The New England Patriots head back out on the road and are going down to Music City as they take on the Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon for a rare 1:00 p.m. start time. A win this week before the team’s bye week would ensure that the Patriots would finish with a .500 record or better for an 18th straight season.
A win would give the team seven wins in a row heading into their bye week and keep them firmly entrenched into the #2 spot in the AFC a game behind Kansas City, but the Patriots own the tiebreaker. Tom Brady is only 3 TD passes shy of Peyton Manning’s record of 579 (regular season and playoffs). Manning owns the record in the regular season with 539, Brett Favre is next with 508, Brady has 505.
This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn 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 (7-2) defeated the Packers on Sunday Night Football 31-17. Tom Brady threw for 294 yards and was a perfect 6-6 in the 4th quarter for 104 yards and a touchdown while holding Aaron Rodgers to 2-7 for 15 yards. The Patriots outscored the Packers 14-0 in the final stanza for the win.
The Titans (4-4) defeated the Dallas Cowboys 28-14 ending a three-game skid. But it didn’t start off well, Tennessee turned the ball over the first two times they possessed it in the game but in the end, they easily bested a poor Dallas team. Marcus Mariota led the Titans to their highest output of the season, points wise.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.
The Patriots and the Titans history go back to the beginnings of the old AFL when the Titans were the Houston Oilers. But the Patriots have had the better of the matchups overall with a 25-16-1 record dating back to the early ‘60s. New England has won the last seven games between the two teams including a divisional playoff game last year in Foxboro 35-14 and the last time the two teams met in Nashville 34-13 on opening day in 2012.
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 New England
The Patriots running game is expected to get back Sony Michel this week which will be a huge boost. But despite missing the rookie, the Pats received a shot in the arm by WR Cordarrelle Patterson filling in ably using his speed to his advantage. James White and Kenjon Barner have also been active.
The Titans have been much better against the run in recent weeks after having issues earlier in the season. On Monday night they held Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott to just 61 yards while the Cowboys averaged just 3.8 yards per rush.
Look for the Patriots to mix it up to keep the defense guessing and not able to pin their ears back. The key obviously is having Michel back and healthy for this one. The Titans have been much better lately against the run, but having an offense as diverse as the Patriots will present some problems. Look for Michel, White, and Patterson too to have a solid day running the ball between the tackles.
Patriots WRs vs Titans Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots passing game has been getting better despite missing Rob Gronkowski and Michel in recent weeks. They’ve had to get a bit more creative about spreading the ball around. Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman have stepped up and each had big games against the Packers. Edelman had 71 yards receiving, 28 yards rushing and 37 yards passing, while Gordon had 130 yards including a 55-yard touchdown.
The Titans have the #1 scoring defense in the NFL allowing just 17.6 points per game. They also have the #8 pass defense allowing just 226.2 yards per game. The Titans sacked Dak Prescott five times on Monday night and picked him off. They have former Pats Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan on the outside with Adoree Jackson at the nickel or slot corner, with Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro at safety.
We don’t expect to see Gronkowski again this week as they’ll give him an extra week before the bye to get healthy for the stretch run. Edelman and Jackson will likely be paired off, while Gordon will likely match up against Ryan. That leaves Chris Hogan/Phillip Dorsett against Butler outside. As always, the “X-Factor” is White out of the backfield. Until last week, the Titans had troubles getting after the QB with just 15 sacks. If Brady gets time to throw, as good as this defense has been, NE will be successful. Look for the Pats to spread them out and pick their way down the field.
Next up the Tennessee offense:
Titans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tennessee
The Tennessee running game has a pair of talented backs with big Derrick Henry and the elusive Dion Lewis but it hasn’t translated into the success that they envisioned this season. Henry averages just 3.3 yards per rush while Lewis is averaging just 3.7. Overall the Titans are averaging 3.9 yards per rush with QB Marcus Mariota bumping up that number with 217 yards rushing.
The Patriots have been much better against the run in recent weeks being able to slow down the opponents’ best rushing weapons. However, last week, they went to a much lighter package up front, basically daring Green Bay to run to help with the pass rush on Aaron Rodgers. Don’t expect that to continue this week.
Look for old pal Dion Lewis to give the Patriots some issues this week. He had a pretty solid game against the Cowboys last week and with the chance to show something against his former team, he’ll be very motivated. The NE defense has been good at setting the edge lately, but I’m looking for Lewis to have a good day inside.
Titans WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England
The Titans passing game has been mired in neutral for much of the year, averaging just 178.2 yards per game. Mariota has been completing 67 percent of his passes but has just 1270 yards on the season with 5 TDs and 5 INTs. His biggest targets have been Corey Davis and Lewis out of the backfield. Tennessee quarterbacks have been sacked 26 times this season. Mariota was outstanding on Monday night in Dallas, spreading the ball around to nine different receivers and his ability to throw to a spot on the field well before his receivers were cutting was very impressive.
The Patriots secondary has been improving each week and held Aaron Rodgers to 259 yards and 17 points a week ago. They’ll be looking to continue that trend by forcing Mariota into obvious passing situations and bringing some pressure on him. Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn have stepped up their games in recent weeks and look for that trend to continue.
One way to get the 30th ranked passing game into sync is throwing the ball more early on downs and that is what I’d expect Tennessee to do. Look for Mariota to target Lewis out of the backfield and on screens early. And although their tight ends (Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith) have combined for just 15 catches, I expect Mariota to try to get them involved early and often. The Patriots front seven will have to be aware of Mariota’s scrambling ability and try to keep him contained in the pocket.
Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots special teams were excellent on Sunday night. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen always give them outstanding production in the kicking game. Cordarrelle Patterson had two solid returns a week ago and the return game is beginning to look more and more dangerous if teams opt to not boot it out of the end zone. The coverage units have been inconsistent but the team just added STs ace, Albert McClellan
The Titans counter with Ryan Succop and Brett Kern (47.1 average), they also use Darius Jennings on kick returns and he has a 94-yard touchdown this season but have also allowed a 102-yard return.
Next up, who wins and why…
This should prove to be a very interesting matchup. Mike Vrable will be the first former player of Bill Belichick’s to face his as a head coach. There is a lot of familiarity in the Tennessee locker room with Butler, Ryan, Lewis, and Vrable. How much that plays into this week, will remain to be seen.
Butler is the strange case here. Last year he wasn’t good as he was trying to overplay everything in trying to win a big contract. After the Titans paid him big money, he’s been worse this season as he’s now overplaying everything in trying to justify his money. Vrable will have to get to him to remind him to just play in the manner that got him here. But I would expect Brady to test him with double moves this week. You think Vrable will give him help this week? You betcha.
Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective this week:
Start Fast: Last week was a big win for the team, it was obvious in the pregame and post-game reactions by both players and coaches. They can’t allow themselves to let down now. Getting off quickly is a must against Tennessee. They are tied for 29th in scoring with just 16.8 points per game. They aren’t built to play from behind.
Force Tennessee into Passing Situations: The Titans are #30 in passing. They don’t have the type of passing game that can afford to get into a shootout with Tom Brady. If the Patriots can keep the pressure on them to score and do it thru the air, it is a win-win for the visiting team.
NE Must Win on Third Down/Red Zone: The Titans are the #1 defense in the red zone in the NFL. The Pats can’t be kicking a bunch of FGs and allowing the Titans to hang around late in the game. They’ll have to find ways to convert this week, especially if they don’t have Gronkowski, who always draws a lot of attention there.
Look for Josh Gordon to continue his hot streak with Tom Brady. He may not have eye-popping numbers but we expect him to put in another solid effort this week. White and Michel will be key for the Patriots to pull out a road win by contributing both on the ground and in the air. Trey Flowers figures prominently again this week.
New England enters the bye week with a hard-fought, tough road win. Patriots 27-14
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.