Tag Archives: Marcus Mariota

Patriots Week10 Report Card, Titans Tune Up the Pats in Music City

Steve Balestrieri
November 12, 2018 at 4:10 pm ET

The Patriots got their collective butts handed to them in Nashville on Sunday afternoon to the tune of 34-10. It was ugly from start to finish. They weren’t ready to play and Tennessee was. We wrote in our keys to the game, getting off to a quick start was imperative this week. The last thing you want to do is to play from behind with the size of their offensive and defensive lines, they’ll make life downright miserable for you if that is the case, and they did.

There was no magic elixir here, no, the Titans weren’t trotting out a gaggle of new plays and busting out a trick play to confuse the Patriots. They lined the same as they always do. And their execution was spot on. The Patriots? Far, far different story there. Tennessee came into this game averaging 16.8 points per game, just 10 minutes into the first quarter they had 17. It was that kind of day

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s close win.

Quarterback: C-

Tom Brady, like the rest of his offensive teammates, were not on the same page yesterday and not prepared to face a Titans team that was fired up and ready to go. The day started well enough with Brady firing a dime down the field to Josh Gordon for 44 yards right down the middle.

And just as quickly, that changed. Brady missed on several throws were his fault. And several others where the coverage was superb. He was under duress all day and was forced to get rid of the ball early several times. While that wasn’t his fault, we wrote yesterday that it is easy to tell when Brady is struggling because he always makes the same mistakes.

Yesterday, once again, when he and the offense struggle, he locks into receivers and ignores the rest of the field. He targeted Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, and James White 32 times out of 41 passes on the day. That isn’t going to get it done. On the 4th and 6 where Edelman was blanketed by Logan Ryan, Chris Hogan put a double move on Malcolm Butler and was wide open. That’s on Brady. But he did zip some throws into very tight windows. He has to be better down the stretch…no ifs, ands, or buts.

Running Backs: C-

James White was rendered totally ineffective for the first time this year. The team tried to get him the ball but he was held to just 31 yards on five catches. He had just one carry and was blown up badly in the backfield for a loss of five. And to illustrate how out of sync this team was yesterday. White was bad in his pass blocking, something he’s never been as long as I can remember. Sony Michel returned from a two and a half week absence and was ineffective due to the offensive line. He had only 11 carries for 31 yards, a 2.8-yard average. Cordarrelle Patterson likewise was a total non-factor carrying the ball four times for 11 yards, mirroring Michel’s 2.8-yard average.

James Develin had his first carry of the year and had a one-yard touchdown.

Wide Receivers: C

The wide receivers had trouble all day with gaining separation. Julian Edelman gets very high marks with nine catches on 12 targets for 104 very tough yards. He was taking a lot of punishment after the catch. He was the bright spot on the offense on Sunday, before hurting his ankle.

Josh Gordon had 4 catches for 81 yards including the aforementioned 44-yard bomb. But he was targeted 12 times boys and girls. That kind of ratio isn’t going to cut it…. Not for anyone, especially someone who is supposed to be the go-to guy.

Chris Hogan is being frozen out of the offense. Brady barely looks in his direction anymore. And he may be replaced as the #3 option by Phillip Dorsett. Hogan was wide open for what may have been a score behind Butler who he beat on a double move. Patterson and Hogan had zero production. Dorsett? Two catches for 18 yards. Not good enough.

On the 4th and 6, Edelman was blanketed, Hogan put a double move on Butler and was wide open. Tell me again, how he has no separation. (screenshot CBS/NFL)

Tight Ends: C-

Rob Gronkowski was out again. Worse, Dwayne Allen was shaken up twice during the game and was forced to leave. That left the Patriots with only Jacob Hollister who was active for the first time in about a month. Hollister is more of a move tight end and not an in-line blocker. He did make one nice grab down the seam for 17 yards on two targets. The team really needs Gronkowski, a healthy Gronkowski back.

Offensive Line: D-

The offensive line was atrocious on Sunday, the worst performance I’ve witnessed from this unit in quite some time. Brady was sacked three times and was under pressure all day. The Titans completely dominated the line of scrimmage. And it wasn’t close. With Shaq Mason out, Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon missing several snaps each, there was a revolving door on the front. That certainly didn’t help with communication. But replacements Ted Karras and LaAdrian Waddle were being beaten with regularity.

The running game? Non-existent which just added to the misery of the entire day. The Patriots gained just 40 yards on 19 carries. That won’t win many games, especially when the pass protection is shoddy.

Defensive Line: C-

The defensive line was shaky in the early going, they didn’t set the edge or nor contain Marcus Mariota on the first drive of the day. They settled down and held Dion Lewis to just 2.8 yards a carry on the day. But as we pointed out on Friday, the Titans with the lead or close to it will hammer defenses with Derrick Henry. And that is just what Tennessee did. Henry gashed them with frightening ease.

The pass rush was non-existent for much of the day. Trey Flowers was good but the rest of the edge? Very little was heard from them. After the first drive, they did a great job of containing Mariota in the pocket. But the pass rush is the other half. Last week was their best game of the year in that aspect. On Sunday it was poor.

Linebackers: D

The Patriots linebackers had a “Groundhog Day” moment. The unit looked slow and appeared to be a liability especially Dont’a Hightower. Elandon Roberts had a couple of nice stuffs but then flies up into the gap against Henry at the goal line and misses him. How in the wide world of sports can you run by and miss a 250-pound running back? With Roberts, this happens far too often. Kyle Van Noy made a bunch of plays and had 12 tackles but like the others seemed out of position at times too.

Secondary: D

The secondary had the same kind of day that everyone else had…awful. When your best player in the secondary has been beaten for 3 catches for 63 yards and a touchdown… plus a pass interference call, in the first two drives, then you know what kind of day you are going to have. Corey Davis roasted the Patriots for 7 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. The instinct is to look at the box score and say, “Mariota only threw for 225 yards.” But did the numbers pass the eyeball test? No. His QB rating was 125.0 and averaged 9.5 yards per attempt.

The safeties didn’t have a great game. On the Titans first touchdown, however, Mariota broke containment and had a clear path to the end zone. The Pats had Jonnu Smith bracketed with Devin McCourty underneath and Pat Chung in trail. McCourty was forced to come up and force Mariota to throw…he was right in the throwing lane, and he lobbed it over him for an easy TD since Chung wasn’t close enough to influence the play. McCourty in that instance was victimized by the defensive line.  Chung did have a couple of nice stops on third down where he came up and tackled the receiver short of the sticks. But after arguably their best game of the year last week against Green Bay, this was a very poor effort against a team that came in averaging just 178 yards passing per game.

Special Teams: C

The Special Teams had a very mixed bag and much of it started badly. The opening kickoff had the Patriots coverage unit again have a breakdown and allowed a 58-yard return. That set the tone for the day. The Patriots allowed an average of 14 yards per punt. Stephen Gostkowski missed a 52-yard field goal wide left. That’s the bad news.

The good news is Julian Edelman averaged about 15 yards per punt return, Patterson averaged 24.7 on kickoff returns, Ryan Allen averaged 49.7 yards per punt while Stephen Gostkowski hit a 52-yard field goal. So things kind of averaged out but the start was atrocious.  

Coaches: F

The Patriots coaching staff totally dropped the ball on this one. This team was flat out not ready to play on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. The Titans scored more points in the first 10 minutes of the game than they’ve been averaging in a game all season.

Offensively, you won’t win many games where you score 10 points. How did Josh McDaniels NOT target Malcolm Butler in this one? He was listed as the worst starting CB in all of football. Everyone has been feasting on him with double moves all season and the Patriots avoided him like Revis Island in his prime…That deserves a double F.

Defensively, they were gashed every way possible and Mike Vrable gave Belichick the big “Eff You” when they tried their own pass to the QB and gained 21 yards after Brady stumbled after catching it.  That’s something the Patriots are used to doing to the opposition.

Speaking of stumbling…Patriots players were stumbling all day, shouldn’t the equipment guys have adjusted their cleats during the game or did they take the day off too?

Burn the tape, write it off and come back from the bye week and show the previous six weeks tape. Get that team ready to play the Jets…preferably in the first quarter.

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Music City Meltdown, Titans Thump Listless Patriots 34-10

Steve Balestrieri
November 11, 2018 at 6:11 pm ET

Pats Start Bye Week Early with a No-show

The New England Patriots needed to get out to a fast start this week against the Tennessee Titans and put the pressure on the offense which has struggled to throw the ball. That was our initial thoughts on the game but it was the Titans who whipped the Patriots from the opening kickoff until the final gun.

Tennessee dominated every phase of the game, offense, defense, special teams, and the Pats were left searching for answers as they head into the bye week at 7-3 after a really ugly 34-10 pasting by Mike Vrable and the Titans.

The handwriting was on the wall for this one right from the first play. The Patriots won the coin toss (the only matchup they’d win all day) and Tennessee promptly ran the kickoff back 58 yards to start the drive in Patriots territory. Things just got progressively worse from there.

Nothing was really working, Tennessee which came in averaging 16.8 points per game on offense, had 17 in the first 10 minutes of the game. So, rather than try to sugarcoat things or put a dress on a pig…here are our observations from this.

Brady is Struggling:

The game plan this week was to come out flinging it against a team that is really good at defending the pass. That’s the first clue that things were going to go awry. By the time they attempted a run, the Titans had already scored but they never gave the running game a chance and it showed in the output. The Patriots got 40 yards rushing….40 against a team, that although better lately is hardly stout. But I digress. Back to Brady.

How can you tell when Tom Brady is struggling? It is easy. He locks on to his primary target and forces the ball in there. And Brady is struggling right now. Granted the running game was awful, no Gronk and the offensive line resembled 2015 with constant shuffling, but this was bad.

Brady locked on to Julian Edelman who played a heckuva game (and took a worse beating) on 4th and 6. That was courtesy of Marcus Cannon who jumped on 4th and 1. Edelman was blanketed by Logan Ryan. James White was open and Chris Hogan was wide open after juking Malcolm Butler on a double move.

Brady was off all game and despite heavy pressure, had several throws go haywire when he had time to throw. He seemed to be shutting Hogan and Dorsett out. That isn’t good. Most of the passing yardage went to Edelman or Gordon. Edelman finished with 104 yards, while Gordon had four catches for 81 yards, but on 12 targets.

McDaniels Gives Butler A Pass:

Remember all of the pre-game talk of Butler being a sucker for the double move? The Patriots avoided Butler today for much of the game. Either they thought he’d morph into vintage Darrelle Revis this week, or they felt like he had too much help over the top. But they avoided him like he had the plague. Granted he didn’t play a ton, but when he was in the game, you would think he’d be the guy that they’d target, even in zone coverage.

Instead, they forced the ball all game long against Adoree Jackson and Ryan. We’ll have to go back and watch the tape again, but for Josh McDaniels to barely challenge Butler given the struggles he’s had was puzzling at best.

Hopefully, the answer will be inside the All-22 tape.

The Offensive Line  Was Constantly Shuffling and Awful:

Brady was under duress all game long, and Tennessee wasn’t exactly known as a big pass rush team. Shaq Mason was out, Marcus Cannon was in and out. Ted Karras got exposed a bit as did LaAdrian Waddle on Sunday. So with the pass blocking a negative, the run blocking was worse.

There was precious little running room against the Titans as the Pats barely averaged two yards a carry. Once Dwayne Allen got hurt, it made things worse. The only good runs were cut loose when James Develin would hit someone at the point of attack.

The Patriots never seemed to have a plan to run the football this week. And they didn’t.

Special Teams Play Was Abominable:

The STs units of Joe Judge have been uncharacteristically inconsistent this year. This was the worst they’ve looked overall in many years. How bad?

Tennessee started three drives in Patriots territory….in the first half. Stephen Gostkowski missed a 52-yarder wide left, the coverage units were awful and they did very little in the return game. The best starting field position for the Pats was the 35.

Shoddy tackling, blown assignments, and penalties….nope it can only go up from here.

Gilmore Lays an Egg:

Stephon Gilmore has been outstanding all season, since minicamp. But he was awful today, the Titans went after him with Corey Davis, and Davis totally dominated that matchup. Davis torched the Pats (and mostly Gilmore) all day long.

Gilmore got flagged twice for interference and was beaten cleanly for a touchdown. Obviously whatever malaise was infecting the other 45 players today, had an even bigger effect on the Patriots star corner. He had that kind of rough outing.

He was hardly alone, the defense was gashed by Marcus Mariota who constantly made very good throws. The Titans came in averaging 178 yards per game thru the air.

So with this kind of outing, the Pats chances of getting the top seed just took a huge blow. They limp into the bye week at 7-3 after not really ever showing up for this one. The coaches need to do a lot of self-scouting and having the team come out flat three times …all on the road this year is a coaching issue.

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

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Players To Watch Patriots-Titans Week 10

Steve Balestrieri
November 10, 2018 at 6:45 am ET

Big Game Before the Bye

The New England Patriots head down to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. If it seems rare to have a Sunday afternoon game, it has been. The Patriots have played four of their last five games in primetime, something Bill Belichick mentioned and remarked he was glad to be finished with.

The Titans are 4-4 and are an intriguing matchup. What immediately jumps off the page is the former Patriots on the other side. With Head coach Mike Vrable, Logan Ryan, Dion Lewis, and Malcolm Butler, there are plenty of familiar faces there.

Tennessee isn’t a prolific scoring team. They are big on both sides of the line. Their game is to keep things close and get into a smash-mouth four quarters football game. Obviously with a team ranked #30 in passing yardage, the Patriots want to get out to an early lead and force them into playing catchup.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Sony Michel:

The Patriots first round draft pick is said to be playing this week. If he does and is healthy, he’ll give the Patriots a huge boost offensively as when he’s been on top of his game, he gives them the balance that makes them very hard to stop.

Tennessee’s run defense was poor early in the year but has improved recently. They held Ezekial Elliott to just 61 yards rushing on Monday night. But with the weapons the Patriots and Tom Brady have in the passing game, they can’t overload the box and dare them to throw.

Michel just prior to getting hurt against the Bears was really getting into a groove. We’ll have to see if there is a rust factor after missing more than two and a half games this week. But I’d expect the Patriots to use him early in this one to try to set the tone.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots very versatile and talented defensive lineman had another standout game last week versus Green Bay. The Patriots kicked him inside to bring extra pressure on Aaron Rodgers. He was outstanding and has really elevated his game the past few weeks. He’s heating up at just the right time.

This week, they’re facing another mobile quarterback in Marcus Mariota, someone Belichick said this week is more mobile than anyone they’ve faced this season. While that may be a bit of a stretch, Mariota can definitely make plays with his feet. So, not only will the Patriots be looking to pressure Mariota but to contain him in the pocket as well.

This will be an interesting matchup, Flowers is heating up and facing an OL that has allowed 26 sacks on the season. If the Pats can force the Titans into being one-dimensional, it will allow Flowers and other edge players to be a bit more aggressive in their pursuit.

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots will be facing two of their former corners this week in Ryan and Butler and everyone is assuming Gordon will operate opposite of Butler this week. I actually believe it may be Ryan, but regardless, whoever it is, will have some help over the top and will have their hands full taking on the big and talented Pats wide receiver.

Gordon right now is just beginning to get healthy, he’s been bothered by a bad hamstring since he was in Cleveland. He was removed from the injury report and like Flowers, he’s getting hot at precisely the right time. He had his biggest game as a Patriots last week and the Patriots will be looking to get him involved and test their deep part of the field this week. If it is against Butler, look for the Titans to give him help over the top.

If he’s facing Ryan, look for a couple of jump balls down the sidelines. Brady and the Patriots remember the Super Bowl against Seattle where he had issues defending those and was replaced…by Butler. Familiarity works both ways.

Kyle Van Noy:

The linebacker who is so valuable (and so unpopular for some strange reason with one Boston radio station) has been also elevating his game of late and is one of the Pats most versatile defenders.

Van Noy does just about everything well and is very versatile. With a 1-2 punch of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis at running back, the key for Tennessee is to get Lewis in space where he’s always been so elusive. It will be up to Van Noy to see that doesn’t happen this week.

Look for Brian Flores to use Van Noy to mirror Mariota this week and possibly use him for some A-Gap blitzes to force some mistakes in the passing game. This will be a big week for the defense that has been much better of late and will be looking to continue the trend.

Julian Edelman:

The Patriots slot receiver had a fantastic game against the Packers, (71 yards receiving, 28 yards rushing, 37 yards passing) and is one of Brady’s most trusted receivers. He’ll probably face the Titans talented corner Adoree Jackson this week and that promises to be a great matchup to watch.

With Rob Gronkowski’s status in doubt, (we don’t think he’ll play this week), the Patriots will use Edelman to do the dirty work underneath along with James White to keep the chains moving. Pound-for-pound, Edelman is one of the toughest players on the Patriots and he’ll be looked to a lot in this one to set the tone against a tough, defense that is #1 in points allowed and #1 in the red zone.

We’re looking for those rub routes and shallow crossers to target the linebackers and getting them to move off the spot this week.

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Patriots-Titans Week 10, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 9, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

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.

Series History:

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…

Prediction:

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

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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.

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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

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The Titans Present an Unfamiliar Foe for the Patriots in the Playoffs

Steve Balestrieri
January 9, 2018 at 10:23 am ET

The Patriots and Titans will face one another in the Divisional Round of the 2018 NFL Playoffs on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium. The winner moves on the AFC Championship Game, for the Patriots, a win guarantees them the home game for the conference game. If Tennessee wins, they’ll have to travel to the winner of the Pittsburgh – Jacksonville game.

The Titans and Patriots don’t play each other very often so they present a bit of the unknown for New England. The teams that faced each other back in 2015 are pretty different than the ones who’ll face off this week. The Patriots running backs that day were Joey Iosefa and Brandon Bolden. Marcus Mariota injured his knee on a sack by Akiem Hicks and left the game early in the second quarter.

Tennessee had a big second half, rallying from a 21-3 halftime deficit to defeat Kansas City 22-21. Derek Henry had a big day rushing for 156 yards on 23 carries. Marcus Mariota completed a touchdown pass to himself and the defense shut out the Chiefs offense after struggling badly in the first half.

So, let’s take an early look at Tennessee and get some early impressions of the Titans and we’ll get to our key matchups later in the week.

Henry and Murray are the Keys to this Offense: The two-headed monster of Henry and Demarco Murray in the running game is what makes this Titans offense go. They play the old style smash-mouth football style that grinds down opponents and keeps the opponents’ offense off the field.

That opens up play-action passing where they get the linebackers and safeties to bite up in run support and creates a seam behind them to throw the ball to their tight ends and wide receivers.

Murray has a knee injury and is considered “day-to-day” but it is doubtful that he’ll be able to play this week. So Henry is the guy the Patriots will have to slow down. The Titans don’t have a dynamic, down-the-field passing offense so we may see some elements of a 3-4 look at times for the Patriots with Alan Branch or Malcom Brown on the nose and big men at defensive end while players like James Harrison and Trey Flowers line up as outside linebackers and set the edge.

Mariota Struggled in 2017, Can He Turn it Up Now? Marcus Mariota, thru an assortment of injuries and struggles, had a down year in 2017 throwing just 13 touchdowns against 15 interceptions with a passer rating that plummeted to 79.3.

That is a big slide from 2016 where he threw for 26 touchdowns against just nine interceptions for a passer rating of 95.6. He remains a threat to scramble and he definitely helped his own cause against the Chiefs, running eight times for 46 yards.

The Patriots plan this week will be focusing on the 2016 version and not concerning themselves with the guy who struggled this year. Since he only faced them for basically a quarter in the past, Mariota is still pretty much of an unknown factor for Matt Patricia’s defense.

The Wide Receiving Trio of Matthews, Decker, and Davis is Solid: Mariota has good weapons outside the numbers to throw the ball to. Two of the wide receivers should be quite familiar to Patriots fans. Rishard Matthews and Eric Decker have faced the Pats many times, the former with the Dolphins and the latter with the Broncos and Jets.

Matthews is the main guy outside and he put up solid numbers in 2017 with 53 catches for 795 yards and four touchdowns. Decker had 54 receptions for 563 yards and a score but it was he who was the recipient of the game-winning pass last week.

Davis is the rookie wide receiver who was taken with the #5 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and put up decent rookie numbers with 34 catches for 375 yards but he was the most targeted wide receiver against the Chiefs

But Mariota’s favorite target and the guy the Patriots will have to shut/slow down is TE Delanie Walker. Walker led Tennessee with 74 catches for 807 yards and three touchdowns. He’ll be the go-to guy in the passing offense. He’s a big athletic target who is difficult to stop. In 2015, he caught just two passes but one of them was a 57-yarder.

Dick LeBeau’s Defense Will Look Different: The Titans defensive coordinator is a marvel. At 80 years young, not old, LeBeau still has the energy and the passion to be a full-time coach in the NFL. His zone-blitz schemes are well known in NFL circles and by Tom Brady and the Patriots. Those schemes hold no illusions for Brady, who has routinely carved them up. So, look for the Titans to mix things up considerably.

The Titans know that Brady has routinely carved up this style of defense, so look for them to mix in plenty of man coverage this week. It will be a chess match as Brady and LeBeau will be trying to figure out what the other is doing.

LeBeau also knows, being the smart veteran coach that he is that the way to get to Brady is right up the middle. Look for the Titans to mix in some A-gap blitzes this week. Even still, I expect Tom Brady to be able to find plenty of targets in this one….

Titans Have Issues Defending the Pass vs Tight Ends/RBs: This is the key to the game from a Patriots perspective. Tennessee is among the worst at defending the tight ends as well as the running backs, which are the staples of the Patriots offense.

Expect Tom Brady to target Rob Gronkowski early and often in this one, as well as Dion Lewis, James White, and Rex Burkhead (if they’re available) this week. Look for the Patriots to try to keep the Titans in their base packages by giving a heavy 2-TE, or 2-RB look and take advantage of their linebackers in coverage.

How successful each team is in this matchup will go a long way in determining who comes out on top.

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.

2017 Playoffs: Predicting the Patriots Opponents

Ian Logue
January 2, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

With a bye week coming up for the Patriots, it’s safe to say that every fan in New England will be waiting with anticipation to find out who the first opponent will be one week from Saturday when they next take the field.

Looking at the two games in play for the AFC next weekend, it presents a couple of good match-ups that should set up an interesting postseason run for this year’s Patriots team.

Up first will see the Titans head out to Kansas City to face the Chiefs.  Looking at this game, the odds are pretty good that Tennessee won’t be able to handle a Chiefs team that really came on at the end of the year and ran off four straight victories and seems to have the momentum.  Tennessee, meanwhile, managed to eek out a win against Jacksonville but had lost three in a row prior to that game.

The biggest X-factor in that match-up will be which Marcus Mariota we’ll see in that game.  Mariota threw for less than 200 yards in four of Tennessee’s final six games and only threw for more than one touchdown three times all season.  In fact, he threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13) in 2017.

But one of the biggest moments in Sunday’s win was a run by Mariota on 3rd-and-5 where he willed his way to a first down with just over 2-minutes left in the game, keeping the chains moving while allowing Tennessee to keep the ball out of Blake Bortles’ hands until there was just 0:18 left to play to essentially secure the victory.

However, against the Chiefs, he’ll have to put up points if he hopes to keep his team in the game.  Kansas City has scored 27 or more points in all but one of their home games, compiling a 6-2 record over that span.  That seems unlikely and unless he can keep the Titans in the game, it would be hard to see Tennessee winning this one. Needless to say, the more likely opponent for New England next weekend will probably be the Chiefs.

Predicted Divisional Round Opponent: Chiefs


It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Jaguars upset Pittsburgh and end up in Foxboro. (USA TODAY Images)

Meanwhile, the Jaguars had their way against the Steelers earlier this season, showing no fear at Heinz Field as they forced five interceptions by Ben Roethlisberger, who was so distraught after the game he was questioning his future.

Despite their loss to Tennessee this past Sunday, the Jaguars are still playing good defense and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they upset the Bills and advance into the Divisional round.  That’s where things get a little interesting if the Patriots are able to get redemption against Kansas City.

With a potential match-up against New England riding on their success in this game, it’s entirely possible the Steelers could be looking a little too far ahead when the Jaguars come into Pittsburgh.  As a result, seeing  Jacksonville shock the Steelers’ faithful and force an early playoff exit doesn’t seem as much of a longshot as some may think.  The Jaguars have already done it once and if they’re able to beat Buffalo, it will be another confidence boost to use against an opponent who should have every reason to be afraid of a Jacksonville club who has already surprised everyone to get to where they are.

It would be pretty hilarious to see Pittsburgh be one-and-done, which would probably set up an interesting offseason after another squandered season by a group that had championship aspirations.

Last year, Roethlisberger was pondering retirement after New England knocked them out. If Pittsburgh goes down against Jacksonville, expect a similar situation after this one as well.

Predicted AFC Championship Opponent*:  Jacksonville
(*if NE advances)

It should be a fun couple of weeks and hopefully, it’s New England who is left standing by the time it’s over.  This is what Belichick’s club has fought so hard for to get to this point, so we’ll see how the second season plays out when they next hit the field in two weeks.

Monday Observations, Patriots Drop Titans, Earn Bye

Steve Balestrieri
December 21, 2015 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.

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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.