 807 yards and three scores.

The Patriots struggled horribly in September against the pass but since then, things have tightened up considerably. The Patriots on third down have the fourth best opponent passer rating of just 76.8. The corners and safeties have tightened things up. Look for Pat Chung to battle Walker which will be a key area to watch. Harrison may add a bit to the pass rush for the Patriots who got 42 sacks on the season. Mariota averaged just 199.4 yards per game passing this year. If the Patriots get off to a quick start, the big question is, can he throw enough to keep up?

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams are among the best in the NFL, they excel in punt and kick coverage and continuously turn in big plays. Stephen Gostkowski had a very solid season and his kickoffs consistently put opponents deep in their own end. Ryan Allen is very adept at pinning opponents inside the 20 and the team has perennial Pro-Bowl ST player Matthew Slater on the coverage units.

The Titans punter Brett Kern led the league in punting average with 49.7 yards per punt and have Adoree Jackson on both their punt and kick return units.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Once again the key here from a Patriots perspective is to get off to a quick start. They haven’t been good at throwing the ball (23rd in the NFL) so they’re not going to be at their best if they have to throw and get away from the run.

With the Patriots getting most of their weapons back this week, look for Tom Brady to spread the wealth around and test this pass defense. Dick LeBeau’s zone blitz schemes are the same defenses that he ran in Pittsburgh. There is no mystery there for the Patriots or Brady. Will LeBeau mix things up and play more man coverage this week? That’s the big question here. If they sit back in a zone, the only chance they’ll have is if they get great pressure up the middle. Another key is ball security. With an offense that scores just about 20 points per game, the Pats can’t afford to give Mariota and the Titans offense short fields and easy scores. They have to feel pressure to score every time they get the ball in order to keep up.

Tennessee is at their best when the force the game into a physical slugfest where the score is a 17-14 type of game into the fourth quarter. Those are the games tailor-made for them to win. Mariota is a dual threat to run/pass but I don’t expect the Patriots to “spy” him with a linebacker. It will just come down to the players doing their job and the defensive ends not getting too far upfield.

Brady, Gronkowski, and Lewis will have big games this week and New England advances for the seventh straight year to the AFC Championship Game with a solid team victory as they pull away late.  Patriots 31-14

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

ICYMI Patriots vs Titans: Best of Patriots Social Media Week 15

Robert Alvarez
December 21, 2015 at 3:03 pm ET

Heading into the New England Patriots Week 15 matchup with the Tennessee Titans, it began on a somber note as news was passed along via Rob Gronkowski’s Facebook account that a friend and trainer of his named Dana Parenteau passed away at the age of 42 , and he was going to dedicate the game in his honor.

This one's for Dana. #GameTime

Posted by Rob Gronkowski -Gronk on Sunday, December 20, 2015

During pregame warmups, teammate Chandler Jones did his best to lift Gronkowski’s spirits and fire him up with some chest bumps.

It didn’t take Gronkowski long to pay tribute to his friend, Gronk would score a touchdown on a third and three play from the five yard line in the first quarter. As soon as Gronkowski crossed over into the end zone, he raised his arms and pointed to the sky. The Patriots took the early 7-0 lead.

(Courtesy @PP_Rich_Hill)

Following the Gronkowski touchdown pass, Chandler Jones continued his torrid pace this season after causing this strip fumble that was recovered by Akiem Hicks and returned for a touchdown giving the Patriots a 14-0 lead and the rout was on.

https://twitter.com/Chan95Jones/status/678779465313312768

Hicks was asked following the game on whether or not his teammates got a laugh from his unlikely score, he told The Boston Globe, ““I’m sure somebody’s gonna get ahold of [the tape] and say, ‘rumbling, bumbling, stumbling,’ I know that’s coming,’’ he said. “I’m comfortable with that, I’ve been a big guy all my life.”

Fullback Josey Iosefa, who came off the practice squad just days before Sunday’s game, made his presence known on the field during his first game action of the season. The Patriots appear to have a growing list of finding “diamonds in the rough” for the running game despite the mounting injuries.

The Patriots defense remained stout throughout the game, Malcom Butler collected this interception at the goal line late in the first half and it the Titans defense couldn’t muster much more as the Patriots won their 12th game of the season by a final score of 33-16.

(Courtesy @PP_Rich_Hill)

Defensive end Alan Branch busted out some moves.

Patriots fans hearts briefly stopped at this moment.

https://twitter.com/BenVolin/status/679017265031806976/photo/1

A lone Titans highlight from the afternoon was this touchdown pass on a  57-yard bomb by quarterback Zach Mettenberger to wide receiver Delanie Walker after breaking multiple tackles.

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Denver Broncos later on Sunday evening 34-27 which ensured the Patriots a first round bye and no less than a two seed in the NFL playoffs for a record sixth consecutive season.

Good team win #LB91 #FindersKeepers

A post shared by Jamie Collins (@j_collins91) on

Devin McCourty was feeling “fresh as lettuce” monday morning following the victory as he recovers from his ankle injury.

Last but not least, we take you into the Christmas holiday with a festive singing rendition by (sort of) head coach Bill Belichick of the classic song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”

(Courtesy NFL on FOX)

Monday Observations, Patriots Drop Titans, Earn Bye

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:30 am ET

The best news of the day was that despite a game that wasn’t their best, the Patriots took care of business defeating the Tennessee Titans 33-16 Sunday at Foxboro and have earned a bye for the Wildcard Round of the playoffs.

This marks the sixth straight season the Patriots have earned a bye, an NFL record. And it has to come as great news as the injuries continue to pile up at a near ridiculous rate for a team with the best record in the AFC.

This one won’t go down as one of their highlight games but on a day where the team was hurting, the Patriots did what they do best. They circled the wagons and did what they had to do.

Their win coupled with the Steelers win over Denver have given the Patriots no worse than a #2 seed and a bye for the divisional round of NFL playoffs. Pittsburgh vaults up to the #6 seed, knocking the Jets back via a tie-breaker. That makes the game in the Meadowlands next week even more dire for Gang Green.

Other observations from Sunday include:

Gronk Plays with heavy heart and dedicates game to friend: Rob Gronkowski missed Friday’s practice when it was learned that his personal trainer and close friend Dana Parenteau passed away Friday at the age of 42.

Gronkowski, on his Facebook page dedicated the game to his friend and after scoring a touchdown on the Patriots opening drive raised both arms in the air in a salute.

“My good friend loved the game of football, (he) loved being at all my games, always had my back,” Gronkowski said. “I definitely dedicate that touchdown to him. I pointed up. I know he was up there watching. I just definitely made that score for him and I know he was going crazy knowing that it was dedicated to him.”

Patriots center Brian Stork missed the game due to a death in his close family according to reports after the game.

Next Man Up Isn’t Just a Mantra: Around New England, many of the fans of Patriots Nation react with the well-used (and well needed), phrase “Next Man Up” when a player goes down with an injury.

That phrase may be getting a bit cliché in other places but just take a look around at some of the key moments of the game for the Patriots and it just isn’t a mantra for the team.

James White, who was all but an afterthought at the beginning of the season given the accomplishments of Dion Lewis, had another big day in the passing game. White had seven catches for 71 yards including a highlight reel 30-yard touchdown. He also had a 65-yard pass and run from Brady that was wiped out by another ridiculous Offensive PI penalty that is a subject for another time.

Joey Iosefa who wasn’t on any team just two months ago, was activated from the practice squad this week and promptly led the team in rushing. His run where he trucked over CB Coty Sensabaugh has already become legend on YouTube and thru GIFs. He gained 51 yards on 14 carries and immediately has become a fan favorite. The man from Pago Pago was a great midseason under the radar pickup.

Duron Harmon had to replace Devin McCourty as the Patriots centerfielder on defense as the free safety. Harmon played more than adequately in lieu of the QB for the secondary and acquitted himself well. He’s been a solid role player in his time here and now will have to step up in DMac’s absence.

Akiem Hicks had worn out his welcome in New Orleans; he was acquired in a trade for backup TE Michael Hoomanawanui and with Dominique Easley on IR has stepped up. He got two sacks in Houston last week and followed that up with another sack and a touchdown on a fumble return. Hicks rolled into the end zone after Chandler Jones strip sacked Marcus Mariota and it gave the Patriots their first defensive score of the year.

While certain players (Brady, Gronk Collins, Butler among others) are irreplaceable, if the Patriots are going to go on a deep run again, they’ll need these lunch pail types to step up at a high level.

Welcome Back to the party Mr. Jones: Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones who has been quiet the past month burst back into the spotlight on Sunday with a pair of sacks giving him 12.5 for the season, a new career high.

Jones’ strip sack of Mariota resulted in a Patriots defensive touchdown. New England was one of only four teams without a defensive or special teams score in 2015. His two sacks were part of five of the day for the Patriots. Hicks, Jabaal Sheard and Jamie Collins got the other sacks for the Patriots.

But it is important to see Jones back in the box score again. When he’s on top of his game, he gives the Patriots along with Sheard and Rob Ninkovich, three quality edge rushers who they’ll need against the suddenly pass-happy Jets.

Injuries Decimate team again: Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the football field the injury bug once again ripped thru the Patriots roster.

Danny Amendola tweaked an already bad knee in the first half while returning a punt and limped off the field. He was examined on the sideline and tried to return in the second half before heading off for good prior to the second half kickoff.

Dont’a Hightower who returned to action on Sunday after sitting out the last two games with a strained MCL also re-aggravated his injury and didn’t return.

Pat Chung took a nasty hit from teammate Jon Bostic on his knee/hip area while trying to wrap up TE Delanie Walker and went down in a lot of pain. After being attended to by the training staff, he attempted to jog off the field and then went gingerly to the sideline. He, like Amendola and Hightower didn’t return.

Brady Passes Another Milestone: QB Tom Brady started hot going 8-8 for 70 yards and a touchdown on the Patriots first drive. After that, he wasn’t at his absolute best, but like the rest of the team, he got the job done.

Brady finished 23 of 35 for 267 yards and two touchdowns. His second, to James White was his league leading 35th of the season. And it also marks his fourth season with 35 or more touchdown passes, tying Peyton Manning for most all-time.

Special Teams turnover again costs Pats: The normally sure-handed Danny Amendola coughed up a fumble on a punt return Sunday marking the fourth game in a row that the Patriots have suffered a turnover on Special Teams.

The Titans turned that turnover into three points despite moving backwards five yards on the possession. It has been an alarming trend the past month since the Denver game and something the team will have to tighten up moving forward.

Stephen Gostkowski proved that he is indeed human when he missed a field goal from 48 yards, just his second miss of the season and had another near miss. But overall on the day, Mr. Automatic kicked 4 of 5 field goals as well as all three extra points.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Who are the Players to Watch? Patriots – Titans

Steve Balestrieri
December 19, 2015 at 6:00 am ET

The Patriots got back on the winning track last week with a very impressive 27-6 win over the Houston Texans. The Pats defense allowed only 189 with just 102 of those thru the air. They sacked Houston quarterbacks six times and the offense benefitted from the return of Rob Gronkowski. Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes and ran his NFL leading total to 33.

The Titans (3-10) are just playing out the string and for jobs at this point of the season. Last week after a 30-8 loss at the Jets, interim head coach Mike Mularkey openly questioned the desire of the team. They’ll be looking to have a much better performance on both sides of the ball this week.

We already broke down this game with our Key matchups breaking down the offensive, defensive and special team’s units for this week.

Now it is time for our players to watch for this week:

Duron Harmon:  With Patriots safety Devin McCourty suffering from a high ankle sprain suffered against Houston, he’ll likely miss both this week and next week’s contest against the Jets.

The Patriots have been extremely solid on the back end of the defense since McCourty has moved back there a few seasons ago. His rock solid play as well as his communication have been among the best. His play is a big reason the Patriots secondary has had few of the problems envisioned for it this season.

Harmon will have to fill some very big shoes to fill this week. He’s been a solid performer in his own right since joining the Patriots, who can forget his huge interception of Joe Flacco in the AFC Divisional Round at the end of the game to seal the win?

The Patriots strength in the secondary is their play as a entire unit, each player has his own strengths that the team plays to. But how will Harmon do on his own without McCourty’s calming influence on the field? It is a question that will need answering and a key one to watch this week.

Key stat: Through the first 10 games Harmon allowed only one completion on four attempts for 9 yards while logging three interceptions and a pass defensed according to Pro Football Focus (PFF).  In his career Harmon has seven picks while allowing only 13 receptions; those are some pretty impressive numbers. And he’ll need them because he’ll be responsible on the deep end for…

Dorial Green-Beckham: The Titans rookie wide receiver is a big (6’5, 237) target who is coming into his own under Mike Mularkey after a slow start to his career early this season.

He’s big, fast and talented and the Titans and QB Marcus Mariota are using him as their deep threat as his 17.3 yards per reception average plays out. Tennessee will want to hit some deep plays to stretch the field and hopefully get some quick scores and how well the Patriots defend Green-Beckham will go a long way in deciding this one.

Look for Tennessee to use him attacking the seam and using his big body to box out defenders. His 6’5 size is a big advantage to any of the NE corners covering him.

Key Stat: While Green-Beckham only has 24 catches on the season, he has 12 of them in the past four games as he’s finding his comfort zone within the offense. In the past three games he’s had at least one reception for 22+ yards.

Chandler Jones: The Patriots defensive line will have a lot of pressure placed on them this week. They’ll have to slow the Titans running game and force them into being one-dimensional in the passing game.

The edge rushers will have the double duty of bringing pressure on Marcus Mariota and keeping him contained in the pocket. That onus will fall on all of the edge rushers including Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard.

But Jones, who started off the season so well and was leading the league in sacks just a few weeks ago, has fallen off a cliff, numbers wise in the past month. Whether the drop-off is a result of injury (Jones was on the injury report with an abdominal issue), or just hitting the wall in the third quarter of the season remains to be seen.

The team will need Jones at his best once the post-season starts. He’s a very important piece of the puzzle of this very much improved front seven. We’ll be watching his play closely; he didn’t seem to be getting very low or with much push against Houston.

Key Stat: In the first 9 games, Jones logged 10 sacks, 15 QB hits and 9 tackles for loss (TFL). In the past four games, Jones has zero sacks, one QB hit and one TFL.

Delanie Walker: The Titans talented tight end played against New England while with the 49ers and is built more like a big WR than a tight end at 6’0, 245 pounds. He’s a matchup nightmare for the opposing defensive coordinators and Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise for Walker this week.

“He’s good at everything. He’s a really hard guy to match up on,” Belichick said during his Wednesday press conference. “You put the little guys on him and he’s too big. You put the big guys on him and his quickness, his route running ability, his length, they’re a problem. So it seems like whoever is covering him when you look at the tape you’re looking like that’s a mismatch. He’s not quick enough or he’s not big enough. There is nobody that really matches up very well against him. He’s an excellent technique player, sets up his routes well, has got good patience.”

“I can see why they throw it to him so much,” Belichick added. “It’s because he’s always open. Even when he’s covered he’s open because of his length and his ability to go up and timing on jump balls and his hands, catching the ball away from his body. He does a really good job. He’s a tough guy to match up on.”

Key Stat: Walker’s 74 catches are the most for any NFL tight end in 2015. His 871 yards are third in the league behind Gronk (1018), and Cleveland’s Gary Barnidge (901). He also has three touchdowns on the season.

Rob Gronkowski: The big Patriots tight end returned to action last week in Houston and although he didn’t play his normal complement of snaps on offense as the team eased him back into the lineup, he had a big effect.

Just having Gronkowski back on the field has a cumulative effect on the offense as a whole. He’s a force multiplier, he opens up big tracts of real estate for the other receivers to operate and with him drawing double teams much of the time, it often means other players are left in single coverage which is a win for the offense.

Watching film this week and in our keys we mentioned attacking the middle of the field with Gronkowski. The Titans have a dangerous habit of dropping deep in the center allowing a ton of room to operate, if they leave Gronkowski that kind of room, expect him to put up tremendous numbers.

Key Stat: Even at less than 100 percent Gronkowski last week put up good numbers; four catches for 87 yards and a touchdown in Houston. But Tom Brady’s numbers reflect his true worth. Brady’s passer rating for the season is 103.6. In the games that he’s been missing, Brady rating falls to 83.4 according to NESN’s Doug Kyed. With Gronk back in the lineup Sunday night? Brady’s passer rating was 116.8. Coincidence? Hardly. He is THE matchup nightmare for the Patriots.

Marcus Mariota: The talented rookie quarterback for the Titans is in the middle of an impressive first campaign despite their poor 3-10 record. While he still has a long way to go to be a top-tier NFL QB, the signs are there for him to have a productive career.

He’s completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 2786 yards with 19 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions so far in 2015. He’s had to a learn a different offense but has been good at staying in the pocket, as well as scrambling outside to make plays with his feet.

He’s the type of mobile QB that has given the Patriots trouble in the past. Russell Wilson made some big plays in the Super Bowl and Cam Newton back in 2013 had a big game running the football against the Patriots. Interestingly enough, if the Patriots make it back to Super Bowl L, they may face one of those two QBs, so this game will be a nice test for them.

Key Stat: Mariota became the first player since Walter Payton 32 years ago in 1983 to run for a 40-yard touchdown, pass for a 40-yard touchdown and catch a 40-yard touchdown. The #2 pick in this season’s NFL Draft  is a viable candidate for this season’s Rookie of the Year

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com and we’ll have post-game analysis of the opener as well as transcripts from Bill Belichick’s press conference immediately after the game.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

The Patriots got back on the winning track last week with a very impressive 27-6 win over the Houston Texans. The Pats defense allowed only 189 with just 102 of those thru the air. They sacked Houston quarterbacks six times and the offense benefitted from the return of Rob Gronkowski. Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes and ran his NFL leading total to 33.

The Titans (3-10) are just playing out the string and for jobs at this point of the season. Last week after a 30-8 loss at the Jets, interim head coach Mike Mularkey openly questioned the desire of the team. They’ll be looking to have a much better performance on both sides of the ball this week.

We already broke down this game with our Key matchups breaking down the offensive, defensive and special team’s units for this week.

Now it is time for our players to watch for this week:

Duron Harmon:  With Patriots safety Devin McCourty suffering from a high ankle sprain suffered against Houston, he’ll likely miss both this week and next week’s contest against the Jets.

The Patriots have been extremely solid on the back end of the defense since McCourty has moved back there a few seasons ago. His rock solid play as well as his communication have been among the best. His play is a big reason the Patriots secondary has had few of the problems envisioned for it this season.

Harmon will have to fill some very big shoes to fill this week. He’s been a solid performer in his own right since joining the Patriots, who can forget his huge interception of Joe Flacco in the AFC Divisional Round at the end of the game to seal the win?

The Patriots strength is their play as a whole, each player has his own strengths that the team plays to. But how will Harmon do on his own without McCourty’s calming influence on the field? It is a question that will need answering and a key one to watch this week.

Key stat: Through the first 10 games Harmon allowed only one completion on four attempts for 9 yards while logging three interceptions and a pass defensed according to Pro Football Focus (PFF).  In his career Harmon has seven picks while allowing only 13 receptions; those are some pretty impressive numbers. And he’ll need them because he’ll be responsible on the deep end for…

Dorial Green-Beckham: The Titans rookie wide receiver is a big (6’5, 237) target who is coming into his own under Mike Mularkey after a slow start to his career early this season.

He’s big, fast and talented and the Titans and QB Marcus Mariota are using him as their deep threat as his 17.3 yards per reception average plays out. Tennessee will want to hit some deep plays to stretch the field and hopefully get some quick scores and how well the Patriots defend Green-Beckham will go a long way in deciding this one.

Look for Tennessee to use him attacking the seam and using his big body to box out defenders. His 6’5 size is a big advantage to any of the NE corners covering him.

Key Stat: While Green-Beckham only has 24 catches on the season, he has 12 of them in the past four games as he’s finding his comfort zone within the offense. In the past three games he’s had at least one reception for 22+ yards.

Chandler Jones: The Patriots defensive line will have a lot of pressure placed on them this week. They’ll have to slow the Titans running game and force them into being one-dimensional in the passing game.

The edge rushers will have the double duty of bringing pressure on Marcus Mariota and keeping him contained in the pocket. That onus will fall on all of the edge rushers including Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard.

But Jones, who started off the season so well and was leading the league in sacks just a few weeks ago, has fallen off a cliff, numbers wise in the past month. Whether the drop-off is a result of injury (Jones was on the injury report with an abdominal issue), or just hitting the wall in the third quarter of the season remains to be seen.

The team will need Jones at his best once the post-season starts. He’s a very important piece of the puzzle of this very much improved front seven. We’ll be watching his play closely; he didn’t seem to be getting very low or with much push against Houston.

Key Stat: In the first 9 games, Jones logged 10 sacks, 15 QB hits and 9 tackles for loss (TFL). In the past four games, Jones has zero sacks, one QB hit and one TFL.

Delanie Walker: The Titans talented tight end played against New England while with the 49ers and is built more like a big WR than a tight end at 6’0, 245 pounds. He’s a matchup nightmare for the opposing defensive coordinators and Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise for Walker this week.

“He’s good at everything. He’s a really hard guy to match up on,” Belichick said during his Wednesday press conference. “You put the little guys on him and he’s too big. You put the big guys on him and his quickness, his route running ability, his length, they’re a problem. So it seems like whoever is covering him when you look at the tape you’re looking like that’s a mismatch. He’s not quick enough or he’s not big enough. There is nobody that really matches up very well against him. He’s an excellent technique player, sets up his routes well, has got good patience.”

“I can see why they throw it to him so much,” Belichick added. “It’s because he’s always open. Even when he’s covered he’s open because of his length and his ability to go up and timing on jump balls and his hands, catching the ball away from his body. He does a really good job. He’s a tough guy to match up on.”

Key Stat: Walker’s 74 catches are the most for any NFL tight end in 2015. His 871 yards are third in the league behind Gronk (1018), and Cleveland’s Gary Barnidge (901). He also has three touchdowns on the season.

Rob Gronkowski: The big Patriots tight end returned to action last week in Houston and although he didn’t play his normal complement of snaps on offense as the team eased him back into the lineup, he had a big effect.

Just having Gronkowski back on the field has a cumulative effect on the offense as a whole. He’s a force multiplier, he opens up big tracts of real estate for the other receivers to operate and with him drawing double teams much of the time, it often means other players are left in single coverage which is a win for the offense.

Watching film this week and in our keys we mentioned attacking the middle of the field with Gronkowski. The Titans have a dangerous habit of dropping deep in the center allowing a ton of room to operate, if they leave Gronkowski that kind of room, expect him to put up tremendous numbers.

Key Stat: Even at less than 100 percent Gronkowski last week put up good numbers; four catches for 87 yards and a touchdown in Houston. But Tom Brady’s numbers reflect his true worth. Brady’s passer rating for the season is 103.6. In the games that he’s been missing, Brady rating falls to 83.4 according to NESN’s Doug Kyed. With Gronk back in the lineup Sunday night? Brady’s passer rating was 116.8. Coincidence? Hardly. He is THE matchup nightmare for the Patriots.

Marcus Mariota: The talented rookie quarterback for the Titans is in the middle of an impressive first campaign despite their poor 3-10 record. While he still has a long way to go to be a top-tier NFL QB, the signs are there for him to have a productive career.

He’s completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 2786 yards with 19 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions so far in 2015. He’s had to a learn a different offense but has been good at staying in the pocket, as well as scrambling outside to make plays with his feet.

He’s the type of mobile QB that has given the Patriots trouble in the past. Russell Wilson made some big plays in the Super Bowl and Cam Newton back in 2013 had a big game running the football against the Patriots. Interestingly enough, if the Patriots make it back to Super Bowl L, they may face one of those two QBs, so this game will be a nice test for them.

Key Stat: Mariota became the first player since Walter Payton 32 years ago in 1983 to run for a 40-yard touchdown, pass for a 40-yard touchdown and catch a 40-yard touchdown. The #2 pick in this season’s NFL Draft  is a viable candidate for this season’s Rookie of the Year

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com and we’ll have post-game analysis of the opener as well as transcripts from Bill Belichick’s press conference immediately after the game.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Titans Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 17, 2015 at 6:29 am ET

The New England Patriots return home for their last regular season game at Foxboro on Sunday afternoon against the Tennessee Titans.  Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. The team will finish the last two games on the road as the stadium is being readied for the NHL Classic on New Year’s Day as a hockey rink is being constructed inside Gillette Stadium for the game between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.

The Pats game will be televised by CBS with the announcing crew of Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts on the call. The game will also be on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call.

The Patriots (11-2) beat the Houston Texans 27-6 on Sunday Night Football. The defense was outstanding allowing only 189 total yards and just 102 of them thru the air. The defense sacked Texans’ quarterbacks six times. Tom Brady threw for two touchdowns, to Keshawn Martin and Rob Gronkowski in the game.

The Titans (3-10) lost to the New York Jets 30-8. The offense struggled and the only score was on a half-back option pass from running back Antonio Andrews to quarterback Marcus Mariota.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our  “Razor’s Edge”  column in 2015 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Titans history goes back to the earliest days of the AFL when they were known as the Houston Oilers. The teams have met 40 times with the Patriots holding a 23-16-1 overall edge. At home the Patriots have a 16-6-1 advantage over the Titans.

In recent years the Patriots have dominated winning the last five matchups including an early September 2012 matchup 34-13 the last time the teams met.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots 2015 Opponents, Five First Impressions of the Titans

Steve Balestrieri
December 16, 2015 at 6:36 am ET

The Patriots return to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro for their final home game of the season to face the Tennessee Titans. The Patriots will finish the last two regular season games on the road as the stadium prepares for the construction of the ice rink for the NHL’s Winter Classic to be played at Gillette on New Year’s Day.

The Titans (3-10) were blasted by the New York Jets 30-8 on Sunday. The Titans lost the chance for consecutive wins for the first time since 2013. Their only score was on a pass from RB Antonio Andrews to QB Marcus Mariota.

The Patriots (11-2), beat the Houston Texans 27-6 to clinch a playoff berth and with the Giants win over Miami on Monday night, the Patriots won the AFC East Division crown for the seventh year in a row and their 13th in the past fifteen years. They now have a chance to clinch a bye on Sunday against the Titans.

The game will be televised by CBS with the announcing crew of Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts.  The game will also be carried by the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 FM the SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call.

The history between the Patriots and Titans stretches all the way back to the early days of the AFL when they were known as the Houston Oilers. The teams have met 40 times with the Patriots holding an all-time 23-16-1 edge overall against the Titans.

The Patriots also hold a sizable advantage at home with a 16-6-1 mark. The last time the teams met was in September of 2012 and the Patriots beat Tennessee 34-13. In case you missed it, the last time Tennessee played in Foxboro was the snow game back in 2009 where the Patriots rolled 59-0.

Here are our five first impressions of the Titans:

Big Shakeup Coming at the end of the year? Tennessee gave a five-year contract to coach Ken Whisenhunt prior to the 2014 season and he was fired this year after a 1-6 start. Interim head coach Mike Mularkey, who had previous stops at Jacksonville and Buffalo as a head coach started off ok with a 2-3 record. But the loss against the Jets where it seemed the team didn’t show up could be a big blow to his staying on.

General Manager Ruston Webster is likely on very thin ice as well. Although the team drafted QB Marcus Mariota just this season, the Titans were expected to be much better and they just haven’t done that.

The 3-10 record puts them in last place in the AFC South, where the division leader is only 6-7. The fact that as weak as the division is this year and the Titans are a full three games back speaks volumes. There could be major changes coming.

Mariota/Walker Have Tenn. on the right track: Rookie QB Marcus Mariota came in with a lot of hype and he’s off to a very good start. He’s completing 62.4 percent of his passes and has thrown for 2786 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His 91.9 passer rating is really solid especially considering the team’s record, his lack of quality weapons and the fact that he’s a rookie.

Mariota is also very mobile and can move around the pocket as well as pull the ball down and run with it. He’ll be a threat to scramble and move the chains at any time.

Mariota’s favorite target has been TE Delanie Walker; Walker isn’t a traditional type tight end at 6’0, 248 pounds, he’s more of a move-type tight end. He’s played wide receiver while with the 49ers. Walker has 70 receptions on the season, the most of any tight end in the NFL, for 871 yards and four touchdowns.

Walker and Mariota are a dynamic duo and these two will be garnering a lot of attention by the Patriots this weekend. They also should be safe after what promises to be a housecleaning in the offseason.

McCluster/Morgan Lost for the year: The Titans suffered a pair of costly losses adding to an already trying season by losing LB Derrick Morgan and RB Dexter McCluster who were placed on IR.

Morgan was the outside linebacker opposite Brian Orakpo that was supposed to take the pressure off of him and give them a pair of bookend pass rushers. Morgan started well with 4.5 sacks in the first four games, but has been slowed by a bad shoulder that now requires surgery. He’ll be a big loss down the stretch. David Bass played well filling in for spot duty but has struggled thus far as a starter.

McCluster is a scat-back who can do a variety of roles, running the football, catching it out of the backfield as well as returning punts and kickoffs. He had 55 rushes for 247 yards (4.5 ypa) with a touchdown. He also caught 31 passes for 260 yards and a score. McCluster also returned 24 punts for 9.0 average as well as 13 kickoffs with a 21.9 average per return.

In his stead the team will return to Bishop Sankey the top running back picked in last season’s draft. He started off well but has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. He has 41 carries for 166 yards, 4.0 average and 1 touchdown as well having caught eight passes out of the backfield for another score.

Dick LeBeau’s defense was playing well but has struggled lately: The former Steeler defensive coordinator LeBeau is now in his first season in the same position with the Titans.

The Tennessee defense definitely has his stamp on things; they play an aggressive 3-4 scheme with active linebackers that like to come on the blitz.  While they’ll miss Morgan, Orakpo is their most prolific pass rusher with seven sacks followed by DE Jurrell Casey who plays on the same side with six. ILBs Wesley Woodyard and Avery Williamson are frequent blitzers as well up the middle. The Titans have 35 sacks on the season.

The Titans are middle of the road defending the run which is a huge improvement over 2014 and are 11th overall in yards allowed with 344 yards per game. But their corners can be a liability in coverage, they miss Jason McCourty who is on IR and the middle of the field in the passing game can be an attractive target for opponents. The Titans are allowing a whopping 8.1 yards per pass attempt with opposing QB’s having a passer rating of 102.2 against them.

Limited Weapons have hurt Tennessee’s Offense: The Titans offense struggles with the lack of playmakers for Mariota. They really miss WR Kendall Wright who gives them a second quality target with Delanie Walker. Wright can at least put defensive game planners in the position of having to account for them.

Harry Douglas the former Falcon and Dorial Green-Beckham are the other two wide receivers. Green-Beckham has the ability to go deep but has only caught 24 passes for 415 yards with three touchdowns. Douglas has 26 catches for 298 yards and two scores.

Their lead running back Antonio Andrews has good size at 5’10, 225 pounds but has had only so-so production with 127 carries for 474 yards, good for only a 3.7 yard per attempt average and just three touchdowns. With McCluster on IR, Sankey will have to pick up the slack. But there is no doubt they really need Wright back in the lineup.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.