Ladies and gentlemen! It is that time of the year once again where Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (not to be confused with Benny and the Jets) are starting their tour through the playoff gauntlet towards the Super Bowl. Their first victim: the underdog Tennessee Titans. The New England Patriots will host the Tennessee Titans at home in frigid Foxborough on Saturday, January 13th.
A Divisional Round Clash: Patriots Host Titans In Foxborough
The Titans are coming off a very spectacular upset win over the Kansas City Chiefs last week during Wild Card weekend. In case you missed the thrilling action, the Titans were down 21-3 at halftime against the Chiefs and miraculously came back to win 22-21. Is that enough momentum for the Titans to stomp the Patriots or will the Patriots banish the Titans to Tartarus? Let’s discuss the keys to success for each team.
Weapon X for the Patriots is Rob Gronkowski and a healthy Rob Gronkowski at that. Before he left the game late with a concussion, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce was dominating over the 18th ranked Titans defense with four catches for 66 yards and a 13-yard touchdown pass to add the icing on the cake. The Titans defense was being quizzed all game on how to stop Kelce and answered incorrectly every time until Kelce left the game. If the Titans defense didn’t have the answer to stop Kelce, look for the Titans defense to flunk out of Foxborough trying to cover Gronkowski. Expect Gronkowski to run a lot of post route patterns to stretch the Titans defense and be the primary target for Brady in the red zone.
The Patriots offense will also have to be very wary of the Titans blitz schemes. Linebackers such as Brian Orakpo and former Bronco linebacker Wesley Woodyard can wreak havoc in the Patriot’s backfield if the Patriots are not careful. I expect a lot of crossing routes between the speedy Brandin Cooks, trusty Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan (if cleared to play).
Also, if cleared to play, Rex Burkhead and James White should stuff the stat sheet this Saturday. I believe Josh McDaniels will utilize Burkhead and White in a lot of screen formations and halfback draw plays on downs with short yardage to counter the blitz.
As for the Patriots defense, they’re going to have to clamp down and stop extended plays. That’s been their Achilles heel all season especially going against mobile quarterbacks. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will have to come up with a scheme that allows a linebacker to keep a spy on Marcus Mariota. As Mariota rolls out, that designated linebacker will keep Mariota honest hopefully forcing him to make bad decisions on Saturday night.
With DeMarco Murray‘s return at the forefront of everyone’s minds, the Titans run game will play a huge component for their chance to upset the Patriots. Coming off a 156 rushing yard game and a touchdown, Derrick Henry looks like he is a star in the making and can possibly backpack the Titans to the promise land. If Murray is scheduled to return for Saturday’s game, that is a deadly combination the Patriots will have to respect and limit. Not stop, limit. I expect the Titans to come out with a run-heavy offense, especially if it is snowing in Foxborough, against the 3rd ranked rushing defense.
The Patriots secondary is good but not the greatest thing since sliced bread while a lot of people sleep on the Titans receiving corps. They have playmakers such as Rishard Matthews, Corey Davis, Eric Decker and tight end Delanie Walker. If Mariota can stay poised in the backfield, he’ll need to spread the ball around accurately within the deep zone coverage to keep the Patriots defense off-balance. It’ll be a tough challenge for the Patriots secondary if the Titans offense can capitalize on both the run and passing game.
The main ingredient to beat Brady is to get in his head. As history shows it, the best way to get into his head is to hit him and keep hitting him. I don’t foresee Dick LeBeau taking his foot off the gas blitzing Brady. We’re going to see a gargantuan amount of pressure from the Titan’s defense knocking Brady to the ground as if he is going against the ‘Monstars’ from the movie “Space Jam”.
Despite being a 14-point favorite this Saturday, the Patriots will have to come out as if they’re facing the Steelers or any top-seeded team. This will not be a blowout by any means necessary. The Titans just got their first taste of honey and are on the prowl for more. Never underestimate the other man’s greed to win.