Tag Archives: Mike Mularkey

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.