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Time: 4:15 EST
Where: Gillettle Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts
Radio: 98.5 FM – The Sports Hub
The Patriots are coming off a disappointing loss to the Broncos. Currently, New England is sitting even in the AFC East with the New York Jets with a 3-2 record. Every week, the Pats have seen an unbeaten team, but now they are looking at a different scenario. For the first time this season, New England will face a winless opponent in the highly disappointing Tennessee Titans.
Last season they were the talk of the town. Coming out of nowhere, the Titans were the top team in the NFL with a 13-3 record, including starting the season on a ten-game winning streak. Everything was going fine, until they lost to the Ravens in their first playoff game. Since then, Jeff Fisher’s team has struggled out of the gates and has lost its winning ways.
Kerry Collins is the de-facto leader of the offense. Last season was one of the finest in his fifteen season, earning him his second Pro Bowl appearance. However, it’s not smooth sailing in Tennessee anymore. Collins is second in the league in interceptions, behind only Jake Delhomme, and he has one of the worst passer ratings in the league. The Titans offense comes from it’s running game. What was supposed to be a one-two punch has turned into an uneven attack. Chris Johnson does it all, including a 197-yard rushing game against Houston, which featured a 91-yard rush. He is one of the best runners in the league and is already just shy of 500 rushing yards. However, all the offseason talk was on LenDale White, who was supposed to be in the best shape of his life following his no-tequila diet. However, he has yet to show any of the running back we saw last season, which puts all the pressure on Johnson’s shoulder.
When Albert Haynesworth left for Washington, everyone thought the Titans defense would be hurting, but no one expected this. Tennessee’s defense ranks towards the bottom, giving up 363 yards a game. Stephen Tulloch and Keith Bulluck have kept the linebacking unit stable, but the defensive line and especially the secondary have been struggling. Several wide receivers, including Houston’s Andre Johnson and Jacksonville’s Mike Sims-Walker, have made big plays and burned the secondary. Considering that the secondary will be without Cortland Finnegan and Nick Harper this week, it is just another Titans weakness that can be exploited. The Titans need their former Pro Bowlers Kyle Vanden Bosch and Javon Kearse and fellow linemen Tony Brown and Jason Jones to get going and take pressure off the secondary, for the Titans to have a shot at their first win.
New England has not had a pass over 40 yards this season. Tennessee has allowed those long passes and ranks 31st in the league against the pass. All those signs point to one thing: go deep. With Nick Harper and Cortland Finnegan out for the Titans, this is the perfect opportunity for Randy Moss to add to his touchdown total on the season (he has just 1 TD). With a stellar linebacking unit, Wes Welker’s slot receiving role might be reduced and instead look for New England to finally let loose and go deep.
Of course, that only goes as far as Tom Brady is willing. Everything was expected to be fine since his return, but in five games this season, Brady has a season-best completion of 36 yards. Going deep might be a good strategy, but consistency is more important. Brady was 5-14 in the second half against Denver last week. If he has too many misses, the Patriots offense won’t have enough time to do anything productive.
There’s no secret to the Titans offensive success this season, Chris Johnson. His 197 rushing yards again Houston were spectacular, but considering that Tennessee still lost the game, it shows where this team stands. He has the ability to stop and go at any pace, and the speed to burn any one in the NFL. If you can not stop him at the line, then he will tear you up for big yardage.
That is why the defensive plays an important role this week, especially the linebackers. It was nice for New England fans to see Jerod May return last week. His six tackles were a great sign of recovery from someone who had an MCL injury just a few weeks ago. Another great sign will be the return of Junior Seau. Even if he doesn’t suit up, his role on the sideline might be enough to mentor men like Gary Guyton to step up and play harder. Johnson’s running lanes need to be plugged by Mayo, Guyton, Adalius Thomas and Pierre Woods, or else they will be seeing a lot of Johnson’s backside while he runs towards the end-zone.
Although the Patriots only have ten sacks on the season, tied for 14th, they are good at getting pressure on the quarterbacks. However, when they sit back and relax, things get bad. Denver’s Kyle Orton was able to crush the Patriots last week, going 35 for 48 for 330 yards. Do not expect a repeat this week. Pressure on Kerry Collins usually causes the quarterback to make costly mistakes. The Titans offensive line can be beat and Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Mike Wright and Tully Banta-Cain need to keep the pressure coming to cause some guaranteed Collins’ errors.
However, those mistakes need to be capitalized on, and that’s where the secondary comes into play. Most of the Patriots top tacklers are from the secondary. Brandon Meriweather, Brandon McGowan, Shawn Springs, Leigh Bodden and James Sanders are all in the top nine for tackles on the season. However, their two interceptions are tied for a league worst. Last week, the Patriots handed Kyle Orton his only interception on the season, but it was caught by Randy Moss on a hail mary play at the end of the first half. It’s nice that New England secondary ties receivers up, but every now and then, those receivers break away for big plays, ala Brandon Marshall last week. Should Collins throw one up for grabs, it needs to be the Patriots secondary coming down with the errant pass.
He might have not played last week, but Fred Taylor is still the Patriots leading rusher with 201 yards. In his absence, Sammy Morris had his best game of the season with a dismal 68-yard performance, but it was against a strong rush defense of the Broncos. With injuries to Nick Kazur and Steven Neal, and Matt Light also expected to be out, it would be the logical choice for the Patriots to abandon the running game and just look for those deep passes.
However, those deep routes only open up with the presence of a running game. The Titans defense is third in the league at stopping the run, giving up only 75 rushing yards a game. With Tom Brady’s inconsistency, the best way to keep the clock moving is to get one running back moving, should it be Laurence Maroney or Sammy Morris. Sure Chris Johnson has more rushing yards then Maroney and Morris, combined…and then doubled, but that doesn’t mean either back can’t perform enough to keep the chains moving and help the Patriots control the time of possession.
It would be nice to say that the Patriots have the better receivers outright, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Kenny Britt is the Titans top receiver and can be a dangerous deep threat for the team, but he isn’t the only Tennessee weapon. Nate Washington and Justin Gage are two receivers who can also step up and make big plays when needed. Washington had a streak of three straight games with a touchdown broken last week, but he will be looking to start a new one on Sunday. Tight ends Alge Crumpler and Bo Scaife both have over 100 yards receiving and Chris Johnson rounds out the dangerous receiving lineup, with 126 receiving yards of his own. The Patriots defense will worry about them, but the NE offense has also few weapons of their own.
Randy Moss has to be disappointed. He was the league’s top receiver a few weeks ago, but has since dropped to seventh after two unproductive weeks. He knows this Tennessee secondary can be burned and expect him to have a career day should he see the ball. Wes Welker seems to be getting back into routine, and is improving each week. He will have to step up his game if he wants to have a third straight 100-reception season. The biggest surprise could be Benjamin Watson, who is third on the team in receiving yard (187 yards), but first in touchdowns (3). The man to watch, however, is Kevin Faulk, who is five receptions away from being the 26th running back in history with 400 catches. Knowing that the Titans run defense is strong, the receivers need to pull everything in and make the big plays down the field.
New England has to make it clear they will not give up on the run this week. By maintaining a running game, the Patriots can allow their receivers to see single coverage, except Moss who is most likely to be doubled all game. On the other side of the ball, the key is rushing Kerry Collins. The Pats need to cause him to make mistakes to the point where the Titans might finally resurrect the Vince Young era. By keeping the ball out of Chris Johnson’s hands, and in Collins’, New England should cruise to their fourth victory of the season. Prediction: New England 28, Tennessee 13.
Tags: Adalius Thomas, Albert Haynesworth, Alge Crumpler, Andre Johnson, Benjamin Watson, Bo Scaife, Brandon Marshall, Brandon McGowan, Brandon Meriweather, Chris Johnson, Cortland Finnegan, Fred Taylor, Gary Guyton, Jake Delhomme, James Sanders, Jarvis Green, Jason Jones, Javon Kearse, Jerod Mayo, Junior Seau, Justin Gage, Kenny Britt, Kerry Collins, Kevin Faulk, Kyle Orton, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Laurence Maroney, Leigh Bodden, LenDale White, Mike Sims-Walker, Mike Wright, Nate Washington, Nick Harper, Patriots, Pierre Woods, Randy Moss, Sammy Morris, Shawn Springs, Tom Brady, Tony Brown, Tully Banta-Cain, Vince Wilfork, Wes Welker